History and Historical Integrity on the Line

Article Published January 2021
The Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society.

Irreplaceable Tulsa history is soon to be demolished—unnecessarily—unless something major happens soon, as more and more are hoping. (And not just history; there is strong evidence that the Midland Valley Bridge could still be utilized as a fully functional Pedestrian Bridge for generations to come, were the bridge kept and rehabilitated.)

The Midland Valley Bridge could also, with more time and consideration of key facts, likely be found eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)—considering the bridge’s age, setting, length, increasing rarity of design, and other significant facts (such as those discussed below). Very few Tulsans knew that the bridge was being considered for NRHP eligibility in late 2020, through the Section 106 NRHP process.

Unfortunately, this process was unduly, decisively influenced by a commissioned October 2020 report: the “Cultural Resources Report, Midland Valley Railroad Bridge” (“Prepared for Tulsa Community Foundation, on Behalf of River Parks Authority and Gateway Bridge, LLC”).

At that time, it appears no challenge was made to this flawed report. The report argues that “…alterations have left only a minimal amount of original materials and evidence of original workmanship. Although the bridge remains in its original location, the cumulative effect of modifications leaves little evidence of its original setting, feeling, and association” (page 17). Tulsa scholar J.D. Colbert responded, quite recently, “This statement could not possibly be more incorrect” (in Save the Midland Valley Bridge). A statement from HistoricBridges.org also disagrees with the report, as do others familiar with the matter and historic bridges.

The October 2020 report, which includes numerous questionable and downright illegitimate claims—and includes unjustified and false conclusions regarding the bridge’s integrity and significance—even concludes (on page 13) that “the removal of the Midland Valley Railroad Bridge would have no adverse effect on the historic integrity” of the Riverside Historic Residential District.

Some challenges to this report have been (and are still being) submitted to the appropriate officials, but it may be too late. (The full October 2020 report can be downloaded further below.)

Here is some important information regarding the bridge’s history and potential NRHP eligibility…

SAVE THE MIDLAND VALLEY BRIDGE BY J.D. COLBERT

J.D. Colbert has written an important document, Save the Midland Valley Bridge. Mr. Colbert begins with the following points.

The Midland Valley Bridge should be saved for the following salient reasons:

  • Built in 1905 it is one of the oldest man-made structures in Tulsa;
  • The bridge was constructed in the classic Warren Deck Truss style which visually evokes the period from 1900-1930 when such bridges were popular;
  • The bridge facilitated Tulsa’s exponential growth and the moniker as “The Oil Capital of the World.”;
  • The bridge historically connects us to the famous oil discoveries at Redfork in 1901 and the Glenn Pool Field in 1905;
  • The bridge is closely linked historically with the founding citizen of Tulsa, Tuckabatche (Muscogee-Creek);
  • The story of Tuckabatche is the history of Tulsa;
  • The bridge serves as an historic bridge to Tulsa’s rich Muscogee-Creek roots and heritage.

Mr. Colbert’s document can be downloaded and read in its entirety. Mr. Colbert is a scholar, Chair of the Msvoke Economic Development Committee, and an authority on (among other things) early Tulsa history. Gilcrease Magazine (Volume 25, Number 1, Winter 2017) included the following biographical information:

From Gilcrease Magazine (Winter 2017)

STATEMENT BY HISTORICBRIDGES.ORG (Excerpts)

“In our opinion the Tulsa Railroad Bridge, which is also known as the Tulsa Pedestrian Bridge, deserves a second look in terms of evaluating its eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. The documentation in regards to the first evaluation states that a majority of the original bridge material was replaced resulting in a lack of historic integrity. However the information provided in the report is not clear. However in the photos provided it looked to us like the members replaced were secondary members (bracing) not primary members (the truss lines including top/bottom chords and vertical/diagonal members). If this is true, then the main parts of the original bridge remain in place.”

“Metal truss bridges in Oklahoma have been demolished at a staggering rate. This bridge today stands out as increasingly rare due to its long, multi-span configuration.”

“A long multi-span truss bridge with truss webs that are largely original (minus bracing) may rise to the level of National Register Eligibility, when taken in context of the staggering demolition of metal truss bridges in Oklahoma over the past 5 years alone.”

VIEWSHED MISINFORMATION

The October 2020 report includes patently misleading information in its viewshed survey.

Here is a picture (and caption) included in the October study. Note how difficult the bridge is to see in this photo. The report, in many places, clearly tries to create the impression that the bridge is almost not even there… (From which basis, of course, it would seem more plausible that removing the bridge would have “no adverse effect.”) Compare this “closest point” photo from the report to the second photo down, taken more recently, which shows a view of the bridge from near the same location.

Above: An example of a better photo from a nearby location, the likes of which could have been included.
(This photo was actually taken from a spot slightly further away from the bridge than the report’s photo, believe it or not. This photo gives a much better representation of how the bridge can actually be seen from this general location with the naked eye.)

Here is another example, among many possible. The first photo is from the report. The bridge is completely obscured. The second photo, taken more recently, includes a portion of the same sidewalk, in the same district, but from a point less than half a block further north. In fact, as a person walks down this sidewalk, heading south, significant views of the bridge can be seen from various locations, as the area is traversed…

An additional, important point to consider is that the bridge is so large that it appears fixed to the horizon. So, as an individual walks down the sidewalk, even in areas where the bridge is somewhat obscured, a majority of the bridge becomes visible as the observer moves along and the obstructions pass.

We could pause here for a moment and ask, considering the view below, can the 1905 Midland Valley Railroad Bridge—a bridge “every bit as historic as any man-made structure in the city of Tulsa”—be removed without causing adverse effect to the historicity of this district?

Photo by Ken Ames

More related information is available upon request.

To download the full October 2020 “Cultural Resources Report” click below:

UPDATE: Historic Bridge Foundation was Denied Bridge-Consultation Role, Email Reveals

SEE ALSO: SUPPORTIVE STATEMENTS

SIGN THE PETITION TO SAVE HISTORY, SHADE, AND MILLIONS

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