The records consist of one copy of the historic resources archive documentation (text and photos on archival quality materials) for the Branch Avenue Bridge No. 976 prepared by Edward Connors and Associates of Riverside, Rhode Island for the Department of Transportation.
Branch Avenue Bridge No. 976, built in 1909 by the City of Providence, replaced a deteriorated timber bridge with rubble substructure built in 1886. These two bridges are the latest in a likely succession of simple bridge crossings dating to the development of mill privileges along the West River in the early 19th century.
The expansion of the small industrial settlement at Wenscuft, later Wanskuck, dates to an investment made during the Civil War to improve an abandoned mill privilege at an impoundment of the West River. This had been the site of the Wenscutt Manufacturing Company, an early 19th-century cotton mill that passed through several owners, likely failing in the financial panic of 1857. Investors Jesse Metcalf, Stephen Olney and Henry Steere purchased the Wenscutt factory site in 1862, building a four-story brick mill to produce woolens for the war effort. This factory complex, called the Wanskuck Company, shipped its first woolen goods in 1864. The company also expanded the stock of worker housing and, ca. 1890, significantly improved the main mill building.
The road now known as Branch Avenue originally served as a subsidiary branch of the early 19th-century Douglas Turnpike connecting Providence and Douglas, Massachusetts. The Union Railroad Company introduced a horse-drawn street railway system to Providence in 1864. Twenty years later, a network of lines serving Providence and suburbs within a 5-mile radius was completed. A line serving the thriving village of Wanskuck was extended to Branch Avenue in 1884. Two years later the crossing at West River was improved with the construction of a single-span, timber deck truss bridge. This structure comprised three trusses-two outer webs and a third web in the middle of the roadway separating the two lanes of traffic. Generally street railway lines were laid in the center of roads; in this case, however, the center truss required the street railway to jog from the center line of Branch Avenue to the north traffic lane of the bridge. Two years after the introduction of electric traction in Providence in 1892, the Union Railroad Company abandoned its horsedrawn cars and electrified existing lines, among them the Branch Avenue line.
Uncovered timber bridges had a typical lifespan of ten to fifteen years. By 1907 deterioration of the timber Branch Avenue Bridge had come to the attention of the Providence City Engineer's Office. The City Council passed a resolution in September of that year allotting funds "not to exceed $7,500" for the erection of a steel girder bridge. Assistant City Engineer William Bullock designed structural and material innovations in the form of steel lattice girders encased in concrete and abutments and wingwalls of concrete.
In the 1909 Annual Report, Providence City Engineer Otis Shedd explained the choice of concrete encasement:
In designing the superstructure the entire tensile and compressive stresses from the dead loading was intended to be taken by the steel work. This was effected by suspending the concrete forms from the steel work. The steel tension members were also proportioned to take, in addition to the dead load tensile stresses, the total live load stresses. The compressive stresses from the live loading were divided between the steel and concrete.
Clouette and Roth, in RIDOT's 1987 Historic Bridge Inventory, added that
[Bridge 976] is the earliest one of three bridges in the inventory which make use of concrete-encased steel girders, a forerunner to conventionally reinforced concrete beams. The use of concrete to encase all the steel parts of the bridge also reveals the period's belief in the low maintenance of concrete construction. The floor vaulting is uncommon. The use of lattice girders, rather than the more common plate girders, perhaps reflects the greater load-bearing capacity added by the concrete.
In April of 1909 the City awarded a contract to Eastern Bridge and Structural Company (Worcester, MA) for the fabrication of a skewed bridge with sidewalks resting on steel brackets. This new bridge eliminated the obstruction of the old center web and allowed direct passage of streetcars without a jog to the side. Jamesville Construction Company (also of Worcester) prepared the falsework for the reinforced concrete abutments and wingwalls and placed the steel structure on site for concrete encasement. The 1909 design included steel streetcar rails set flush with an asphalt wearing surface. Overall cost for the bridge was $5,980. The bridge was open to traffic on October 17, 1909 and has carried an increasing volume of vehicular traffic for a century.
Author: Edward Connors and Associates, Riverside, Rhode Island
Scope and Contents: The records consist of one copy of the historic resources archive documentation (text and photos on archival quality materials) for the Branch Avenue Bridge No. 976 prepared by Edward Connors and Associates of Riverside, Rhode Island for the Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation replacement of Branch Avenue Bridge No. 976 project was found to have an adverse effect on the Branch Avenue Bridge No. 976, a historic property that was determined eligible for listing in the the National Register of Historic Places in January 10, 1989.