Dexter/Scio Townships: What’s The Future For The Old Bell Road Bridge?





By Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com

The current state of the Bell Road Bridge sees it in storage.

However, the future of it is not so clear, and still a work in progress.

The fate of the bridge, that was built in Dexter Township over the Huron River in 1891 and then put out of commission on the side of the road around 1997, all changed late in 2018 when it was moved under the direction and partnership of the Washtenaw County Road and Parks and Recreation commissions.



WCRC spokeswoman Emily Kizer said after sitting on the side of the road for years, exposed to the elements, the bridge was moved in mid-November to a safe spot for storage. She said the county commissions’ partnership understands the importance of its historic designation and is looking into a way to reuse it, in potentially a non-motorized way on a pathway or trail, somewhere in Washtenaw County.

However, she said these are just discussions right now and no specific location has been determined.  

The old Bell Road Bridge, also known as the Dover Mill Bridge, when all laid out is 108 feet long, spanning 104 feet of roadway at a width of 13 feet.

One proposal for it was originally put forth in 2015 and still stands out there in need of some support. It is the Dover Bridge Path Proposal, which was prepared for the county parks and Scio Township by Scott Hedberg, who was involved with the East Delhi Bridge Conservancy, appointed to the Historic District Committee and is registered Landscape Architect, builder and historian.

His team included: Nathan Holth, a National Bridge Historian having documented 3,977 bridges nationally on his website and assisted in the preservation of many historic bridges nationally as well as assisting the East Delhi Bridge Conservancy; Nels Raynor of Bach Steel in Holt, who has restored a number of historic bridges and Jim Schiffer, of Schiffer Engineering, who has done engineering on Michigan Department of Transportation projects and historic bridges.

Hedberg’s team’s proposal said this Pratt through-truss-bridge, erected in 1891, was built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio.

“The bridge was assembled on site by a local crew using iron connecting pins that are visible at the deck level. These pins, unique to nineteenth century ironwork, make the bridge easy to assemble and capable of flexing to accommodate varying weights,” the proposal said. “The bridge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Pratt truss was invented in 1844 by Thomas & Caleb Pratt. As a background, Hedberg’s team said the Bell Road Bridge is the third/forth-oldest bridge of this type in the state and tenth in the nation. It’s name has origins in 1832 when Judge Samuel Dexter and Isaac Pomeroy built a sawmill in Dover, Mich. on the banks of the Huron River. Then in 1846, Daniel B. Sloan and Company replaced the sawmill with a gristmill called Dover Mills, which spurred the village’s growth.

In January 1998, the bridge was removed from the abutments due the failure of the east abutment, the proposal said.

Hedberg said it would be great to see the bridge go into help the Scio Township Zeeb pathway because it would help make that area the heart for historic bridge resources in Washtenaw County along with the Delhi Mills Bridge, 1883 and the Foster Mills Bridge, 1876, which is close to the township border. It could also connect with the Border-to- Border trail. The stated objective of their proposal would be to restore it and relocate a third historic bridge on the Huron River near where the 1890 Scio Mills Bridge was to assist the township pathway as means of a pedestrian and bike crossing the river between the township to the Border-to-Border Trail. In addition to providing an ADA access point to the Huron River Trail.

However, some time has passed and their proposal has remained an idea. Hedberg said at this point it would be great to just see it get the support it needs to save its historic significance and have it reused, after fixing it, and placing it somewhere in the county.

The hope for those, like Hedberg and team who hope to see historic bridges saved and reused, is that a way forward will soon be determined.





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