Every day, hundreds of people take advantage of some of the area’s most historic structures without even realizing it.

Built of steel spans and stone arches, the county’s bridges represent a significant part of central Indiana’s heritage.

Some are heavily traveled, such as the span across Indian Creek just south of Morgantown, serving as a gateway to Brown County.

Others are secluded and seldom used. Few people have a reason to cross the distinctive steel beams of the Furnas Mill Bridge tucked in a remote corner of the Atterbury Fish and Wildlife Area.

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Preservationists have made it a priority to save these historic bridges, working with local leaders and Indiana highway officials to ensure that the structures are safe and functioning but still retain the qualities that make them unique.

“Obviously, historic bridges are a diminishing resource. Often, they are determined to not be wide enough or full enough for contemporary loading requirements,” said Raina Regan, community preservation specialist with Indiana Landmarks. “So it’s often working together with all of the parties involved to advocate for retaining these bridges in their original locations and contacts.”

Throughout the state, the most historic spans are the covered bridges — sturdy wooden structures that are most commonly found in Parke County and elsewhere in southern Indiana. Indiana has 88 covered wooden bridges still in use, one of the highest number in the U.S.

But Johnson County and the surrounding areas don’t have any covered bridges in use. Instead, the main iconic bridges locally are the wrought iron ones from the early 1900s.

“They’re becoming increasingly rare; and though not unique to Indiana, they are important to our heritage,” Regan said.

The bridges were obviously constructed to meet a need, Regan said. As Johnson County was being settled and developed, people needed ways to move crops, livestock and other resources around to the cities and towns.

The structures that still stand remain a link to the progress that’s been made locally during the past 100 years.

“These are a key element to the development of Indiana, in terms of commerce and transportation in rural and urban parts in our counties,” Regan said. “They tell us a little bit about when people were developing certain parts of the community, so I think they’re important.”

The Indiana Department of Transportation has been a leader in the protection of these bridges. The agency has worked with the Federal Highway Administration to inventory and streamline requirements to help protect the state’s bridges.

Its program helps review and safeguard highway projects to make sure that the state’s historic bridges remain intact.

“Along with on-time and on-budget delivery, taking care of our existing roads and bridges is a major area of focus for INDOT,” said Will Wingfield, department spokesman. “Preserving Indiana’s most unique historic bridges is an important part of that, and we are thankful to those who have worked to preserve these significant, beautiful structures.”

A report commissioned in 2010 helped better understand the trends and events that led to these bridges’ designs and provides a framework to survey and appraise these structures’ roles in state history.

Indiana Landmarks, the state’s pre-eminent preservation group, worked with INDOT to reach a common goal.

An ongoing example is the iron bridge over Indian Creek. Indiana Landmarks had identified the Morgantown bridge, which allows traffic on State Road 135 to flow north and south, as one necessary to save.

“It’s a cultural icon,” Regan said. “Everyone knows that bridge. It evokes a reaction when you’re leaving Morgantown and entering Brown County. It has that emotional and cultural connection that makes it a landmark.”

The bridge had been proposed for replacement and didn’t meet requirements to be registered as a historic place. But preservationists worked with the INDOT to find a way to make sure it is functioning.

The future of the Indian Creek Bridge is uncertain. But starting the conversation about preservation, and the history it and other bridges possess, is an encouraging start, Regan said.

“Our preference is to always keep bridges in use. The public wants to see these stay in use,” she said.

At a glance

Spanning the ages

Six of the area’s most historic bridges

South Street Bridge

Where: South Street, Franklin

Crosses: Youngs Creek

Built: 1934; refurbished in 1999

Style: Reinforced concrete arch

Dimensions: 182 feet long, 36.1 feet wide,

Pugh Ford Bridge

Where: County Road 900N, Taylorsville

Crosses: Flatrock River

Built: 1911

Style: Pratt through-truss

Dimensions: 259.7 feet long, 15.4 feet wide

Sugar Creek Bridge

Where: County Road 550S, Franklin

Crosses: Sugar Creek

Built: 1925

Style: Closed spandrel concrete arch

Dimensions: 246 feet long, 20.3 feet wide

Indian Creek Bridge

Where: State Road 135, Morgantown

Crosses: Indian Creek

Built: 1933, refurbished in 1982

Style: Parker through-truss

Dimensions: 151.8 feet long, 23.9 feet wide

Furnas Mill Bridge

Where: County Road 650S, Edinburgh

Crosses: Sugar Creek

Built: 1885, refurbished in 2006

Style: Two-span, pinned Pratt through-truss made of wrought iron and steel

Dimensions: 241.7 feet long, 15.7 feet wide

Stone Arch Road Bridge

Where: Stone Arch Road, Nineveh

Crosses: Nineveh Creek

Built: 1885, refurbished in 2011

Style: Pinned wrought iron Pratt through-truss

Dimensions: 82.7 feet long, 15.7 feet wide

Pull Quote

“It’s a cultural icon. Everyone knows that bridge. It evokes a reaction when you’re leaving Morgantown and entering Brown County. It has that emotional and cultural connection that makes it a landmark.”

Raina Regan, community preservation specialist with Indiana Landmarks, on the Indian Creek Bridge south of Morgantown

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.