Indian Lake Bridge

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Photos courtesy of Leslie Pielack

In August, 2005 this site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
This is the first National Register listing for Orion and Oxford Townships.
A Brief History of the Indian Lake Road Stone Railroad Bridge
(Text and research for Orion Historical Society by Leslie Pielack, 2004-2005.)

What we refer to now as the Indian Lake Road Stone Railroad Bridge spans Indian Lake Road on the boundary line between Orion and Oxford townships just east of Lapeer Road. It has also been called the Long Lake Bridge because of the proximity of Long Lake. It was built in 1891 for the then Michigan Central Railroad, formerly the Detroit and Bay City Railroad. While this portion of the railroad line itself was laid in 1871-1872, it is unclear why this elaborate bridge was added twenty years later. Usually bridges of this type were built over natural water features such as streams. Dry dips in the landscape would have normally been “cut and filled” with earth for the rail bed. Old maps of the area show that there was never a stream here; rather, Indian Lake Road simply makes its appearance along the boundary line between the two townships some time between 1857 and 1871. Another form of bridge—perhaps wooden–may have preceded this stone one. In any case, easy access from Indian Lake Road to the then Territorial Road (now Lapeer Road) was seen as important enough to provide for in the building of this rather expensive but beautiful bridge.

The gracefully designed arched bridge is built of brown sandstone that was probably brought to Lake Orion from the East Coast. It was cut and fitted carefully; it has been speculated that the drilled holes in the large shaped blocks were to lift and move the blocks by crane to fit them in place. Although built 114 years ago, the bridge is in wonderful condition. It stands as a monument to Orion’s past, when farm products were shipped south from Oxford and Orion to Detroit, and visitors flocked northward from Detroit to the area’s resorts to escape the heat of the city.

The railroad’s tracks no longer cross this structure; in their place is a simple worn path. Development on the north side of the bridge in Oxford Township has spared the bridge, and the Orion Historical Society is working with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office to complete formal registry of the bridge as a Nationally Registered Historic Site with the National Park Service this spring. As noted by the State Historic Preservation Officer, Robert O. Christensen, “It is a fine example of stone masonry work and a rare example of nineteenth-century stone arch bridge building in Michigan.”

The most effective future use of the bridge may be yet another form of transportation: carrying a safety path or foot trail. The Historical Society has begun discussion of ways of linking the new safety path on the north (Oxford) side of the bridge to the terminus of the safety path approximately ½ mile south of it in Orion Township. In this way, the bridge can continue to be used and enjoyed by ongoing generations of recreational visitors.