History & Heritage

Fall 2018

ASCE started in 1966 to “recognize civil engineering projects and the engineers who designed them," said Richard W. Karn, then president of ASCE. [1] Karn noted that the program intended to “… show what role the structures played in the history and development of this country." This designation does not protect the structure from demolition or otherwise change any property rights, but only indicates that it has historical or engineering significance.

From the beginning of the program in 1996, sections such as the Maryland section have nominated landmarks to the Society’s History and Heritage committee for recognition as Civil Engineering landmarks. ASCE reserves such landmark status to structures that are at least 50 years old. "Most people are familiar with the history of this country. however, few think about the social and economic impact of these structures," said Maryland resident, L. Neal Fitz-Simons (1928-2000), chairman of the committee on history and heritage. "We try to give the public some perspective of what these things have done for us."

Fitz-Simons had more than a passing interest or role in civil engineering history.

“Since engineering school at Cornell, FitzSimons had been interested in the history of civil engineering and, after moving to Washington, worked to establish a program on the history of civil engineering within the ASCE. Fitz-Simons was appointed to a Task Committee to study his proposal, and, in the spring of 1965, the Board of Direction approved the establishment of a permanent Committee on the History & Heritage of Civil Engineering (CHHACE), chaired by Past President Gail Hathaway.” [2]


Parallel with that effort, Robert Vogel of the Smithsonian and James Massey, first chief of the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) program working with students from the University of Maryland in 1966 recorded the Bollman bridge at Savage, Maryland. This was also to become ASCE’s first national historic civil engineering landmark in 1966. The ASCE press release for the event noted that …

“An old iron railroad bridge in the little village of Savage, Maryland has been singled out as a national Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The bridge, an 80-foot, double-span truss structure built in 1869 by (Baltimore native) Wendel Bollman, a Baltimore engineer, is the only remaining example of the design which facilitated rapid expansion of early American railroads.


ASCE recognition of the bridge as an engineering landmark is the Society’s first step in the direction of permanently marking such milestones in the progress of American civil engineering. ” [3]

That same month, ASCE published in the Society magazine, an article on the first recognized landmark. At that time, Savage MD was celebrating its 150th birthday, but the real celebrity was the iron bridge.

The bridge, an 80-ft, double-span truss structure built in 1869 by Wendel Bollman ( 18I4-1884), a Baltimore engineer-was singled out to become the first recipient of the newly instituted CHHACE project of marking national historic civil engineering landmarks. It is the only remaining example of a design that facilitated rapid expansion of early American railroads.” [4]


Ironically, just a few years after its dedication as a landmark, the bridge faced a crucial test. In 1972, Hurricane Agnes destroyed the county bridge that was just downstream from the 1883 Bollman bridge. Amazingly, the railroad bridge was undamaged, but the county bridge was destroyed. [5]

The ASCE magazine photo shows the new concrete span bridge to the left of the bridge. That same year, the bridge was listed on the National Register of historic places by the National Park Service.

Although the bridge had survived Hurricane Agnes, it couldn’t ignore vandalism. As happens on other ASCE landmarks, vandals removed the valuable bronze plaque. In 1981, the bridge was rededicated with a new bronze plaque provided by University of Maryland student chapter President Mike Brannon. At the same time, Howard County announced that it had secured funding for the bridge’s renovation. The photo below shows ASCE’s first chairman of the History and Heritage committee and pioneer of the National historic civil Engineering landmark program, Neil Fitz-Simons.

Efforts to rehabilitate the bridge started with the 1966 surveys by the UMD student engineers and then with the 1970 article published in Industrial Archeology which attempted to establish what were the essential features of the bridge and most important of all, what was its original painting scheme. In 1970, the NPS’ HAER program surveyed the bridge under Robert Vogel’s direction. Eleven years later, the County had assembled the funding to start the project. Washington firm, Mocljeski & Masters, did the conceptual work and Baltimore engineering firm Duffy-Montgomery, now Wallace Montgomery completed the construction documents in 1982 for the $214,220 restoration by Frederick, Maryland contractor, Dewey Jordan consisting of the following: [6]

1) general straightening and tightening of members.

2) replacing (recasting) missing parts.

3) reconstructing the floor beams.

4) removal of the 1909 queen-post truss under the floor beams.

5) cleaning rust from the cast-and wrought-iron parts.

6) priming and repainting.

7) cleaning and repainting the masonry pier and abutments.

8) stabilizing the river bed around the pier footings.

Dewey Jordan (1914-2002), himself was inducted into the Maryland Highway and Bridge Contractors Hall of Fame in June 2001. [7]

One of the notable features of that 1984 restoration was ASCE’s contribution of the maker’s plates…

“composed of six cast-iron strips with raised letters, was centered in the portal castings at each end of the bridge. The plates were replicated in cast aluminum in September 1966 as the initial step in the restoration.” (DeLony, 1984)

In 2000, the bridge was designated a national historic landmark by the Department of the Interior. In 2004, ASCE conducted a symposium on civil engineering history in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the contributed articles was from the students and faculty at Johns Hopkins University, and it was on the “Structural behavior of the Bollman truss bridge at Savage, Maryland.” [8]

The report noted the following:

“The Bollman truss bridge at Savage, Maryland provides an important link to the history of structural engineering in the United States. Though the bridge was designed using only hand calculations and engineering judgment, computerized structural analysis can provide insight into the behavior of such a complicated structural systems. uniform loads to the pairs of Bollman members, and to provide redundancy in the case of failure in the statically determinate Bollman system.

It is found further that the lower chord members can significantly redistribute forces in the structure, resulting in non-uniform stresses in the Bollman members. The bottom chord functions in compression, a highly surprising behavior for the bottom chord of a simply supported span. In no cases is the entire bottom chord activated in compression. Under uniform load, the bottom chord is engaged only in the end panels.

Under non-uniform load, stresses in the Bollman members are highly variable, and the diagonal bracing system serves an even more important role in its ability to distribute loads among the pairs of Bollman members. Most remarkable about the behavior of the structure under non-uniform loads is the increased activation of the lower chord in compression. In certain load cases, as many as five of the six lower chord members may be engaged in compression.

All of the analyses presented here point to the fact that the end panels behave in a qualitatively different manner than the interior panels. The lower chord is activated under all load cases, and member forces can be significantly larger in the end than the interior panels. It is determined that the lower chord members in the end panels are susceptible to buckling failure in the out-of-plane direction. This finding provides a possible explanation for the observed retrofit of these members in the extant bridge.” (reformatted and emphasis added)

The redundancy of the structure is surprising and the compressive action on the lower chord and buckling behavior even more. Another unusual feature of the structure is the single piece upper chord member in which under all the loading conditions had a constant loading. [9]

In the era of Wendel Bollman and his work on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad,

“…bridges had become the most highly developed structure type within the civil engineering profession and the consulting bridge engineer, the most skilled and respected practitioner. Theodore Cooper eloquently characterized the successful bridge engineer of 1880 as more than a mere calculator of stresses, emphasizing that he must have full knowledge of materials and connections and the erection process as well. In addition to knowing practical and theoretical elements of design, manufacturing, and erecting, he must have an "instinct of design" and the ability to adapt to individual cases.” (DeLony, 1996)

However, the bridge also serves as a memorial to something larger than just the tribute to Wendel Bollman. It also serves to note the beginning of ASCE’s efforts to commemorate outstanding engineering achievements. This program occurred primarily due to the efforts of Neal FitzSimons, the founding chairman of the History and Heritage Committee.

Sadly, Neal left us in 2000, but his vision lives on, and in 2018, more than fifty years after this first landmark was recognized, ASCE is again looking to reaffirm the achievements of past engineers. The Society History and Heritage committee have asked the individual sections to revisit the landmarks.

The purpose of the survey is to provide additional locational information on the plaques, determine the status (vandalized, etc.) and maintenance conditions. On October 20, 2018, the History and Heritage Committee of the Maryland Section visited the venerable bridge on a field trip organized with the Younger Member Forum (YMF) of the section thanks to Sarah Taylor. MD HHC members standing left to right are Benny Louie, Ken Derrenbacher and Mike OConnor near the interpretative signs and John Malinowski to OConnor’s right.

A tour was given of the site, and constructability considerations were looked at. Remember that this bridge was originally on the Baltimore- Washington branch from 1869 to 1888 and then relocated to Savage where it remains today. There are weldments on the bridge other than necessary for the 1984 restoration. Everything on Bollman’s original bridge was fitted, pegged or bolted together.

After the site tour, the group went over to Jailbreak brewery for a great discussion about civil engineering and beer.

[1] New York Times article on September 8, 1985, page 50.

[2] DeLony, Eric. "HAER and the Recording of Technological Heritage: Reflections on 30 Years' Work." IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology (1999): 5-28.

[3] ASCE press release for September 10, 1966.

[4] ASCE Magazine for October 1966, page 81.

[5] ASCE Civil Engineering magazine in January 1978, page 36.

[6] 1984 Historic Bridge Bulletin (Summer) Bollman article by Eric DeLony

[7] Jordon Obituary Published Online in The Frederick News-Post on Dec. 7, 2002

[8] Ariston, Liakos, Thomas Lydigsen, and Sanjay R. Arwade. "Structural behavior of the Bollman truss bridge at Savage, Maryland." Baltimore Civil Engineering History. 2005. 312-331.

[9] Arwade, Sanjay R., Liakos Ariston, and Thomas Lydigsen. "Structural Systems of the Bollman Truss Bridge at Savage, Maryland." APT Bulletin 37.1 (2006): 27-35.