NORTH OF MAHOMET — This bridge’s supports show the waterline of the Sangamon River as it rose to new heights over the years — since 1893.The Hazen Bridge, known to some as the Newcomb Bridge, crosses the Sangamon River north of Mahomet, next to a replacement bridge.
The Preservation and Conservation Association owns the bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy has taken over maintaining it.
The volunteer groups have replaced some of the creosote timbers (and have also flipped the unweathered bottom wood face up) across the bridge and are building a limestone trail down to the river for boating.
“We are hiring a gentleman to do some ironwork on the approach,” said PACA volunteer Elyse Harshbarger.
Walking across it, a heavy man makes it rattle.
“It rattles no matter what,” said Chuck Berschinski of the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy.
PACA president Susan Appel loves how the light filters through the railings.
The location known as White’s ford was a popular crossing location before the bridge was built, because of its convenience to Mahomet and the 1855 Shiloh Church. It goes back to when Mahomet was called Middletown.
But the ford was often impassable, as snow melt made the Sangamon rise; in 1914, it rose 8 feet in nine hours.
“It’s about knee-deep right now,” Berschinski said.
The bridge was built in 1893 by the Severs Manufacturing Co. of Oscaloosa, Iowa, at a cost of $4,985.
It’s a Pratt truss design bridge, common in the late 19th century, but has unusual features that engineers can appreciate, according to its National Register of Historic Places application.
It was named to the register 100 years after the bridge’s creation.
Hazen Bridge is one of only two truss bridges in Champaign County. The structure of connected triangular units works to take the load out of each component, according to the register application.
“It’s hard to save old bridges, and the Hazen, one of the few iron truss bridges left in the county, is unique among such bridges,” wrote the conservancy’s founder, Scott Hays.
“Its long western raised approach takes it over bottomland floodplain so that the bridge might not be affected by the Sangamon’s frequent high-water events.”
The Hazen Bridge is now a destination spot for hikers and river lovers to fish and kayak. The Upper Sangamon River Conservancy recently did a mussels survey there as part of an ongoing project.
“It showed the stretch was quite healthy for mussels,” Berschinski said.
Damselflies, kin to the dragonfly, show that the water is fresh. In the fall, the thousands of bees on the asters sound like a little engine, he added. A silver maple struggles for its branches to touch the side of the bridge.
Hazen Bridge is partly built of Carnegie steel, noted Berschinski, as he walked a narrow trail down to the river, pushing through spider webs and high plants that fight for growing room with the trail.
There are Carnegie libraries all over the country, including Paxton, Arcola, Danville (now the Vermilion County War Museum), Ridge Farm, Hoopeston and Paris.
Andrew Carnegie was a magnate in the American steel industry in the late 19th century. He became one of the richest Americans in history and paid some of it back in philanthropy.
In 1988, Hazen Bridge was endangered by a new span, planned as two lanes, compared to the one-lane Hazen Bridge.
PACA contacted township officials, who approved donating the span to PACA and building the replacement next to its predecessor.
A year later, Jack Richmond, who owned the land surrounding the bridge, agreed to donate five acres near the span to PACA.
He and his wife, Marjorie, are better known in Champaign-Urbana for contributions to create the Richmond Journalism Teaching Facility, the Univerisity of Illinois Alumni Center’s Richmond Family Gallery and their endowments to support the men’s basketball coach’s salary and other sports programs.