Masters Rd. / Belle River

MDOT Historic Bridge St. Clair CountyMasters Rd. / Belle River

County: St. Clair

City/Township: Rilety Twp.

Location: Masters Rd. / Belle River

Year Built: 1935

About this Bridge:
St. Clair County was hit hard by the Depression. The county's road commission aggressively sought federal relief funds for road and bridge work to put unemployed laborers back to work and improve the county's deteriorating road system. The resulting bridges, usually common structural types, sometimes displayed nonstandard detailing on railings and wing walls. Many of these structures have been demolished or altered since that time. The Masters Road Bridge merits National Register designation as a well-preserved, representative example of bridges produced by Depression-era relief programs.

On 6 September 1934, the St. Clair County Road Commission opened bids for the construction of a bridge over the Belle River one-half mile east of Riley Center. Plans for the new bridge were approved by William Cox, who served as the county road engineer from 1919 to 1938. The structure was to replace a 50-foot-span pony truss, which was supported by stone abutments. Three contractors, all from Port Huron, submitted bids: J.H. Baker and Sons, $9,391; George Willits, $9,951; and the Yeager Bridge and Culvert Company, $9,959.

The contract went to the low bidder, J.H. Baker and Sons. The firm had previously undertaken a large project for the county, the paving of Gratiot Road from Port Huron to the county line. The county had received a $279,300 contract from the state highway department for this project in January 1932, which it subcontracted to Baker. The road commission took on the project, in part, to provide work for the large number of unemployed men in St. Clair County.

In March 1933, with the same motivation, the county initiated a major effort to improve some 400 miles of township roads for which it was assuming responsibility under the provisions of the McNitt Act. In July of that year, the road commission applied for a $500,000 loan and grant through the National Industrial Recovery Act. Although it is not known if that amount was received, the road commission clearly had a substantial infusion of funds when it embarked on a flurry of bridge construction in the mid-1930s. Like the road improvements, the bridge work was also prompted by the poor condition of many township structures that the county received through the McNitt Act. The Masters Road Bridge is a representative example of that effort. The structure's design, although simple, reflects the streamlined aesthetic that dominated the 1930s.