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Cheboygan Bascule Bridge
US-23State Street, Cheboygan River, Cheboygan - Cheboygan County
Other Names US-23 Bridge, Cheboygan
Property Type bridge
Historic Use TRANSPORTATION/road-related (vehicular)
Current Use TRANSPORTATION/road-related (vehicular)
Style Other
Architect/Builder Hazelet and Erdal
State Highway Department
William J. Storen Company
Narrative Description main span number: 1 main span length: 70.0 structure length: 155.0 roadway width: 40.0 structure width: 51.8 The Cheboygan Bascule Bridge, located in the county seat of Cheboygan, carries US-23 over the Cheboygan River. The structure is comprised of three steel deck girder spans: the center movable span, featuring double-leaf plate girders with variable depths, flanked by two uniform-depth fixed girdres. The bascule spans employ Scherzer-type rolling lift mechanisms with underneath counterweights. The all-steel superstructure rests on concrete abutments founded on timber piles, as well as two concrete piers with angled cutwaters, supported by concrete footings on compact gravel 27 feet below the water surface. A cylindrical protection fender stands upstream from each pier. The bridge tender works from a single-story structure located over the downstream side of the north pier. The fixed spans are floored with asphalt-covered concrete; an open steelgrid forms the deck for the moveable spans. Five-foot sidewalks line both sides of the bridge. This is made of concrete on the fixed spans and a light steel grid filled with concrete on the lift spans. The bridge is bordered with SHD standard moderne metal guard rails anchored by metal bulkheads. Six light standards, three along each side, illuminate the structure. Traffic gates fitted with electric lights stand at each end of the bridge, and standard three-color traffic lights hang from overhead wires. The structure extends 155 feet-- the three spans are 42 feet, 70 feet and 42 feet, respectively-- with a 40-foot-wide roadway. When raised, the bridge provides a 60-foot-wide river channel for passing water craft.
Statement of Significance Built in 1940, the Cheboygan Bascule Bridge is at least the second moveable-span structure at this site. THe current structure replaced a 70 yr old iron swing-span bridge here, reportedly made hazardous by long use and heavy traffic. According to SHD Commissioner G. Donald Kennedy, the old bridge vibrated noisily under traffic, and its unloaded end caused the "rusty old structure to bounce up and down on its seat." The new heavier, wider bridge must have come as a relief to the citizens of Cheboygan. The SHD engineered the new bridge early in 1940, with design assistance from consulting engineers Hazelet and Erdal for the bascule span. That spring the W. J. Storen Company of Detroit won the contract to erect the bridge with a low bid of $187,511.98. The R. C. Mahon Company furnished steel and machinery for the project. Construction of the bridge and its approach grading was set to begin in May of 1940 and to finish by late fall. The new bridge was completed slightly behind schedule by December 1940, just before wartime restrictions on critical materials went into effect. On December 7, 1940, a year to the day before the bombing of Pearl Harbor- SHD officially opened the new bridge with a public ceremony. New State Highway Commissioner G. Donald Kennedy delivered the dedication speech, his first State Highway Commissioner. The completion of the Cheboygan bridge, he said, opened the Huron Shore Road, a dream of "far-sighted citizens" from the early days of Michigan highway construction. Kennedy called the bridge "one of the most important out-state projects" of his seven-year tenure with SHD and "an achievement of state-wide significance." The Cheboygan Bridge was the last bascule bridge built in Michigan before World War II. Plans to build other moveable spans at Charlevoix, houghton and St. Joseph were put on hold for the duration of the war. The Cheboygan Bridge linked the entire length of Lake Huron from Port Huron to Mackinaw City and served as a connecting link between shoreline US-23 and midstate north-south route US-27. Kennedy predicted that the span would help progress in the northern section of the state and "add greatly to the popularity of this scenic highway among the thousands of tourists who annually visit northern Michigan." The new bridge was also notable for its safety, incorporating multiple safety devices such as safety barriers, traffic gates and traffic lights. THe attention to safety was to prevent "needless accidents" and to make the bridge as "foolproof as humanly possible. With an abundance of navigable rivers and river-level roads and railroads, Michigan provided a natural setting for moveable bridge technology. As illustrated by the earlier Cheboygan Bridge, the counties, municipalities and even townships built moveable span bridges to separate overland traffic from river traffic, beginning i the mid-19th century. Most of the earliest moveable bridges used swing spans, typically with pin-connected trusses that pivoted over center piers. Near the end of the century, engineers began designing bascule bridges in locations where swing spans were impractical (e.g., tightly fitted urban crossings.) Two principal types of bascules were employed, both with roots in Chicago: the rolling lift and the trunnion models. In 1920 the SHD designed the first bascule bridge, over the Spring Lake Outlet in Ottawa County. Completed a year later, its moveable span was an 80-foot, single-leaf, trunnion-style, deck girder that allowed a 66-foot navigable lane on the river. SHD engineer C. A. Melick called the Spring Lake Bridge SHD's "first and only" bascule bridge in 1925. In the 1930s a handful of other bascule spans followed, among them the Manistee River Bridge (1933) in Manistee, the Saginaw River Bridge (1938) in Bay City, and the Cheboygan Bridge (1940). The latter two structures were designed by the SHD with the assistance of the Chicago consulting firm of Hazelet and Erdal. The two principals of the firm, Craig Hazelet and Ingolf Erdal, had both worked for the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge COmpany. Founded in 1893 by Albert Scherzer, the Scherzer Company designed and built rolling lift bascule bridges based upon a patent obtained by Albert's brother, William. (William Scherzer died in 1893, shortly after receiving his patent.) The company proved successful, by WWI, Scherzer had designed or built over 175 structures. Hazelet and Erdal worked for Scherzer in the early 1930s, (Hazelet as a general manager and president, and Erdal as managing engineer.) before starting their own consulting practice in 1936. Soon after, they began consulting for SHD. It was an association that lasted at least through the 1950s, as SHD adopted the Hazelet and Erdal model as its standard for bascule bridge design. The Saginaw and Cheboygan spans, the Pine River Bridge (1949) in Charlevoix County and the Blossomland Bridge (1949) in Berrian County all employed Scherzer configurations, differing only in substructure and approach spans. The Cheboygan Bridge thus fit well within the mainstream of bascule bridge construction in Michigan. Its double-leaf, rolling lift configuration was employed on virtually every bascule bridge built by the state in the late 1930s and 1940s. The Cheboygan Bridge's technological significance derives not from its unusual or innovative engineering, but from its representation of standard SHD design. The last bascule bridge built on Michigan's highways before WWII, it is today one of about a dozen bascules left in the state from the historic period. THe bridge accrues additional significance as a pivotal link on the Huron Shoreline Road from Port Huron to Mackinac City, a major Michigan thoroughfare. Taken as a whole, it was "one of the finest examples of modern bridge design in the state...,"Kennedy stated at its dedication, "fitted to meet the demands that will be made upon it through a long period of service." The Cheboygan Bridge, more than 45 years later, continues to serve in place without significant modification. A well preserved transportation related resource, it has been determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register.
Period of Significance 1940
Significant Date(s) 1940
Registry Type(s) 12/09/1999 National Register listed
Site ID# P22242