The Laughery Creek Bridge carried Indiana Route 56 over Laughery Creek between Dearborn County and Ohio County, Indiana.
In 1867, the commissioners of Dearborn and Ohio counties decided to replace a ferry across Laughery Creek with a bridge that would carry a road that connected Aurora and Rising Sun, the seat of Ohio County. 2 3 On December 4, counties contracted with John R. Frost of Hamilton County, Ohio, to construct a single span bridge 300 feet long, 23 feet wide, and 30 feet deep from center to center of the two chords. The abutments were contracted to Messrs Green & Company, which were finished in December 1868 after many delays in finding a suitable foundation for the south abutment and high water.
The superstructure, a Howe truss, consisted of a wrought iron bottom chord in the place of a wooden one and was not completed until September 9, 1869. 2 The new bridge was finished behind schedule and for $41,000, or $20,000 more than original estimates.
The wooden crossing was declared unsafe in 1878 and collapsed into the river on the night of June 3. 2
After selling the remnants of the old crossing, the commissioners of both counties met to discuss the construction of a new bridge. 2 At another joint meeting, two commissioners reported on their visit to the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, and an examination of a bridge built by the company over the Sandusky River in Tiffin, Ohio. They also viewed a bridge in Newport, Kentucky, and the Cincinnati Southern Railway Bridge over the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Kentucky. Based on these visits, the commissioners recommended that an iron bridge from the Wrought Iron Bridge Company be constructed over Laughery Creek because of the availability of parts and its economical maintenance costs.
Three proposals for the bridge’s construction were opened in August: a single-span bridge of 300 feet with an 18-foot roadway; a single-span bridge of 200 feet; and a two-span bridge with an iron truss of 200 feet and a wood truss of 200 feet. 2 After some contention on the bids received, a bid from the Wrought Iron Bridge Company for a wrought iron bridge of 300 feet was accepted on September 3. It was to be finished by December 1 and cost $17,458.
The new Laughery Creek Bridge was completed on December 10. 2 Nearly 300 feet in length, the bridge was a single span, pin-connected triple intersection Whipple through truss (or a double-intersection Pratt through truss), and the only truss type of its kind in the world. 1 2 Additionally, as the Laughery Creek Bridge’s members had three intersections instead of two, the crossing was nicknamed the “Triple Whipple Bridge.”
The Whipple truss, common in the late 19th-century, featured diagonals that crossed two panels and was considered an improvement over the simpler Pratt truss in which diagonals crossed only one panel, allowing for longer span lengths. 1 2 The builders assumed that a triple-intersection truss would have a similar advantage over a Whipple, although it required more material, more connection points, and a larger number of differently sized members which increased building complexity and cost. As a result, the bridge design was not very popular and only a handful was built, mostly in the 1870s. It was also the only one ever built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company. 3
Additionally, the use of subdivided panels, pioneered by Albert Fink, Joseph H. Wilson, and Henry Pettit, and a curved top chord in the Baltimore truss, reduced stresses across structural members while being more economical in cost. 2 This eliminated the need for a triple intersection truss and all but made the Whipple truss obsolete.
After the Indiana State Highway Commission was established in 1919, maintenance of the Laughery Creek crossing was passed on to the state, becoming a part of Indiana Route 56 in 1926. 3 In 1946, the state repaired the north abutment, replaced the timber floor with steel stringers, strengthened the floor beams, added a concrete roadway deck, and replaced the extension rollers.
A new bridge for Indiana Route 56 was built downstream in 1959, with the circa 1878 structure remaining in use for local traffic until 1978. 3 Nearby residents had wanted the historic bridge to be removed because of “loitering” and the area being “invaded by ‘undesirable'” people jumping off the bridge into the water and swimming. 4
The ailing crossing was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 1 and noted as one of the state’s most endangered historic sites by the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana in 1994. 3 Commissioners in both counties agreed to renovation efforts toward the historic bridge in 1993, and a feasibility study was conducted in 1994. 3 Proposed work for the bridge included the replacement of the concrete deck and roller assembly, repairing the abutments, and sandblasting and painting of all metal components. 3 5
By 2003, it was the only surviving intersection Whipple through truss (or a double-intersection Pratt through truss) in the United States, and the oldest known metal truss bridge in the state. 3 The bridge was rehabilitated for pedestrians and cyclists in 2009 at the cost of $1.415 million. 5 Federal Transportation Enhancement funds paid for 80% while the remainder was split 80%/20% between Dearborn and Ohio counties.
Historic American Engineering Record
The following photos are from Historic American Engineering Record’s HAER IN-16.
- State: Indiana
- Route: Formerly IN Route 56
- Type: Pratt Through Truss, Whipple Through Truss
- Status: Active - Pedestrian
- Total Length: 299 feet
- Deck Width: 17 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 21.5 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- Sackheim, Donald E., Alex P. Gratiot, and Eric N. DeLony. “Laughery Creek Triple Intersection Through-Truss Bridge.” National Register of Historic Places, Mar. 1975.
- Gratiot, Alex. “Laughery Creek Bridge.” Historic American Engineering Record, 1974.
- Kaffenberger, Matt. “Triple Whipple stands test of time.” Journal-Press [Lawrenceburg], 18 Feb. 2003, pp. 1B-10B.
- “…Residents Rankled By Historical Bridge.” Dearborn County Register [Lawrenceburg], 6 Feb. 1975, p. 1.
- Mattingly, Chandra L. “Bridges from past get fixes for future.” Journal-Press [Lawrenceburg], 17 Mar. 2009, pp. 3A-8A.