Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail – Interurban Bridge Project
Submitted by Deb Conley
Deb Conley here, former Berrien Township Trustee and current representative for the Township on the Indiana Michigan River Valley Trail (IMRVT) Committee and the Interurban Bridge Committee. I know many of you have seen recent press and social media posts on the efforts to rebuild the Interurban bridge over Lake Chapin to serve as a portion of a non-motorized trail. Here is a little more background on the Interurban Railway and an update…
The Interurban Railway ran electric trains all over the nation and were very popular for a short period. The local line ran from St. Joseph to South Bend and cost $1.10 for a round trip ticket. Although there were great hopes that all of America would be connected via a series of interurbans, the invention of the automobile and the interstate highway system kept that vision from becoming reality. The railway operated for 30 years, from 1904 to 1934. In 1939 the steel bridge over Lake Chapin in Berrien Springs was removed. Although the history of the Interurban Railway was short-lived, the impact on the area was great. Not only did it impact local commerce, but it helped settle the area along its route. It is a faded memory in the minds of most locals. We have all heard stories and read the history but most of us have no recollection of the bridge nor the trains. All we know is that it is the folly of the youth to jump off the abutments that were left behind. That is, up until recently.
Efforts began earlier this year to figure out how to rebuild that bridge, as a portion of the Indiana Michigan River Valley Trail (IMRVT) extension project from Niles to Berrien Springs. So much has happened; planning committees for both the bridge and the overall project have met, a memorandum of understanding has been signed by the key players, finance and communications committees have been formed. The crucial piece of information needed to determine hard costs for the project has been to get the current abutments inspected… Thanks to the Townships of Berrien and Oronoko and the Village of Berrien Springs, who came together to cost share the inspection of the remaining abutments (piers). They were inspected by Underwater Construction Corporation and Wightman & Associates on July 29, 2021. And on August 12, 2021, the bridge committee received the results of the inspection. Suzannah Deneau of Wightman, to whom this committee owes a special thanks for all her efforts, reports that she is highly confident that the current piers can support a new bridge!
She says there will be some repairs needed to the portion above water but the structures under the water are sound. However, there is a need to put together further information and we need your help. We need the following information to support initial findings and satisfy future funders:
1 – What happened to the missing abutment/pier? Inspection of the bottom of Lake Chapin resulted in no evidence of it falling into the river, only the foundation on which it had stood.
2 – Is there documented history of the construction? Photos? Architect drawings or original plans?
If anyone has any documented information, please contact Kelly Ewalt, Community Development Coordinator, Village of Berrien Springs. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 269-473-6921 or stop by the Village offices.
For more information on the trail or other local and regional trails visit: www.berrientrails.org/inmirvt.asp and www.berrientrails.org/inmirvtextension.asp, and here at: www.Facebook.com/FriendsoftheIMRVTrail.
About the Friends of Berrien County Trails: The Friends of Berrien County Trails is a Michigan registered 501(c)(3) non-profit focused on trail development. The organization was formerly The Friends of Harbor Country Trails, but in December of 2019 we changed our name and expanded our reach county-wide to become The Friends of Berrien County Trails. The goals of the FoBCT are to identify trail needs, help with funding development, advocating for trails, and educating the public about how trails benefit our community. For more information, visit www.berrientrails.org.