For decades she spanned the Wabash River as the largest bridge of her type in the state of Indiana. She was beautiful, with four spans of gleaming iron and cable. Local folks manned the booths, greeting her users and accepting the coinage for toll required to cross her.
Although I'm not a native Hoosier, most of my growing up years were spent here in the rivers land, in Posey and Gibson counties. Being a Pumpkin Runner, I spent lots of time and have a good bit of wonderful memories of time spent in beautiful New Harmony, where many a family and church picnic took place in Murphy Park. The Harmony Way was the first toll bridge I ever remember crossing. She was probably the first toll bridge my mother and grandmother ever crossed too. My gran was born in the 1920s and my mother in 1943. The Harmony Way was built in 1930.
She was more than just a beautiful bridge and a marvel of engineering. She's one of those fine old structures built with muscle, sweat, shovels, hammers, with wagons hauling equipment and parts pulled by horses and mules.
She was more than a convenience. She was a guarantee of commerce. It was her that kept the historically significant village of New Harmony easily accessible to tourists and regular clients from across the river, especially in areas like Carmi and Crossville and Grayville, Illinois.
Currently (June of 2015) Harmony Way is listed in the top ten of Indiana's most endangered historical landmarks.
In 2013 Harmony Way was closed due to deteriorated structural integrity. I was impressed to learn that the old girl's trouble isn't with her original parts but rather in areas that were augmented in later years by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That's not to knock the engineers. It just is what it is, and they had good intentions. The augmentations and additions were made in effort to help the structure better manage the changes in the Wabash River.
Yays and Nays
There are locals who are adamant about Harmony Way remaining closed. The amount of money to have her inspected by a qualified engineer is huge, and that's a polite understatement. The even more massive amounts to have her either brought up to standard as a heavy-load bearing bridge, or even to tear her down climbs into the millions of U.S. dollars.
But, there are others who've been passionate about saving her and the ideas for doing that are worthy of consideration, and could offer opportunities to not only keep her open and working, but in the doing so help to pay for her repair and future upkeep as well. That added to helping breath back some life into the business sector of New Harmony. Business owners I've spoken with personally, have stated revenue has markedly declined since the Harmony Way closure.
Now to get to New Harmony, folks have to travel a good clip out of their way in either direction to gain access to the Illinois-side of the Wabash, riding through remote, county roads. The lack of bridge access seems to have had an impact on the number of tourists who used to come to visit places such as the Workingmen's Institute Museum & Library, the Roofless Church, the Harmonist Labyrinth, the Antheneum, West Street Log Cabins, Lenz House and Garden, Community Houses, Rapp Granary, other Harmonist structures, a variety of art galleries and indie biz shops producing fine goods from indie craftsmen and artists, both local and abroad. There are several others I could list but you get the point.
Enhancing the experience
Just a few minutes from New Harmony limits are two frequented areas for locals and out of town tourists. One is Old Dam, another area spot of historical significance that's also a popular spot for public fishing and camping. A bit further up the road is Harmonie State Park, which has cabins, camping, fishing and swimming areas. It's a very popular area for horseback riding and hiking, and it's single-track off-road cycling trails make it one of the best mountain biking areas in the whole Midwest with trails for beginners, intermediates and advanced riders to enjoy.
But, for all it's awesomeness, neither of these places have access to a nearby country store, camp shop or grocer. There are no cycle repair shops in the area. New Harmony has two gas stations and some excellent eating establishments but poor accessibility may be keeping guests away and also having an impact on the other side of the river in areas like Carmi, Crossville and Grayville, Illinois.
On the bright side, there are options worth considering that might help restore and increase the number of visitors to New Harmony, but use of the bridge is a key aspect in several of them.
The price for heavy-weight repairs is huge, but it should be much less to bring her up to standard to tolerate light traffic, such as pedestrians, cyclists, ATVs and golf carts (which are a favorite mode of transport in the area). The bridge is wide enough to even provide space for vendors' stands along her sides and there's room at both entrances for those as well. Both sides of the Wabash there offer spectacular scenery for viewing and photo ops.
Harmony Way Photo-tour 2015
The way of the ghost town ...
From both a personal and professional perspective, I sincerely hope her closure is temporary. I'd hate to see New Harmony, in the long term, decline like other nearby towns in Posey County which have become mere shadows of the thriving communities they used to be, like Upper Hills, Griffin and Stewartsville.
It's something to think about as small town American keeps going the way of the dinosaur.
My thanks to Dan Barton of the New-Harmony Gazette for accompanying us (my sister, Alicia of On Story Street, and me) on a small tour of the Indiana-side of the area around Harmony Way and for his information regarding the history of the bridge and her current status.
That's it for this one!
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