Aus den USA erreicht uns die Nachricht vom Tod des herausragenden amerikanischen Industriearchäologen Eric DeLony, dem langjährige Leiter des Historic American Engineering Record in Washington. Sein Kollege Christopher Marston verfasste den folgenden Nachruf…
Historic Bridge Preservationist Eric DeLony (1944-2018)
Eric N. DeLony, who served as Chief of the National Park Service’s Historic American
Engineering Record (HAER) from 1987 to 2003, died on October 23, 2018, after a long struggle
with Alzheimer’s disease. Over his career, Eric became known as a pioneer in historic bridge
documentation and preservation and one of the nation’s leading experts in historic bridges. In
recognition of his achievements, Eric was the recipient of the 2000 General Tools Award, the
highest honor bestowed by the Society for Industrial Archeology.
Early Years at HAER
After graduating from the Ohio State University in 1968, Eric was first hired as a summer
architect on the New England Textile Mills Survey, a joint project of the Smithsonian (under the
leadership of Robert Vogel) and the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). The following
year he became a member of the Mohawk-Hudson Area Survey, HAER’s very first field team.
This ambitious project documented several industrial sites and bridges in the Albany area, and
team members were challenged to devise new recording techniques for manufacturing and
engineering structures. His detailed drawing of the Troy Gasholder remains the logo of the
Society for Industrial Archeology to this day. Once he completed his Master’s in Historic
Preservation at Columbia University under James Marston Fitch (where he first met his lifelong
friend and colleague, preservation educator Chester Liebs), Eric was hired as HAER’s first fulltime
employee in 1971. HAER began recording a variety of bridges and other industrial
structure types as part of state inventories and themed surveys. These included surveys of the
Baltimore & Ohio and Erie railroads, Paterson and Lowell mill towns, and later mining, steel,
power, and maritime-related sites, among others. Eric also helped initiate “SWAT teams” to
record endangered structures prior to demolition. By 1987, Eric DeLony had been promoted to
Chief of HAER.
HAER Historic Bridge Program
In collaboration with Emory Kemp of West Virginia University, Eric began developing the HAER
Historic Bridge Program in 1973, which would become the first comprehensive national
program to identify and protect historic bridges. Through Eric’s efforts, HAER developed
partnerships with the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), the Advisory Council on
Historic Preservation (ACHP), and state historic preservation offices (SHPOs). The first goal of
the program was to promote comprehensive historic bridge inventories in each state. When
inventories were required by law in 1987, Eric’s initiative became a catalyst in making highway
bridges the first class of historic structures to be nationally evaluated.
After the preliminary state bridge inventories were completed, HAER partnered with state
departments of transportation (DOTs) to undertake HAER summer documentation projects that
would more intensively document representative bridges, with the first taking place in Ohio in
1986. Using funding from a variety of partners like the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA),
DOTs, and historic groups, HAER recording teams collaborated with national and local experts
to produce large-format photographs, histories, and drawings of hundreds of historic bridges in
Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and
Washington, from 1987-2001. Eric also worked with engineering professors such as Dario
Gasparini at Case Western, Stephen Buonopane at Bucknell, and Ben Schafer at Johns Hopkins
to hire students to compile detailed engineering analyses of a variety of historic bridge types,
going beyond traditional architectural history reports. In appreciation of Eric’s initiatives, the
White House and ACHP presented HAER’s Historic Bridge Program with a National Historic
Preservation Award in 1992.
In addition to the nation’s highway bridges, the historic roads and bridges in the National Park
system were also deteriorating from neglect and overuse. HAER developed a pilot project in the
National Capital Region of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1988 to survey the historic and
significant transportation-related structures and designed landscapes at various NPS units. With
support from FHWA and NPS, this program expanded in 1989 and continued until 2002 to
document the roads and bridges of large western national parks, national battlefields, and
eastern parkways. HAER also partnered with New York and Connecticut to record several
historic local parkways. The drawings of these projects are compiled in America’s National Park
Roads and Parkways: Drawings from the Historic American Engineering Record (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins, 2004).
Eric DeLony was also influential in HAER’s involvement with a third major initiative involving
FHWA and historic bridges. Realizing that covered bridges were a beloved but endangered
resource, Vermont Senator James Jeffords proposed legislation to save them. The resulting
National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation (NHCBP) Program was established by FHWA in
1998 as part of the TEA-21 transportation bill. HAER received research funding beginning in
2002 to document the nation’s most significant covered bridges, as well as developing other
educational initiatives including engineering studies, a traveling exhibition, national
conferences, and National Historic Landmark nominations. With the benefit of continued FHWA
support, HAER Project Leader Christopher Marston has continued Eric’s vision and is in the
process of finalizing several research projects. These include the 2015 publication Covered
Bridges and the Birth of American Engineering, co-edited with Justine Christianson, and
dedicated to Eric DeLony. Rehabilitation Guidelines for Historic Covered Bridges will be
published later in 2018.
Eric was a longtime member of the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) and developed the
SIA Historic Bridge Symposium beginning in the early 1980s to allow experts to share research
and preservation experiences. Eric attended his last one in 2011; the 25th was held in 2016 in
cooperation with the Historic Bridge Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri. He was also an active
participant with the Transportation Research Board (TRB)’s Committee on Historic Preservation
and Archaeology in Transportation (ADC50) beginning in the 1990s, which was comprised of
professionals from state DOTs, SHPOs, and consultants involved in preservation issues on
federally funded transportation projects. Research and best practices on preserving and
maintaining historic bridges was always a major focus of the committee. As a subcontractor to
Parsons Brinckerhoff, Eric DeLony co-authored A Context for Common Historic Bridge Types
with Robert Jackson, for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCPRP Project
25-25, Task 15) in 2005.
Not satisfied to just record historic bridges, Eric was also determined to see as many bridges as
possible saved and preserved. Some of the projects that Eric championed included: the 1828
Blaine S-Bridge and the 1868 Zoarville Station Bridge in Ohio; the 1869 Henszey’s Bridge in
Pennsylvania; and the 1858 Aldrich Change Bridge in New York. As Ohio DOT’s Tom Barrett
reflected, “Through Eric’s encouragement, I feel that the historic bridge inventory in Ohio has
stabilized and improved in many ways. We strive to explore all plausible alternatives to
demolition and find ways to educate everyone on proper rehabilitation and design solutions.
Hard-fought successes here and nationwide in bridge preservation will always be a part of Eric’s
Eric’s advocacy extended beyond bridges to roads as well. As Preserving the Historic Road
conference founder Paul Daniel Marriott stated, “Eric appreciated that roads and bridges were
intertwined. He was one of the first people to acknowledge that historic research and advocacy
[were needed] for historic roads. Eric DeLony was instrumental in establishing the historic roads
Eric studied at Ironbridge with Sir Neil Cossons in 1971-72 as a Fulbright Scholar, and this
experience led him to encourage collaboration between HAER and industrial archeologists and
preservationists in Europe and other countries. Eric consistently hired International Council on
Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) foreign exchange students for his summer field teams
beginning in 1984.
He represented the United States at several meetings of the International Committee for the
Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). He also worked with several prominent
European scholars, such as Barrie Trinder at Ironbridge and Louis Bergeron at Le Creusot, on
various publications, exhibitions, and conferences. Another issue that Eric championed has
finally shown dividends; after several decades, the U.S. delegation finally nominated the
Brooklyn Bridge as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.
After retiring to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2003, Eric became a bridge preservation consultant.
Maintaining “The Pontists” email list, he advocated for various bridge preservation causes and
initiatives, and continued to write and teach.
An avid collector of rare books, technical reports, and images of historic bridges, Eric donated
his collection to two prestigious archives. The “Eric DeLony Collection of the History of Bridges
and Bridge Construction” was established in 2010 at The Huntington Library in San Marino,
Calif. In 2013, the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri received the “Eric N. DeLony
Engineering & Bridge Collection.”
After health issues removed him from public life, Eric continued to receive various honors
acknowledging his legacy. Beginning in 2014, David Wright of the National Society for the
Preservation of Covered Bridges established the Eric DeLony Scholarship, an annual prize
awarded to a college student interested in historic preservation. Eric was also a recipient of the
2016 Othmar H. Amman Award for Lifetime Achievement from The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.
Eric DeLony was truly a pioneer in the world of historic bridge documentation, preservation,
and advocacy. The 3,000+ bridges in the HAER Collection at the Library of Congress, and
hundreds of examples of preserved historic bridges across the country are all a testament to his lifelong determination and passion for saving historic bridges.