Fruitport Rd. / Petty's Bayou

MDOT Historic Bridge Ottawa County Fruitport Rd. / Petty

County: Ottawa

City/Township: Spring Lake Twp.

Location: Fruitport Rd. / Petty's Bayou

Year Built: 1948

About this Bridge:
This multiple-span concrete/steel bridge carries the Fruitport Road over the Pettys Bayou, an arm of Spring Lake, between the villages of Spring Lake and Fruitport. Extending 418 feet in overall length, the Bowen Bridge is comprised of nine steel stringer spans, five at 55 feet in length, two at 53 feet and two at 18 feet. Each span is made up of eight lines of rolled I-beams, with steel channel spandrel beams, all braced laterally by solid steel diaphragms. The superstructure is supported by concrete spill-through piers, each of which rests on two steel caissons.

The bridge’s location over a marshy inlet necessitated unusually deep foundations. “The design was dictated by the type of material underlying the lake bottom which provided very low bearing values at depths of over 100 feet below the water surface,” MSHD engineer C.H. Voss stated in 1949. “In order to provide satisfactory bearing for the foundation units, the substructure was designed to incorporate the use of friction piling which was provided by the use of tapered, fluted shell piles in the pier units and timber piles in the abutment units.”

The Bowen Bridge features standard MSHD design and detailing, with corbeled steps on the bulkheads and concrete piers, ornamental steel guardrails with concrete posts, and a concrete deck that corbels over the spandrels to form stringcourses. Today the bridge is in excellent structural condition, without alterations.

Formed in 1911, the Ottawa County Road Commission immediately began an ambitious program of countywide road and bridge construction, entailing almost 200 miles of roads. One of the routes originally designated by the commission was the Fruitport Road, a 1 ½ -mile stretch in Spring Lake Township. The commission began actual construction of this and other county roads in the spring of 1912. Under the supervision of County Surveyor Emmet Peck, work progressed throughout the county during the 1910s. In 1921, the commission hired civil engineer Carl Bowen. A former MSHD employee, Bowen was responsible not only for the road and bridge engineering in Ottawa County but for day-to-day operation of the road commission. He held the position for more than three decades before retiring around 1956.

One of the bridges built under Bowen’s tenure was this multiple-span structure over Pettys Bayou on the Fruitport Road. The Michigan State Highway Department engineered the structure late in 1947 on behalf of the county. MSHD designated the bridge as a Federal Aid Secondary project, solicited competitive proposals and awarded the contract to build it to L.W. Lamb of Holland, Michigan, and the Luedtke Engineering Company of Frankfort.

Poor bearing conditions dictated an innovative substructural system. According to Voss, “The abutment units are of cellular construction supported on timber piling. This type of construction was selected to reduce the weight on the underlying soil and to spread the bearing over a greater area so as to avoid superimposing loads on the approach fill.” The piers were caisson-type over driven piles. Construction on the bridge commenced in February 1948 and continued unabated until a two-week break in July. The last concrete was poured in November; the bridge was opened to traffic on December 3, 1948. Total cost :$237,000.

At the request of the local Chamber of Commerce, the bridge was dedicated on June 24 as the Bowen Bridge. The structure “honors Bowen for his long service to the commission,” state the Grand Haven Daily Tribune. “For 27 years he has guided the development of county highways and bridges, virtually lifting most county roads out of literal sand ruts of years ago.”

The Bowen Bridge has since carried vehicular traffic on this secondary route, in essentially unaltered condition. The Bowen Bridge represented one of the most important pieces of post-WWII construction in Ottawa County. It is historically important for its association with Carl Bowen, a locally important personage. And it is technologically noteworthy as a well-preserved example of late-1940s bridge construction in Michigan.