Essay Project 2021: The Germananess of the Portland Bridges
By Leah Nelson
In Michigan there are a total of 11,145 bridges, to which Portland is home to seven. A few of them include: the Looking Glass Railroad Bridge, Center Line Bridge, Kent Street Bridge, and the US-16 Bridge. The Center Line Bridge, however, is not located in Portland anymore. According to bridgehunter.com, it was moved to and restored at the Historic Bridge Park in Calhoun County, Michigan in the year of 2001. The Center Line Bridge is one of the only three Whipple highway bridges left in Michigan, making it a very important and historic bridge. Whipple bridges were sought up by Squire Whipple in 1841, ¨he developed the first theoretical formula to calculate stresses in the articulated truss… [it] was the first to use cast iron....¨ It also is one of the last bridges that still stands, nationwide, that was created by the Buckeye Bridge and Iron Works of Cleveland Ohio. This company was bought out later by a different company located in Cleveland, Ohio. Many of the Portland bridges are as old as the city and some were built well after it was lived in. Let’s dive further into the history and the communal impact of the Portland bridges.
We currently have seven bridges spanning the two rivers in Portland. The most notable is the US-16 bridge, or commonly known as the bridge on Grand River Avenue. This bridge recently underwent repairs, starting August 25th through the end of 2020. The next bridge, you most likely have heard of, is the Veterans Memorial Bridge located on Bridge Street. This is a very historic bridge in Portland, being one of the ¨only three Parker truss bridges,¨ according to the Michigan Department of Historic Transportation’s bridge inventory. It also has two uses: it serves as a pedestrian bridge and a one lane vehicle transportation bridge. Another very historic bridge that was the first built going across the river is the Looking Glass Railroad Bridge. This bridge was built for the railroad industry then converted into a pedestrian bridge because it wasn't being used for trains. These three bridges are the most commonly known bridges used by the community.
I had the opportunity to interview Mandy Johnston, a member of the City Council in Portland. She gave me wonderful insight on all of the bridges and how they are important to the community. I asked her opinion on why the bridges are such a significant part of the community, her response was that ¨[w]e have a variety of bridges spanning from over 100 years old to 20 years old. [The] history is what makes Portland stand out!... [e]ach is unique and special in its own way.¨
There were more questions that I was eager to ask Johnston in my interview. One question I asked was about the number of bridges we had in the whole City of Portland, and if we didn't have all of them how would that impact the community. Johnston added, ¨Without [the Grand River Ave Bridge], I do not feel that our community, particularly the downtown, would be as vibrant… Without those pedestrian bridges, the flow of the Rivertrail would be obstructed.¨ Another question I was eager to ask was about the most significant bridge in the community based on her opinion. She stated, ¨[T]he Grand River Ave bridge is hands down the most significant. We learned [that] during the ice jam when it was impassable...Historically, the Veterans Memorial Bridge is most significant… It represents a rich history and really the ‘trademark’ of our community.¨ The last question that I asked Johnston was about her favorite bridge and why she picked it. She chose the Veterans Memorial Bridge because of the historical connections. She added, ¨My family has been in the Portland area since the mid 1800´s, and I like to think that many of my ancestors used that bridge regularly… Coming in close second is the [Looking Glass] railroad bridge, because it too is representative of our past as a railroad depot.” I certainly loved all of the honest and full answers that I received from her. Seeing the bridges from her point of view was very insightful and from a view that I wouldn't have known.
Here I stand, a poem written by Amelia, from a prompt on laurasalas.com, caught my eye.
Here I stand
¨Mighty and grand
Hand in hand
Land to land
Here I stand¨
This poem caught my eye because the bridges we have in Portland are ¨Mighty and grand¨ and all are still standing. Writing this article provided me with so much more knowledge than I had before. It taught me the importance of researching and how to reach out to people I may not know. I have learned so much about their history and the communal connections to the bridges in Portland. I use one bridge almost everyday, or two every week. I use the Grand River Ave bridge when I drive into the city or go get fast food. We have so many beautiful and important bridges still standing in our community. Take a stroll or scenic drive on some of the bridges that were mentioned above, or maybe you already have and know how important they are to not only you but all the other people that have used the same bridges as you. As you see one of the seven bridges, think about how important they are and how the importance of its history is.
This essay is part of a writing project by students in Chandra Polasek’s ELA class at Portland High School. The project asked students to focus on elements of their own town while getting students engaged with the community. The essays were written with the intention of being published in The Portland Beacon.