Several years after an assessment of the Bollman Bridge at Union Mills deemed the structure not safe for pedestrians, officials at the foundation in charge of the historic structure are trying to figure out what to do next.
Last week, Carroll County commissioners approved a request from the Union Mills Homestead Foundation to apply for a $10,000 grant through The Heritage Fund, a cooperative effort of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust, to complete a structural assessment of the bridge.
Jeff Castonguay, public works director, said the assessment will provide specifications and recommendations regarding what work should be done on the bridge and give county and foundation officials more information about how to move forward with the historic structure.
The bridge, designed by Wendall Bollman in 1879, is located on the Union Mills Homestead where it crosses the Grist Mill tailrace north of Westminster. The homestead is a historic landmark that dates to 1797 and includes a museum and tours of the property, mostly during spring and summer months.
Eric Burdine, deputy director of the Department of Public Works, said an engineering survey conducted by Carroll County in 2019 identified substantial cracks on the bridge’s cast iron vertical members affecting its structural integrity.
An inspection, an analysis of the bridge and repairs were all recommended before allowing pedestrian traffic on the bridge again. It has been closed to pedestrian traffic ever since.
The property is owned by Carroll County, but is leased back to the Union Mills Homestead Foundation. The foundation requested permission to apply for a grant to cover most of the costs of performing a more detailed structural assessment of the bridge in an effort to potentially restore it.
The assessment is expected to cost about $13,800. The grant request is for $10,000 and the Union Mills Homestead Foundation is committed to covering the remaining cost.
Burdine said the Department of Public Works had plans to support the bridge from underneath, allowing for pedestrian traffic, but it would not be a historical restoration. The department will pause its efforts until an assessment can be done.
“I like the fact that we’re willing to preserve it because it is part of our history,” said Commissioner Eric Bouchat, a Republican representing District 4.
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, a District 1 Republican, asked why another study is necessary if the county already completed a study several years ago.
Burdine said that the new study would provide recommendations on how to historically renovate the bridge while the previous study simply assessed damage and deemed the structure unsafe for walking.
Although the bridge belongs to the county, Burdine said the Union Mills Homestead Foundation will likely have more leverage in receiving this type of grant than the county would.
“The very fact is it needs to be repaired and it needs to be repaired historically,” Wantz said. “But if this was county money I don’t know if I’d be for this.”
Burdine pointed out the assessment would not provide construction documents that would get the project out to bid, which would be the next step after the report is complete. Once more information is available, the commissioners can decide if they want to move forward with historical restoration or other repairs, he said.
Castonguay said there is also an option to construct a new bridge for practical use and keep the historic bridge only as an artifact.