A trip to Savage, Maryland
Do you know what a Bollman Truss Bridge is?
Well, I did not either until last week. Brad and I had been continuing our exploration of local places of interest, remembering a highway sign along Interstate 95 in Howard County, Maryland. “Visit Historic Savage” it implored. Savage is barely 25 miles from our house, so we decided to pay the place a visit.
Savage lies along the Little and the Middle Patuxent Rivers. The rivers made water powered mills possible and in the early 1800’s Savage turned into an important center for the production of cotton textiles. One of the specialities produced in Savage was sail cloth for the clipper ships sailing out of Baltimore harbor.
The cotton came from the US south. It was shipped by boat to Baltimore and then transported via mule pulled carts to Savage. Not an ideal transportation method. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had completed the Baltimore to Washington branch in 1835, with a station at Savage. Seeing the potential for revenue the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad then built a spur from it’s Baltimore to Washington line to the cotton mill. The railroad had to cross the Little Patuxent River to reach the mill. Apparently the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad found an unused bridge somewhere and decided to use it to cross the Little Patuxent River in Savage. That’s were the Bollman Truss Bridge comes in.
During the early days of US railroads track bridges and trestles were invariably built with wood. Wood was plentiful, it was cheap and it was easy to work with. Importantly it also allowed the railroads to built bridges and trestles very quickly. However there were some very important and nasty drawbacks to using wood. It rots. The tensile strength is very low. Wood structures require an enormous amount of maintenance. Something the railroads were not very good at.
But the largest problem was that wooden bridges and trestles had the nasty habit of burning down. Frequently! Something else was needed. Enter Mr. Bollman. He was a Baltimore civil engineer, who came up with and built the first successful all metal bridge for railroads. His company built about a hundred of these bridges. These bridges were cheap to built, structurally much more reliable than wood and lasted much longer than wooden bridges. The durability and ease of assembly supposedly greatly facilitated the expansion of US railroads. Here is a link to how truss bridges work.
The bridge in Savage is the only surviving example of this kind of suspension truss bridge. It was restored in 1978 and again 1999. The American Society of Civil Engineers designated this bridge as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. In 2000 it was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks.
The Savage Park is right along the Little Patuxent River and offers some nice hiking and nature trail.
The Savage Mill Historic Site is just a few feet from the bridge. There are shops and restaurants, as well as a museum.
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All photos by Bradford Wing and Ralf Meier. (iPhone X, iPhone 11 Plus, Sony RX100M7) ©Ralf Meier, 2020