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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Historic Wells Street Bridge to get boost

After nearly two decades of waiting, the historic Wells Street Bridge will be preserved and transformed into a transportation link between shops and neighborhoods north of it and Headwaters Park to the southeast.

In addition to restoring the dormant 114-year-old bridge for use by pedestrians and bicyclists, a $775,107 contract from the Indiana Department of Transportation to Primco of Fort Wayne calls for a 500-foot-long path atop the dike along the southern bank of the St. Marys River to connect with existing Rivergreenway paths and Headwaters Park. The path will run eastward from the bridge and connect with a path near Harrison Street, the west boundary of Headwaters.

The new path will allow people to stay on the Rivergreenway by crossing on the bridge's 23-foot-wide timber center lanes or walking along two, 5-foot-wide wooden pedestrian paths on each side, then winding through the paths in Headwaters before crossing under the bridge at Clinton Street.

From there, people can either continue east into the park or westward along the north bank of the St. Marys, under the bridge at Harrison, past the renovated Cass Street railroad depot and back to the existing Rivergreenway on the north side of the rehabilitated bridge.

Currently, Rivergreenway users must cross the river in that vicinity over bridges at Harrison or Fairfield Avenue. ``It's a real achievement,'' said Jerry Byanski, superintendent of Fort Wayne parks. ``Being able to get people so close to the river is a remarkable feat.''

For nearly a century, the bridge carried horse-drawn buggies, then cars and trucks, across the St. Marys. It closed in 1981 when a four-lane bridge was built to the west on Fairfield, north of Superior Street.

The bridge, and money that Allen County officials had been setting aside to demolish the structure, was turned over to Fort Wayne after it closed. Since then, the city and historic preservationists have pushed to save the bridge. The last wrought-iron structure of its kind in Fort Wayne, the whipple-truss structure contains ornate Gothic details.

Byanski said people who value history should be pleased with the news because the project ``restores a landmark in the community.''

Special federal transportation funds are paying for 80 percent of the project; the city will pay the rest. The project should be completed by mid-1999.