|This description and history is made possible by Jon Axline
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The Williams Street Bridge is located in the Helena Valley of southwestern Montana. The City of Helena and the site of the Williams Street Bridge is situated in Belt
sedimentary rock that was deposited 1.5 billion to 800 million years ago. The adjacent Helena Valley is composed of tertiary basin fill, while the Boulder batholith rises
above the valley floor to the south of the bridge. The batholith formed approximately 75 million years ago and is bord ered in the Helena area by deposits of dolomite
deposits and limestone. Helena is near the northern end of the intermountain seismic belt, a series of seismically active faults that extends southward through
Yellowstone National Park to the Wasatch Range near Salt Lake City.1 The Williams Street Bridge is located near the northern foot of the Boulder Mountains about one
mile west of Helena. The Scratch Gravel Hills and the Big Belt Mountains are visible to the north of the bridge. The bridge crosses Ten Mile Creek, which originates in
the Boulder Mountains about ten miles to the southwest and flows northwesterly, bisecting the Helena Valley, before emptying into Lake Helena about eight miles
northeast of the bridge. The creek is bordered by cottonwoods, willows, and other riparian vegetation. The Helena Valley is situated in a roughly bowl-shaped
depression between three mountain ranges. The picturesque valley, which is extensively developed, is a mixture of small agricultural operations increasingly
encroached upon by residential subdivision radiating north from Helena. The mountains south of the bridge was the scene of extensive hard rock mining operations
beginning in 1865 and continuing until about 1948. The Williams Street Bridge currently provides access between U.S. Highway 12 , Fort Harrison, and small
residential subdivisions located northwest of Helena.
The Williams Street Bridge is a steel single-span, pin-connected Pratt pony truss structure. The structure rests on granite block abutments with extended granite-block
wingwalls running parallel to the creek on the south. The bridge is 67-feet long and 36.5-feet wide with a roadway width of 26.8-feet. The deck of the bridge is flanked
by two five-foot sidewalks delineated by decorative cast iron handrails, newel posts, and lattice-type panels.
The bridge rests on stone abutments comprised of rough-faced granite blocks set in a vaguely random pattern. The bridge also has extended masonry wingwalls.
Abutment No. 1 (north) is comprised of rough-faced cut granite blocks set in a random pattern. The abutment is about 5-feet in height and 36.5-feet wide. The top of
the abutment is set with a granite block sill that is extended. At some point within the last thirty years (probably around 1981), a concrete wall extension was installed by
Lewis and Clark County to raise the height of the bridge’s deck to facilitate the passage of water below the structure. The concrete extension is approximately 3-feet in
height. The bridge ends, however, rest on top of the granite abutments instead of on the seat constructed for it in 1894. A tapered granite wing wall extends to the
northwest off the west end of the abutment.
Abutment No. 2 (south) is also comprised of rough-faced granite blocks set in a random pattern. The abutment is 8-feet in height and 36.5-feet wide. It has a square
opening (seat) upon which the bridge’s deck was originally supported. Like the north abutment a concrete wall extension has been installed to raise the height of the
deck over the water below the structure. The abutment also has an extended concrete sill. The abutment’s wing wall is extended about 24-feet along the south bank of
the Ten Mile Creek. The wall is about 8-feet in height at the abutment and tapers to about 5-feet at the eastern terminus of the wing wall.
The Williams Street Bridge is an excellent example of a single-span pin-connected Pratt pony truss bridge. The bridge was built in 1894-1895 shortly
after the opening of the nearby Broadwater Hotel and Natatorium resort and about the time the U.S. Army began construction of Fort Harrison about
one mile north of the bridge. The bridge is located within a residential subdivision that was established in 1889 in conjunction with the resort. The
Williams Street Bridge provided access to a portion of the Broadwater property, the residential subdivision, and the fort. It also facilitated access from
the Helena Street Railway trolley to the Kessler Brewery and the Central Park. It was also constructed when Lewis and Clark County was improving
its infrastructure system during the depths of the Panic of 1893. The bridge is also significant as the oldest pin-connected Pratt pony truss bridge
remaining in Montana and because it is a good example of that design. Pin-connected Pratt truss bridges were the most common type of bridge built
in Montana from 1892 until the Montana Highway Commission standardized a new riveted design type in 1915. Funded by the counties and built by
private bridge construction companies, Pratt trusses were easy to assemble, relatively inexpensive, and reliable, functioning as wagon bridges to
facilitate traffic, in this face, on an old farm-to-market road. The bridge also retains some structural features that are unique in Montana and not
included on bridges still extant in Montana. This includes substantial granite abutments and wing walls likely obtained from the nearby Kain Granite
Company’s quarries on Ten Mile Creek, ornate steel hand rail panels on the sidewalks and on the southeast quadrant along Ten Mile Creek, and
decorative iron newel posts. The Williams Street Bridge is an exemplary example of a pin-connected Pratt pony truss bridge. The ornamentation was
likely included on the bridge because of its proximity to the Broadwater Hotel and Natatorium, a planned upscale residential subdivision, and its
association as an approach to Fort Harrison.
On 10 August 1894, an advertisement appeared in the Helena Daily Independent requesting proposals to construct two bridges in the vicinity of
Helena, Montana. Both would cross Ten Mile Creek. One would be located on Monroe Avenue (now North Montana Avenue) and the other on
Williams Street near the Broadwater Hotel. The advertisement for the Williams Street bridge specified that it would be “one-span, sixty-five feet center-
to-center of abutments, roadway twenty-four feet clear, two sidewalks each five-feet clear with an iron handrail.” The project included the installation
of 140 cubic yards of stone masonry for the abutments. The commissioners opened bids from seventeen individuals and companies for the project on 10
September 1894. Of those bidders, not all bid on the entire package or on both bridge projects. Indeed, six firms only bid on the masonry work and
grading the approaches to the new bridges. Ten bridge contracting companies bid on the bridges. The bids ranged from a high of $3,900 offered for
both bridges from the Toledo Bridge Company, to a low of $1,958 proposed by Farnsworth & Blodgett. Other companies that bid on the project was O.
E. Peppard of Missoula, the George E. King Bridge Company, Wrought Iron Bridge Company, Youngstown Bridge Company, Milwaukee Bridge &
Jail Works, the Gillette-Herzog Manufacturing Company and the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio.
When the County Commissioners incorrectly stated on 11 September that the King Bridge Company’s bid was “lowest and best offered” for the
Williams Street Bridge. The King company was the most prolific bridge-builder in Lewis & Clark County from around 1892 until 1902. That the
commissioners awarded the company the contract despite the fact that it was not the lowest bid, suggests that the county commissioners and the
company were involved in a pool arrangement whereby the King company got all the major bridge contracts in the county. The commissioners
awarded the contract to the King Bridge Company for its bid of $2,341.50, which included the installation of handrails on both structures. Helena
contractor Hugh Kirkendall got the contract to build the masonry abutments and grade the approaches to both bridges on 12 September. Work on the
Williams Street Bridge proceeded smoothly from late September until its completion on 8 March 1895. The County Commissioners authorized
payment of $2,498.50 to the King Bridge Company on 14 March. When completed, the bridge provided direct access from Hot Springs Avenue (the
county road to McDonald and Priest passes and thence to Elliston and Avon) and to Fort Harrison. It also opened up the Seymer Park Addition to the
Broadwater Hotel resort complex. The bridge’s importance to the post and Helena was reflected in the Commissioners Journals when it often made
reference to the road as “Fort Harrison Boulevard” instead of its official designation as Williams Street.
The Williams Street Bridge is now being moved to the Live Firing Range at Fort Harrison to be used as a prop until it gets blown
to pieces or a tank drives over it. The County will rent the historic structure for one dollar like a carnival ride and when the
County has finished that train of thought it will more thank likely go the scrap yard. Thanks Lewis and Clark County
Commissioners for working so hard to preserve our past.
The Williams Street Bridge is now up off Ten Mile and The Crews of Dick Anderson Construction and Tamietti House Moving
have done a wonderful job of preserving the bridge and keeping it together. They are a hard working and very intelligent crew
and it was great to watch them do such a difficult and dangerous job so flawlessly.