M-88 / Intermediate River

MDOT Historic Bridge M88/Intermediate River

County: Antrim

City/Township: Bellaire

Location: M-88 / Intermediate River

Year Built: 1932

About this Bridge:
As a well-documented example of Depression-era state bridge construction and as an important component in a locally significant tourist route, the Michigan State Highway 88 Bridge is eligible for the National Register for the significant engineering challenges that were overcome for its construction.

Bellaire's initial development was spurred by lumbering, which was in decline by the late nineteenth century. By that time, however, the community's economy was being stimulated by tourism, as vacationers flocked from Chicago and Detroit to the scenic area around Grand Traverse Bay. By 1931, the steel-truss bridge that had carried the community's main north-south street since 1893, the second bridge in that location, was in need of replacement. The state highway department drafted plans for a new bridge, and in late October awarded a $21,419 contract for the concrete construction to L. W. Lamb, a Jackson contractor who had completed a bridge in the previous year in nearby Traverse City. The Fort Pitt Bridge Works of Massillon, Ohio, won the bid to provide structural steel for $2,639. The bridge ultimately cost approximately $37,500, including approach work.

A ten-man advance crew began site work in Bellaire in early November 1931, with construction planned through the winter and spring. This was welcome news for the town, which was already suffering from high unemployment in the early years of the Depression. The County Relief Committee helped provide workers for the project. By mid-December, the coffer dam was in place and foundation piles were being driven. These footings were 18 inches deeper than normal because, as the state highway department's 1932-1933 biennial report explained, the bridge "was a very unusual and difficult job due to being immediately below a power dam and encroaching on the tail water and flume walls of the power plant. It required special treatment both to fit the site, to protect foundations from scour and to preserve the property of the Power Company."

The contractor finished the substructure by the beginning of March 1932, and by the end of that month, the steel girders were in place. The bridge was formally opened to traffic in June. Opening festivities, which were organized by the local fire department and attended by over 1,000 people, included speeches and a square dance on the bridge.