Over the last year the Wayne Township Trustee Office, located at 320 East Superior Street, has been in the center of some major construction downtown. Sometimes it seemed almost impossible to get to our location for clients and staff members alike. People in need of services often had to consult our Facebook page or call us to find out how to get in as the open or closed status of our surrounding streets seemed to change almost daily.
But the spectacular results of all this inconvenience are now on display. On Sunday evening, September 17, the bridge at our intersection with Spy Run and Lafayette was closed to all traffic for the last time as Mayor Tom Henry, the City of Fort Wayne’s Public Works Division, Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), military officials, and federal, state, and local government officials held a ceremony there to dedicate the renovated and renamed Fort Wayne Veterans Memorial Bridge.
The one-way, three-lane bridge has long served as a major northbound route through downtown Fort Wayne that gets over 23,500 vehicles driving over it every day. Before the new name, the bridge has been known as the Governor Samuel Bigger Bridge since the late 1980’s when then State Legislator Mitch Harper persuaded INDOT to name the bridge in honor of Indiana’s seventh governor who served from 1840 to 1843.
Samuel Bigger lived in Fort Wayne after leaving the governor’s office, and when he died in 1846 he was buried in the old city cemetery in what is now McCulloch Park on Broadway next to the General Electric campus. In the 1860’s most of the bodies of that cemetery were moved to the then-new Lindenwood Cemetery, but because no family members could be found to approve a transfer, Governor Bigger’s grave remained where it was, and it became mostly neglected until 1994 when GE donated a large granite stone to mark his final resting place. Now that the bridge will no longer be named for Governor Bigger, the City plans to rename the bandshell in McCulloch Park after him.
Before the name change to the Samuel Bigger Bridge the span across the St Mary River was known as the Lafayette Street Bridge and the plaque from that structure, built in 1958, has been reinstalled in the bridge’s new facing. The Lafayette Street Bridge replaced a steel bridge (a Whipple Truss for the bridge geeks) that spanned the river near where the present Deck at Hall’s Gas House serves outdoor diners. That steel bridge, which was built in 1888, was very much like the Wells Street Bridge, built in 1884, that can still be seen and walked across in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. The overhead arches on the new bridge are reminiscent of the arches on the old 1888 structure.
The new Veterans Memorial Bridge, like the new Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge, has been upgraded to continue providing efficient one-way traffic lanes for motorists while also providing additional pedestrian width and bicycle access to the Rivergreenway. The Old Fort and the adjacent neighborhoods are better served now, not just for cars but for walkers and bikers. Railings have been installed to separate vehicular traffic from pedestrian traffic, and several bump-out areas are provided for pedestrians above the pier locations to create focal points. A pedestrian plaza area is now at the southwest corner of the bridge, and curved columns featured at the bump-out areas provide accent lighting.
It will be nice during these sunny fall days to take a lunchtime walk across the new bridge and enjoy Fort Wayne and Indiana’s tribute to our veterans and the new ease of access to our office as well. And the bonus: it’s opened up just in time for next month’s Veteran’s Day!
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