Drain project threatens historic bridges

August 30, 2019

To the Editor:

Last week’s letter by Dave Isaac concerning the renovation of the Little Tobacco Drain brings to mind another problematic aspect of this multi-million dollar project. The Drain project threatens three historic bridges in Clare.

In June 1938, the Depression-era WPA (Works Progress Administration) announced that it would replace three bridges over the Drain in Clare at Fifth, Sixth, and Maple Streets.

The 5th Street bridge was later replaced by a standard MDot structure.
The other two WPA bridges survive.

The Maple Street bridge is in quite poor repair and is missing its original cable stanchions.

However, the Sixth Street bridge, although also badly degraded, is in better shape. It is one of the few existing urban WPA bridges that retains its original cable stanchions.

Clare has magnificent survivors from the Depression in the murals at the post office and middle school, and the sculpture of the Pioneer Mother.
The WPA bridges are a reminder that Clare benefitted not only in the arts, but also in infrastructure improvements during the dark days of the Depression.

The Drain project should incorporate the preservation of these bridges. Especially the bridge on Sixth Street deserves to be saved and renovated as an important part of our local history.

The Drain project will assuredly destroy perhaps the last remaining plank bridge in the county. Plank bridges were used early on as an easy and inexpensive way to span creeks such as the Drain. In Clare, such a plank bridge survives at the east end of Third Street.

It now leads nowhere and is in poor condition. It probably dates from the around 1890-1910 and is a reminder of the horse and buggy days when such a simple bridge served local needs well.

Since it most probably cannot be saved in place, as part of the Drain project it could be removed to Pettit Park or another public space as a reminder of Clare’s past.

Robert Knapp 

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