Salt River Bridge on Hwy288. Photo by Patti Daley.
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Historic Bridges of Gila County

Gila County is home to more than 20 historic bridges. Nine of them are listed on the  National Registry of Historic Places, the official list of U.S. buildings, sites, and objects that are worth preserving for their significance in American history.  

“Many who visit from out of town and don’t know how many structures are here of historical significance,” says Robert Freese, a docent volunteer for the Gila County Historic Museum.

In total, Gila County has 52 sites listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, including Besh Ba Gowah, Bullion Plaza, and downtown Globe; on a smaller in scale, there’s Ox Box Inn in Payson, and one-room Strawberry School.

These historic buildings hold a place in time, and often, some treasures from life in the past. Historic bridges, on the other hand, mark our movement into the future. Bridges cross chasms, open new territory, and sometimes, they help form a town.

Creating Miami

Five of Gila County’s nationally recognized bridges are right here in Miami, located on Reppy, Cordoba, Keystone, Inspiration, and Miami avenues. Known as the five arches, they represent an important era in the formation of the town.

The five bridges were built in 1920 and 1921, as part of a major infrastructure upgrade for Miami, funded by the Inspiration Mining Company that included water, sewer and electrical systems. Plans provided by the Topeka Bridge & Iron Company of Kansas called for a short-span Luten arch bridge, nearly as wide as it is long, and guardrails with decorative concrete balusters. 

Reppy Avenue Bridge. Photo by Patti Daley

 

The Keystone Avenue Bridge was the first to be built. Completed within two months, the project was so successful that construction of Cordoba Avenue Bridge began. A year later, bridges on Reppy, Inspiration and Miami Avenues were added. The five identical structures remain today, and provide safe passage into Miami’s antique and arts district. 

Opening New Territory

In 1930, The Arizona Highway Department (AHD) was looking for a new route into the state’s northeast region; specifically a Salt River crossing. According to Arizona Department of Transportation (AZDOT) reports, they found a  “nearly perfect” bridge site in a constricted canyon 43 miles north of Globe.  

Challenged by road curvature and scarcity of nearby concrete, the Arizona Highway Department (AHD) chose a  long-span steel deck arch design and contracted with the Lee Moor Construction Company of El-Paso to build the bridge for $58,050. The first pylon went in on January 1934; by June, the Salt River Canyon Bridge was completed.

Salt River Canyon Bridge. Photo by Patti Daley

“It is one of Arizona’s most visually striking and technologically significant bridges,” says Clayton Fraser, a preservation consultant who has inventoried all of Arizona’s historic bridges.

With a single 162-foot arch span and seven shorter steel girder approach spans, the Salt River Canyon Bridge was the first girder-ribbed steel arch undertaken by AHD, and became their standard. Queen Creek and Pinto Creek  have similar designs.

In 1996, the Salt River Canyon Bridge was replaced by a parallel structure. Painted red and adorned with Apache symbols, Apache Bridge (aka New Salt River Bridge) now carries traffic on U.S. 60.  Salt River Canyon Bridge remains open for foot traffic and the site serves as a popular put-in for whitewater rafters. 

After a three to five day trip down the wild and scenic Salt River, rafters arrive at their takeout point, with another historic bridge, and popular photo backdrop.

Salt River Bridge on Highway 288. Photo by Patti Daley.

The Salt River Bridge on AZ 288  was constructed in 1920 by the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) and is historically significant as the earliest documented example of major BPR bridge construction in Arizona. Designed by BPR engineers in Denver, it is a long-span steel truss bridge. It’s nearly 215 ft. span is supported by concrete abutments set Into solid rock shorelines. The bridge is technologically significant as one of only four Parker trusses in the state, and the earliest and longest originally located through truss.  

If you’re ready for dirt roads, rugged hiking, and more scenic delight, take a trip to Fossil Creek Bridge. From the town of Strawberry, travel Fossil Creek Road. The bridge crosses the creek at the border of Gila and Yavapai counties and the Tonto and Prescott National Forests.

Fossil Creek Bridge. Photo by Patti Daley.

Built in 1925 by the AHD, the bridge cost just over $10,000 and is a well-preserved example of  bridge construction standards of the era. The concrete closed-spandrel deck arch bridge has a span of 70 ft. with 14-ft. rises on each side.  

With a sufficiency rating of 27.4 of 100, the bridge is open to autos and provides critical access to the Waterfall Trail on Fossil Creek.

Government in Action

Crossing high above the Black River, the Black River Bridge represents one of the first public works projects undertaken by the Arizona Territorial government. In 1911,  the Arizona Territorial Legislature funded the construction of a wagon bridge over the Black River to carry the military from Fort Apache to the railroad at Rice.   

The original timber truss superstructure was replaced by steel trusses in 1929.  The AHD design for the 214-ft. structure employed a Warren web configuration for the trusses, an Umber deck, steel lattice guardrails and 100,000 pounds of structural steel. It is all supported on the original concrete piers.   

Black River Bridge has been paved with asphalt, but is otherwise unchanged. It is technologically significant as the oldest of four deck trussed trestles found amongst Arizona’s historic bridges.

Due to its remote location, and the development of U.S. Highway 60 soon after its construction, its contribution to regional transportation has been limited primarily to military and the reservation. The bridge is owned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

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