Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Bridges of Kelvin and Riverside, Arizona

The Old Kelvin Bridge at Riverside, Arizona
(c) 2018 MJ Miller
The Gila River barely flowed this afternoon, relaxed by months of drought and little snowmelt. Like any of Arizona's rivers, it has a ferocious, voracious alter-ego during heavy rains. Our rivers divide communities in the literal sense during the most productive storms; our bridges are lifelines. Our historic bridges spanned the waters beneath old wagon and stagecoach roads; slowly, motorized vehicles and blacktop took over.  Although many of our early state bridges have vanished, enough remain to make bridge-hunting a rewarding pursuit. In recent decades the new bridges have risen above and near the historical bridge, and a few older bridges have been converted to pedestrian bridges or have been abandoned but not demolished. 

The Riverside / Kelvin / Ray Junction area along the Gila is a joy for bridge-chasers. Turn off the highway onto the old Florence-Kelvin Road and you'll find a new bridge under construction. In its shadows is the old Kelvin Bridge just below it. Showing its age in the deteriorating concrete and the single-lane scale, it's a graceful reminder of the elegant and attractive designs once employed in civil engineering projects. Designed by Daniel Luten, an Indiana engineer famed for his patented concrete-arched bridge designs, the Kelvin bridge no longer has its original decorative guard rail but retains its sweeping grandeur. Built in 1916, it is on the original stage road that connected Globe and Florence via Kelvin and Riverside. On that road, not even five miles away as you head toward Florence, Sheriff Glenn Reynolds was murdered by Apache prisoners he was transporting in 1889. 

The Old Kelvin Bridge
(c) 2018 MJ Miller

It is an idyllic area. Swallows build mud nests beneath the bridge. On the southwest edge of the bridge is a quiet hiking trail; one leg leads to the river banks and the other leads farther than I had time to walk it. Hawks, bright yellow finches, and cardinals were nearby in the cottonwoods and salt-cedars. 

The Kelvin Bridge Placard
(c) 2018 MJ Miller

The new Kelvin Bridge looms over the 1916 Luten bridge.
(c) 2018 MJ Miller

The Kelvin Bridge is actually in the community of Riverside, a territorial town where once Eugene Middleton, the stagecoach driver wounded during the murder of Sheriff Reynolds, resided. Middleton came to Arizona Territory in 1874 and stayed until his death in Globe in 1929.

A third bridge at the Kelvin Bridge site: a working bridge for construction crews.
(c) 2018 MJ Miller
Mud swallow nests cling to the bridge's underside.
(c) 2018 MJ Miller

The town of Kelvin itself was consumed, as much of the area's settlements were, by the Ray Copper Mine operations. That vast mining operation is responsible for the small Copper Basin Railroad that makes its way back and forth throughout the area. With that railroad came the gorgeous but purely functional iron bridges across the Gila.

A Copper Basin Railroad Bridge near Ray Junction
(c) 2018 MJ Miller

Abandoned bridge near Ray Junction
(c) 2018 MJ Miller

Just south of the Kelvin bridge, where the 177 and 77 meet, is the abandoned concrete bridge above. It angles across the road to what was once the old wagon road, now replaced by the paved highway, crossing not the Gila River but one of the larger creek beds feeding it.

A small bridge on the Ray Junction / Kelvin Road
(c) 2018 MJ Miller

The terrain throughout the region is rugged and ever-changing. Dotting the landscape are small concrete bridges across the channels variably known as ravines, washes, arroyos, creek beds, and coulees that texture the land.

Ethan and Me at the Copper Basin Railroad Tracks

I have Jerry A. Cannon and his co-author Patricia D. Morris to thank for my relatively recent appreciation of Arizona's bridges. Until I began packing a copy of their Arizona's Historic Bridges, I too often drove over, passed by, or stopped and photographed our scenic, historically significant bridges without knowing their history or importance. I recommend Jerry's book for your own Arizona history library:  Arizona's Historic Bridges (affiliate link).

Copyright (c) 2018 MJ Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Thank you for liking, linking, sharing, tweeting, and otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thanks for visiting and sharing my love of the west!

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