“Bridging Time” — a monthly series featuring photos by Calvin Sneed — highlights steel truss and concrete arch bridges throughout the United States. During his travels, Calvin has taken more than 30,000 photos of 900 or more bridges (mostly in the Southeast).
This month’s featured bridges are the Thomas Bridge in Sullivan County, Tennessee, and the Bridgeport Bridge, on the Caddo-Canadian County line, near Hinton, Oklahoma.
The Thomas Bridge
The Thomas Bridge is one of the oldest highway steel truss bridges still standing in upper East Tennessee. Built in 1898 by the New Columbus Bridge Company of Columbus, Ohio, the Thomas Bridge crossing Beaver Creek in Sullivan County is a single-lane, Pratt steel through truss.
It sits on two masonry abutments on either end. The span has pin-connected "eye bars" for stability (common to that time period) and is 171 feet long. The truss span also has decorative lace portals at either end.
At one point, the Thomas Bridge carried State Route 37 from Bluff City to Blountville. It was closed in 1971 when the new Highway 37 connector was built (now State Route 394), and a new steel stringer replacement bridge was built just up the creek.
Although the Thomas Bridge deck is partially collapsed, the trusses are intact. The historic Thomas Bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
The Bridgeport Bridge
The Bridgeport Bridge, west of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is as much a part of American folklore as the historic highway it used to carry. Built in 1933, the crossing near the small community of Bridgeport formerly carried U.S. Route 66 across the South Canadian River, as "America's Mother Road" carried people from the East, Midwest and South across the plains seeking better lives in California.
The bridge, in fact, makes a brief appearance in the movie "The Grapes of Wrath" as Henry Fonda led his family — like so many others in real life — west from Oklahoma to the Land of Milk and Honey.
The Bridgeport Bridge was built by the Kansas City Bridge Company of Kansas City, Missouri. The structure is unique in that it consists of 38 "camelback" pony truss spans, all built one right after the other.
Don't let the pictures fool you. It is not a short bridge. In fact, each of those spans is approximately 103.4 feet long. Total length, including two short concrete approach spans, is 3,944 feet, with only 125 feet of the bridge actually over the river channel. The rest of the bridge is over the floodplain that parallels the river.
With 38 trusses, Bridgeport is the longest single-span pony truss bridge in America and a signature Historic Route 66 bridge. With U.S. 66 decommissioned, the bridge now carries U.S. Highway 281. It also holds the name "William H. Murray Bridge," named for the governor who built the crossing during Oklahoma's famed dust bowl days of the Great Depression. The bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in December 2020.
Current plans call for a $22-million dollar renovation of the superstructure which will widen and strengthen it, but the iconic yellow steel pony trusses will remain, along with part of the original Route 66 pavement. The renovation is scheduled to begin this year.