The Bridges of Harvey, Iowa

Never travel alone in the dark, as you are being watched. Photo of a rather spooky farmstead taken at dusk by the author in August 2011

Going back to the eastern end of Iowa, we are back in Marion County, where the next bridge profiles features not only one bridge, but as many as four! One mystery bridge, one extremely haunted one carrying a dead end low maintenance road, and two abandoned ones that are being considered for a bike trail. All of them span(-ned) the Des Moines River within a 10-mile radius of a small town of Harvey. Located approximately seven miles east of the county seat of Knoxville, Harvey has a population of roughly 250 inhabitants. Judging by the appearance of the houses and even the two churches, the town had seen its better days, as the majority of them live at or below the poverty line and most of the buildings are run down, the yards littered with junk needed to be removed if the assistance is available.

But looking at Harvey, these characteristics are only scratching the surface, as the town, and the surrounding area, and the crossings along the Des Moines River are all haunted in one way or another. Photographing the bridges, there is a sense of eeriness that makes a person stay close to the car and not wander off, fearing that he will not return. The region used to be bustling with railway and commercial traffic in the 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, Harvey was plotted in 1876 by the railroad with a line passing through later that year, connecting Knoxville and points east through the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.  But the line that passed through Harvey was abandoned, and one by one, commerce moved away to nearby towns, but leaving traces of the past in the forms of ghosts and other paranormal activity that makes the region haunted, but researchers curious about its history. If there is a word of advice I have for the passers-by it is this: Never travel alone in the dark, for you are being watched. Travel in groups and in the day time to ensure that you are safe and sound. Make sure you do not wander off away from the cars, and never ever get lost when photographing in the area!

On one of the evenings in August of last year, I took a trek through the region to photograph the bridges in the region. There were five historic truss bridges that I found and spent some time on taking some pictures: The Horn’s Ferry, Wabash Railroad, Harvey Railroad, Belle Fountain, and Eveland Bridges. However the focus is on the last three bridges as they are relevant to the topic.  In addition to that, there is an abandoned highway that used to pass through Harvey in a form of Iowa Highway 92, the same highway that used to crisscross Madison County, and its numerous covered bridges that existed (now there’s only six fully restored structures). It snaked its way towards the Des Moines River before crossing north of Tracy.  The highway was straightened and bypassed in 1978 but numerous questions remain about the highway.

This article provides you with a tour of the area and its bridges with some insight from the author on the structure and its significance. It will also include some stories of his encounters with some rather strange things that happened while on tour. We’ll start off with our first bridge:

Harvey Railroad Bridge: Built in 1878 by the American Bridge Company, this four-span Pratt through truss bridge was one of the first bridges that featured the bridge company’s signature portal bracings (as you can see in the pictures below). They were used often for railroad crossings with most of them built after the consolidation of 26 bridge companies in 1901. The bridge served rail traffic until it was abandoned in 1938 and purchased by the county, which then converted it into a roadway bridge. At some time later, the Des Moines River was re-channeled making the road expendable. Yet it still serves this dead end road to nearby farms along the river today.

The bridge is surrounded by thick trees, which covers the structure and makes the tall and narrow structure a haunted place to visit. During my visit to the bridge, the first impression after looking at the entrance was that of walking through a dark black hole filled with bats, owls, and creepy insects. Crickets were already out in full force chirping away. Everything else was deathly still as I was crossing the structure, taking pictures of it. Yet as I was at the easternmost portal entrance to the bridge, I heard gunshots ringing out from the opposite end of the bridge. The first shot did not stir me but it did scare off the birds that had been dining in the nests. The second shot however made me rethink my stay on the bridge as there was speculation that someone was shooting at me (or trying to). There was no one approaching me on the bridge and no other people in the vicinity of the structure. The third gunshot was the final signal for me to make my exit as I rush towards the car, hearing more gunshots along the way, got in and took off. As I was leaving, a party of two people on an ATV rushed onto the bridge.  If this was a way of shooing someone from the bridge just so they could have it, then they could have done better than that. Yet even if no guns were being used, the bridge is probably one of the most haunted structures you can ever cross, ranking up there with the Enoch’s Knob Bridge in Missouri. The best time to visit the bridge is in the daylight, where you can get the best pics and are most likely not be frightened by spooky creatures and guns going off without knowing where it came from.

 

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Old Highway 92 Bridge: Among the four being profiled here is another mystery bridge- the first in Mahaska County, Marion’s neighbor to the east. The first time this crossing came to my attention was on a GoogleMap, where there are two crossings bearing the name Hwy. 92- the present one in Marion County and what is left of the previous crossing on the Mahaska side, approximately 1.5 miles south of the present crossing. The road approaching the previous crossing is still in its original form- concrete from the 1930s and really narrow. Yet when arriving at the crossing, it is barricaded with signs and broken down excavators on each end, with the road turning to the south and becoming gravel.  Another piece of evidence to be presented was the fact that a US geological survey map of the 1930s indicated that the crossing consisted of four spans and a truss design, similar to a Parker design. And lastly, National Bridge Inventory records indicated that the present Hwy. 92 bridge on the Marion side was built in 1978. Given the fact that the Belle Fountain Bridge is located a half mile downstream, it is possible that the Old 92 Bridge was removed as it was deemed expendable and obsolete. Yet we do not know whether it is true or not. What we do know is there are many questions that need to be answered about this bridge, such as: 1. What did the old bridge look like? Was it a Parker truss bridge or another truss type?  2. When was the bridge built? Who built the structure? and 3. When was the bridge removed? Was it in 1978 or afterwards? And why was it removed?

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Belle Fountain Bridge: This bridge is located in a small unincorporated village of Belle Fountain, located 1.5 miles south of Hwy. 92 on the west bank of the Des Moines River. It is one of the earliest bridges built by a prominent bridge builder in Iowa, the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, which built the structure at a cost of $9750 in 1898. The four-span Pratt through truss super-structure features A-frame portal and strut bracing and pin connections, the former of which was recently introduced to replace the Lattice portal bracing. The bridge is 595 feet long with each span being 145 feet. The bridge has been a subject of neglect, especially after the Old 92 Bridge was built in 1930 and located 0.5 miles upstream. The lack of maintenance of the structure for unknown reasons prompted its closure. Since then the truss bridge has been allowed to remain in place with the flooring rotting away to expose the bottom chord. However, given the awareness of the bridge and its historic significance and connection with Belle Fountain, interest is being garnered in restoring the bridge and reincorporating it into a bike trail. When and if that will happen remains to be seen. One of the factors to keep in mind is to rid the bridge of the overgrowth, which has been ruling the eastern truss bridge for some time, as you can see in the photos. Given the fact that the bridge has been sitting abandoned for a long time, it is possible that the bridge may have to be disassembled, with the parts being sandblasted and replaced, and the foundations being rebuilt, before reassembling it back into place. The cost for the whole work would be a fraction of the cost for replacing the bridge outright.  Having a restored bridge like this one would be a blessing for the community and the county, which seems to have embraced preservation given the importance of this bridge.

 

 

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Eveland Bridge: The last bridge on the tour is the Eveland Bridge. Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, this bridge replaced a ferry that was used to cross the river. It is perhaps the only bridge originally built by a bridge company in Indiana, the Fort Wayne Bridge Works, which built the foundations in 1876 and erected the three-span truss bridge in the spring of the following year. It featured three spans of the Whipple through truss with the portal bracing representing the exact truss design. The structure was made of iron and featured pin-connections. Flooding wiped out the center span in 1903 and was subsequentially replaced with a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge made of steel. Since its closure in the early 1990s, it has sat in its place waiting to be reused, but not before replacing the decking (which has rotted away substantially) and possibly reconstructing the trusses. Photographing the bridge is really difficult as both sides of the river are heavily forested with the southern bank being littered with trailer homes and small houses. It also does not present a welcoming feeling when driving past the structure, especially as there are many dogs roaming around, waiting to chase the next person away from the area. With a lack of lighting in the area, it is especially creepy at night when driving, let alone walking. But nevertheless, I took advantage of the little daylight that was left and got a pair of pics before anything unusual happened, and then drove back to the hotel in Des Moines, which was a good hour’s drive away.  Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, the Eveland may be getting a new lease on life, as plans are in the preliminary stages to convert the bridge into a bike trail.  Given its remote location, the whole area surrounding the bridge may benefit from having a bike trail pass through, as business and other services could be established to serve the bikers and tourists. It will also mean more lighting in the evening for those going on an evening stroll, something that this area and the bridge itself need very badly. It all depends on the costs, the interest and the question of what can be realized and what can be scrapped.

 

 

 

It will be interesting to see what the future brings for the bridges in the greater Harvey area. Plans are in the making for a bike trail network going from its terminus at the Horn’s Ferry Bridge to Eddyville, possibly using the crossings for cyclists to pass through. This will bring a new lease in life for the ones that have been unused for a long time but whose history can be contributed to the development of the infrastructure in the state of Iowa over the past 150 years. And while it will take up to seven years to finalize the plans and actually build the network, when it is completed, people will take advantage of the trail and learn about the history of each village and bridge they pass by. And even if some of the bridges are haunted, it is unlikely that anyone will actually be taking the trail at night, unless they are as gutsy as I was when visiting the bridges last year. But it is a sure bet that safety features, including lighting, will be considered to accommodate those who dare to encounter the paranormal at night. As for the town of Harvey, the coming of the bike trail may help turn things around for a community that had seen its better days. Having the trail will boost commerce, like it did during the days of the railroad. And with that will bring good fortunes for the community, something that the people surely have been waiting for that for a long time and owe themselves to that share of the pie of prosperity.

Author’s Note: The Wabash Railroad Bridge will be featured in a separate article for a different reason.

 

 

 

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Book of the Month for July 2012: Bridges: The Spans of North America by David Plowden

Newell Bridge in Ohio over the Ohio River: one of hundreds of bridges featured in Plowden’s book. This photo was taken by the author in August 2010

There are many ways to look at a bridge and determine its value, both aesthetically as well as historically. From an engineer’s point of view, the bridge is built to function as a vehicular crossing until it is rendered obsolete and considered for replacement. From a historian’s point of view, each bridge has its own history and identity to the community, going beyond the bridge builder, the dimensions and unique value that make it eligible to be protected by preservation laws. From a photographer’s point of view, each bridge has a beauty that makes it fit into the landscape, whether it is a truss, arch, cable-stayed or suspension bridge.
In the case of David Plowden, each bridge not only presents a beauty that warrants a black and white photo worth remembering, but it contributes to the history of the American architecture, infrastructure and transportation.  Born in 1932, Plowden started his photography career at the age of 25, providing the readers with a look at the development of American society, from the steel mills to the farming community, from the slums of the big cities, to Main Street USA, where small talk and hard work are the norms. He has published over 20 books including his latest one on the state of Iowa (which was released earlier this year), where a traveling photography exhibition of the state and its hilly landscape is currently taking place until 2014.
In the book Bridges: The Spans of North America, published in 2002, Plowden combined his photographic genius with some history to provide readers with an insight into the development of bridges in North America, beginning with those made of wood in a form of covered bridges, followed by brick and stone bridges,  the metal bridges (both in terms of short- and long river crossings) and finishing with the bridges made of concrete.  The over 400-page work provides the reader with an in depth look at the types of bridges that were developed, the bridge builders who used them for their crossings and where the bridges were located. While some of the bridge types mentioned in the book are well-known to the bridge community and historians, such as the Bollmann Truss Bridge at Savage, Maryland the concrete arch bridges of Pennsylvania and Oregon, and the common suspension bridges, like John Roebling’s suspension bridges, there are some others that had been mentioned briefly in other documents but were brought to life in this book, like the Whipple-Murphy truss bridges, many of which were constructed along the Missouri River between Sioux City and Kansas City under George S. Morrison in the 1880s, the Poughkeepsie Suspension and Railroad Bridges in upstate New York or even local bridges like the Bellefountain Bridge in Mahaska County, Iowa.  Plowden provides a tour into the life of each bridge engineer and his contribution to the American landscape with examples of bridges that bear his name and were meant to serve traffic for many years.
As for the bridges themselves, the photos taken by Plowden were genuine and provide the reader with an inside look at the structure’s appearance from a photographer’s point of view. Some bridges were photographed in areas that were run down and were not part of the urbanization movement in the 1960s, such as the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh, for example. Some bridges in his book were taken in heavily industrialized areas, like New Jersey. And then there are others in the book that had a unique natural background, like the bridges of Oregon and western Canada. In terms of how they were photographed, there were many bridges that were photographed at a portal view- meaning the entrance of the bridge, presenting the reader the bridge’s facial feature before entering the structure. This includes the past bridges, like the Point Bridge in Pittsburgh as well as those in the present, like the railroad bridge at Beaver, Pennsylvania.  While some of the bridges are known to the bridge community today, there are many that were rarely recognized but brought to the light by pushing the snapshot button and presenting a black and white picturesque view that definitely belongs to an art gallery somewhere. While many of these bridges, such as the Central Bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati and the St. Mary’s Bridge in West Virginia, a sister of the Silver Bridge, which collapsed in 1967 killing 46 people, have long since been demolished, Plowden photographed most of them in the 1960s and 70s, giving the reader an idea what they looked like before they were replaced.  Each bridge photographed in the book has some information on its history and the status at the time of its publication.
It is very difficult to write a book on the history of bridges and how they were developed without having to narrow the focus down to the key aspects. In the case of the books on the bridges of Erfurt, Germany, one was focused on the technical aspects; the other on the historical aspects. One cannot have insight into the bridges without having to read both pieces of literature, even though they are both in German. In the case of Plowden’s book, he divided the subject up into the materials used for bridge construction, followed by the bridge types that were used and the engineers who built the bridges. To a certain degree, when focusing on bridges on a scale as large as North America’s it is a good idea, for it provides an overview into the development of the bridges from the beginning to the present time. This has been used in a couple other literary pieces, the latest of which will be the book of the month for August on Minnesota’s bridges by Denis Gardner (which falls nicely into the five-year anniversary of the I-35W bridge disaster in Minneapolis).

Beaver River Railroad Bridge over the Ohio River in Pennsylvania. This was one of many Ohio River crossings Plowden portrayed in his book. The author photographed this gigantic monster in August 2010

Yet when looking at the content of the book, most of its focus was on the development of bridges in the United States, together with the photos he took, with a small fraction being focused on Canada’s bridges (like the Lethbridge Viaduct in the province of Alberta and the Quebec Bridge). Most of the information and photos of the bridges came from those in the northern half of the US along the major rivers and in the northeastern part of the US, such as the Ohio River Valley, the Hudson River, and the Mississippi. These areas were the breeding ground for bridge development that spanned over 150 years and expanded into the Plains Region and beyond. If a person was to be picky about the content of the book, and focus on the history and development of bridges per se, then perhaps Plowden could have had two different books on the subject- one for the US and one for Canada. After all, despite the fact that this history run parallel in both countries, each one had its own set of bridge builders and bridge types with much of Canada’s bridge designs being imported from Europe as it had close ties with Great Britain and France.
But there are two main reasons why Plowden chose to incorporate the two countries into one for the book. First of all, the history and development of the bridges were interchangeable. Canadian bridge builders immigrated to America to start their business and prosper. Bridge companies in the US had exceptional influence in Canada. The designs used for bridge construction were mostly similar in both countries, with a few minor exceptions. That means we have cantilever truss bridges in both countries, and we competed with each other to construct the longest and tallest bridges. And through their exchanges in information and designers, both prospered during the Industrial Age of the late 1800s.
The other reason is the fact that Plowden is a photographer by heart. He not only provides people with a look into the lives of others in black and white, but he also provides them with unique scenery through the photos of antique works of art that still rules the streets (even though the numbers have dwindled rapidly over the years). He does not just showcase the photos for people to see. That would be too easy to do, especially in today’s technological age where anyone can post their pics on facebook, flickr and other websites. But each bridge that is photographed is accompanied by a story of its existence and the bridge builder responsible for erecting the structure and sharing his success to others so that they can either follow the lead or challenge it. The book provides the reader with general knowledge of the development of the bridges and the role of the engineers that contributed their history. And even if the majority of the readers are not engineers, bridge fanatics or historians, and even if one is unable to read the entire book from cover to cover, looking at the bridge photos themselves is enough to tell the story of how it was built and how it became part of North American history.
So to end this review process, get your cameras ready and set out to go bridgehunting. Find a bridge that means a great deal to you, regardless of its appearance and surroundings, its history and identity to the region and regardless of its age and whether you can cross it or spend time walking to it. As soon as you find it, start shooting. Show the bridge to others and make it known to the public of its value through your camera lens and point of view. After all, there are more people interested in historic bridges than you know. Plowden knew about it and therefore, the book is sitting in my bridge library, waiting for me to open the page and have a look at the work that he did. Pride can help you prosper and people will take note of that.
Author’s note: I just sent a batch of interview questions to Mr. Plowden for him to answer and send back. As soon as I have them, they will be posted in a separate article. 

Mystery Bridge Nr. 7: Two identical bridges not far apart

While still sitting in western Iowa, a pair of bridges came to my attention recently as I was doing some research on one of them that had existed in Harrison County, and another local found a similar one in neighboring Monona County.  Like in the Volga River crossing in Fayette County and its counterpart in Downsville in Dunn County, Wisconsin, these two bridges are exactly identical. Both are Parker through truss bridges with pin-connections. Both have identical portal bracings: Howe lattice with curved heel bracings that are subdivided. Both have the exact same length: 170 feet long. Both were constructed using steel rolled from Cambria Steel Company of Pittsburgh. And according to historic bridge research conducted in the 1990s, both were relocated in the late 1940s to serve as replacements for the bridges lost to the infamous 1945 flooding that destroyed almost every single bridge in western Iowa. And this after spending ca. 35 years at its original site in……?

This is where the blanks need to be filled. Like the two aforementioned bridges, there is a potential that because they were exactly identical that they were part of a multiple-span bridge that existed outside Harrison and Monona Counties, respectively. Yet as was mentioned in one of the columns on the bridges in Dunn County, such chances of chopping up the multiple spans and dispersing them into different directions are only 50-50. It is possible that they were merely single spans constructed in different locations and were related to each other in any way, shape or form.  But the easiest way to find out is to look at the records at the engineer’s office, the county court house and especially the newspaper articles, for they provide the readers with exact information on the construction of the bridges and the companies that oversee the project. One has to start in their own backyard- in this case, Monona and Harrison Counties. If these bridges were relocated from another place, then the next step is to track down the information to determine whether they were built separately to begin with or were part of a bigger multiple-span bridge, like the US 101 Buellton (California) Bridge, whose four truss spans were relocated to Harrison County in the 1950s. Once the information is tracked down then we can be certain about the history of the two structures, even though one of them no longer exists. As for the other one, given the degree of structural integrity, there is a chance that this structure may be preserved in its place, should it no longer be able to carry traffic. It is located only a mile away from the nearest town and given the overgrowth that has hounded the bridge in recent years, it may serve as a picnic area or part of a bike trail network running along the Soldier River. It depends on the interest, the funding and how long it will take before such a project can be realized.

Here are the two bridges profiled as they Mystery Bridge:

Bridge 1:

Pearson Bridge- This bridge spanned the Soldier River at what was 170th Trail. Built ca. 1910, the bridge was removed a few years ago, although it is unknown when it happened. It was located 3.5 miles southeast of Little Sioux at the foot of Loess Hills.

Pearson Bridge (now extant). Photo taken by Clayton Fraser.

 

Bridge 2:

Soldier Bridge- This bridge spans the Soldier River just off Iowa Hwy. 183, 1 mile northeast of Soldier. Records on the date of construction of this bridge is contradictory. While the National Bridge Inventory claims the bridge was built in 1905, the historical bridge survey used 1910 as the construction date. Also unique about the bridge is its curved east approach span revealing that the bridge was not a straight crossing.

Soldier Bridge. Photo taken by Craig Guttau. When looking closely, one will see the curve in the bridge itself.

Now the questions in summary:

1. Were these two bridges part of a multiple-span bridge or were they just built separately with no exact relation whatsoever?

2. Who originally built the bridge? When and where were they located? Remember, it was the same bridge builder that had close ties with Cambria Steel.

3. When were they relocated to their final destinations and how?

Any leads? Here is the e-mail address: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Good luck!

Mystery Bridge Update: The US 101 Bridges in California

Nelson (CSAH F-14) Bridge over Willow Creek west of Dunlap, Iowa. Photo taken by Craig Guttau

In the June 7th edition of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, I profiled the four bridges in Harrison County, Iowa that were part of a larger bridge imported all the way from California. Two of these bridges have been torn down, one is scheduled to be replaced next year, and the last of the bridges (as seen in the picture above) appears to be safe for now. Over a month and a half has passed and a round of inquiries to agencies in California have presented some new light on the history of the structure, even though there are still some questions that have yet to be answered. Some of the answers have brought some dismay on the part of the researchers who documented the four bridges in the 1990s and left many loopholes open, which through further research and dedication, these mistakes would have been avoided. Here is an update on the bridges from California, which will provide people with an insight on the bridge’s history and serve as an incentive to put the final pieces of the mystery puzzle together.

According to information provided by locals at the historical society, the origins of the four Harrison County spans came from a bridge that spanned the Santa Ynez River in the town of Buellton, a community of 4,900 residents located 25 miles west- northwest of Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara County. It is located just north of Gaviota State Park and the Santa Ynez Mountains and is the first town after passing through mountains and forest and leaving the Pacific coast heading north. The report indicated that the bridge was located near Bakersfield, but the community of 200,000 is located 70 miles northeast of Buellton. The four spans were part of a bridge that featured seven identical Pratt through truss spans and concrete beam approach spans. Construction was completed in 1917-18 at the cost of approximately $182,000. It became part of the original US Highway 101 in 1926 as the highway extended from Los Angeles through San Francisco and ending in Washington State. Interesting enough, that bridge and another arch bridge spanning a small creek, were close together and when plans were in the making to build a wider and longer structure in 1948, the creek was re-channeled so that the bridge crossed both streams. The new bridge was built to the east of the truss bridge and upon completion, the original bridge was dismantled with the spans carried away to different locations. Western Steel Cutting Company undertook this task in 1949 but later sold at least four of the spans to Highway Bridge Company in Lincoln Nebraska.

Here are some images of the Buellton US 101 Bridge both when it was being built in 1917 and when it was in use:

The following images are courtesy of Curt Cragg and the Buellton Historical Society, used with permission.

 

Transversal view of the bridge while under construction.
Oblique view of the bridge during construction.

This is where the story of the bridge stops. However, despite getting some answers to my quest for truth about the bridge, there are some questions out there that are still in need of some answering. We do know that the bridge was built much closer to the Pacific Coast and further away from Bakersfield than stated in the report in the 1990s. Judging by the information and the photos provided by the locals, the bridge was built in 1917 but most likely opened to traffic at the end of that year or the beginning of the next. It is unknown how the errors occurred in the report, but they are not unusual, as some surveys of historic bridges in the US conducted either by state agencies or the private sector have presented assumptions and theories, which after doing an even more thorough investigation, have been proven to be further off than expected. An example of such an error is the historical survey conducted on a bridge over the Des Moines River in Jackson, Minnesota, the Petersburg Road Bridge.  Assumptions were made during the surveys in the 1980s that the bridge, built using the same truss design and similar portal bracings, was built in the 1930s, yet further research indicated that Joliet Bridge Company constructed this bridge in 1907 and there were no further records of bridge construction at that site. The bridge was removed in 1995.

The case of mistaken identity: The Petersburg Road Bridge in Jackson, Minnesota. Photo taken in 1992 after the bridge was condemned to all traffic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the advancement of technology and more availability of information, researching bridges, like the US 101 Buellton Bridge has become more transparent and thorough, which serves as a blessing for many who are interested in their history, and in more cases than none, preserving them.

But time is running out for two of the remaining four US 101 spans that exist in Harrison County, and as mentioned earlier, there are still more questions to be answered which will not only round off the story of the original bridge, but in the cases of these two and perhaps the other three that were relocated somewhere else, one can prove the case and take action in listing them onto the National Register of Historic Places and preserving them for future recreational use. There have been some talks of keeping the Nelson Bridge in service while trying to salvage the East Kelley Lane Bridge (or at least parts of them), but these plans lie on the will of the locals in Harrison County, many of whom would like to see some history saved.

So here are some additional questions which might be of interest to not only the pontists and historians, but also to the locals of Harrison County, Iowa and Santa Barbara County, California. Some will require researching through the newspaper articles and records. Others will require some interviews. Here they are:

1. It is mentioned in the sources (from California) that the county either built the state structures or had signed an agreement to build them. How was it with the Buellton Bridge when it was built in 1917? Who oversaw the construction of the bridge and where did the trusses come from (bridge company and steel manufacturer)?

2. While it is confirmed that all seven truss spans were dismantled and four were sent to Iowa, what happened to the remaining seven spans? Were all seven spans sold to Highway Bridge Company, which then dispersed them to different locations, or were the three spans kept in California and erected elsewhere in the state? Who was in charge of dismantling the bridge to begin with?

3. Who were the Western Steel Cutting Company and the Highway Bridge Company and what were their roles in bridge building in the late 1940s and early 1950s?

Any leads can be sent to the author, Jason Smith at the following e-mail address: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. As soon as some leads show up, a follow-up report will follow.

 

 

 

Enoch Knob Bridge- a bridge full of mysteries

Image produced by Molly Hill

 

There is a saying that was mentioned in an interview about Feng Shui and architecture in China, which states “If a person does not believe in ancient philosophies, it does not necessarily mean that it exists.” It is hard to believe the notion that no spirits and ghosts exist in any of the buildings and bridges in general. However, if there was such a notion, then there would not be any stories by people who have encountered them in the first place.  There have been many reports of ghosts and evil spirits lurking about in haunted buildings, cemeteries and even bridges.  Even if no accounts were recorded, some of the bridges, given its location in deep forests and houses that are run down and mostly uninhabited, are considered haunted in itself and should be approached with care. I myself have seen many haunted bridges in my lifetime, but examples will be kept aside for another time, except for one……

The Enoch’s Knob Bridge in Franklin County, Missouri is perhaps one of the most haunted historic bridges ever visited, regardless if you visit it in the day time or at night. Looking at the bridge from the outside, it is plainly a typical Parker through truss bridge with pin connections, A-frame portal bracings and a length of 185 feet long. The only special feature was the fact that it was constructed in 1908 by the Missouri Bridge and Iron Company in St. Louis.  Yet despite the factual information that is accessible via bridge websites, when looking at where the bridge is located- in a remote setting on a gravel road many miles from a nearby highway or town in a thick forest covering Boeuf Creek- it gives a person an eery feeling when approaching and crossing this structure.

In fact, there are many stories that were told of encounters with ghost dogs, demon dogs with green eyes and three legs, trolls in the forest, (ghosts of) teens hanging themselves, people committing suicide by jumping off the bridge, and spirits disabling electronic devices and even automobiles when on the bridge. In one case, a sheriff’s deputy driving over the bridge noticed as he approached the span that the engine of the car and all electronic devices except the radio shut down, allowing the car to coast across the structure before it restarted after getting off. Spooked by this experience, he never approached the bridge again except for emergency calls.

There were two confirmed reports of deaths which contributed to the bridge being haunted. The first involved Patrick Kinneson, who fell 37 feet to his death while at a party on the evening of the 23rd of August, 1987. He was trying to help a friend, whose car was stuck in the mud at a corn field and had climbed the girders of the bridge when he fell without notice. His body was found later that night and the death was ruled accidental. The other death involved Stephen Cooksey, who sustained multiple shots during a drug transaction and managed to pull himself under his vehicle, only for the people responsible for the shooting to burn his car and the body with it. The incident happened at a parking lot next to the bridge on 9 May 2005. Yet many accounts involving close encounters with the paranormal at the bridge revealed that the spirits that exist at the bridge are more in connection with the first tragedy, although research has revealed lynchings that took place in the late 1800s at the site prior to the erection of the truss structure.

Upon my visit to the bridge in August 2011 as part of the Historic Bridge weekend in Missouri, my first impression when approaching the bridge was that it did present an eery sensation. The bridge had been closed to traffic for structural concerns in late 2010 and was barricaded a mile away from the bridge itself, making a trek a rather long one. With each step closer to the bridge it became spookier and rather unsafe. While the trip was in the afternoon sunlight with little breeze, the encounter with the bridge reminded me of a trip to the former railroad bridge spanning the Rock River west of Rock Valley, Iowa in March 1998, even though it had long since been incorporated into a bike trail. Once approaching the bridge, everything was silent as if it was in the film “The Langoleers.” Had it not been for the company of Julie Bowers, who was also looking at the bridge and making estimates for a group wanting to save the bridge, I would have witnessed a deathly silence that can only be related to an evil spirit lurking about day and night. After all, the devil never sleeps at the bridge and one should never walk to the bridge alone unless with some company.  While the cameras of the investigators, ghost hunters, and even the curious ones were bewitched with each visit, during my visit, and that of the fellow pontists who visited the bridge that day, there were no problems, and as you can see in the pics at the end of the article, the bridge and its scenery and unusual serenity warranted numerous pics from various angles.

Despite all this, the days of the bridge are more or less numbered. Plans have been approved recently to bring down the bridge, taking with it all the stories and history associated with the structure. A bland concrete slap bridge will take its place. Efforts were made back in 2011 to save the bridge, and there was even a social network bearing the name, which garnered support. Yet despite all this, it did not sway the local government officials, who wanted the devil’s bridge gone for good while discouraging teens from partying at the site. Also, according to anonymous sources, the interest in preserving the bridge was low, compared to other bridges that have received more attention, like the Riverside Bridge in Ozark or the Long Shoals in Bourbon County, Kansas. Yet perhaps before the demolition, the bridge will have its last laugh, as demolition crews may experience technical failures in the machines that will be in place to dismantle the structure. Many workers may end up walking off the job, spooked by the spirits that still haunt the bridge. Sometimes, demolishing historic structures can raise the spirits that curse the machines and the workers wanting to destroy history. This happened to a demolition crew tearing down the former Middle School building in Jackson, Minnesota in January 2011, as one of the excavators was knocked over on its side for unknown reasons. Speculation was that the spirits that walked the halls of the school (which was for a time part of the high school complex before the new building was open in 1982).  In either case, the bridge replacement will not affect the stories and spirits that will remain at the site, even after the truss bridge is gone.It is just that the bridge will not go down without a fight, be it by preservationists or by the spirits that still occupy the structure and will until its ultimate end and beyond.

It is unknown whether the demolition process has begun or not. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on the Enochs Knob Bridge. In the meantime, enjoy the photos and video clip of the bridge, both were taken by the author in August 2011:

Video of the Enochs Knob Bridge with comments by the author. (Click here!)

Source: Terry, Dan. “Beyond the Shadows: Exploring the Ghosts of Franklin County.” Stanton, MO: Missouri Kid Press, 2007

Photos of the Bridge can be found via flickr by clicking here.

 

 

Mystery Bridge nr. 6: Ripley’s Crossing

Not so far south from Charles City, Iowa and just east of the Avenue of the Saints (US Hwy. 218 and Iowa Hwy. 27), one will find on the map, two crossings over the Cedar River: one carrying the name 240th Street (or County Highway B-59) and the Ripley Bridge Road, located just a few hundred feet to the south. While B 59 Bridge represents a modern bridge crossing with little aesthetic and historic value that is still used today by farmers tending to their fields, the other crossing, albeit extant on the Google Maps, no longer exists.
I inquired about this bridge with a colleague at the Floyd County Historical Society to find out whether this bridge existed, let alone what it looked like before its removal. This is what I was provided with:

Ripley’s Crossing. Image courtesy of the Floyd County Historical Society Photos Collection.

As you can see in the old black and white photo, the bridge was rather a large structure, consisting of a pin-connected Parker through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal bracing featuring curved heel support bracing. A builder’s plaque was located at the top of the portals, but one cannot see the print, leaving the historian in the dark as to determining when it was built and who the bridge builder was.  However, according to the information provided by the museum, the bridge was named after the family who resided near the structure, together with another family, the Parkers- even though it is highly unlikely that they are related to the inventor of the truss design, Charles H. Parker. He patented the truss design in 1884 and this type was the second-most constructed in Iowa between 1890 and 1940 behind the Pratt truss.
It is very likely that the bridge was replaced by the current structure built to the north, although it is unknown whether the truss span was removed shortly after it was open to traffic, left into place but later removed due to structure deterioration or even destroyed by natural disaster, or if the two bridges were in service side-by side but the truss bridge was taken down and not replaced because of its expandability. In either case, there are a lot of questions to be answered about this bridge; among other things:
When was the bridge built and who built it?
What is the history behind the bridge? What stories can be related to this unique structure?
When was it demolished and why?
It is known that Floyd County is rich with history related to the bridges that existed. This included the pedestrian suspension bridge in Charles City (lost to flooding in 2008 and now replaced), the Marble Rock Bridge (replaced in 1995) and the Philips Mill and Crossing over Lime Creek, one of the most unusual truss bridges ever built (now replaced). While these bridges no longer exist, they have been extensively documented and can be found in the county history books. It is likely that the existing historic structures, like the Rockford Bridge, the Nora Springs bridges, and the Main Street Bridge in Charles City will follow suit, if they have not been documented in its entirety already. It is the question of including the Ripley Bridge in the history book. Given the unique appearance and potential for history, it definitely deserves to be in the history books.

Mystery Bridge nr. 5: Orr Bridge

Photo courtesy of Clayton Fraser

This month is where a lot of mystery bridges come to light. When presented into the limelight, it is hoped that people with knowledge and stories will step up to the plate and shed some light on the structure. Minus the last entry, the fifth mystery bridge takes us back once again to Harrison County, Iowa, and to this bridge.

Located over four miles northeast of Missouri Valley over the Boyer River at 290th Avenue, this Pennsylvania Petit through truss bridge was one of the longest of the truss bridge types that existed in Iowa, with a span of 225 feet. The bridge was unique because of the Town Lattice portal bracing, as can be seen in the picture above. Most Pennsylvania Petit trusses in Iowa featured either an A-frame or a Howe Lattice portal bracing, which was typical, as these bridges are large and long on the one hand, but vulnerable to extreme weather and heavy loads to a point where the overhead bracing was not enough to support the upper trusses. Any portal bracing with diagonals were needed to reinforce the bridge and ensure that the Pennsylvania Petit did not blow over to the side.

Example of a Pennsylvania Petit with A-frame portal bracing: Thunder Bridge over the Big Sioux River west of Spencer, Iowa. Built in 1905 by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works, the bridge is 181 feet long. Photo taken in August 2011

While almost all of the Pennsylvania Petits were constructed exclusively by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton, Iowa, it is unknown when the Orr Bridge was built, let alone who built it. Records indicated that the bridge was relocated from an unknown location in either Kansas or Missouri in the 1950s to replace a crossing that may have been one of many victims of the Great Flood of 1945 that wreaked havoc in western Iowa. But more information is needed to determine the bridge’s origins, let alone how it was transported into Iowa, like its counterparts, the California Bridge crossings and the Gochenour Bridge.

The story about the Orr Bridge ends on a sad note for it no longer exists. According to locals, it was destroyed by a tornado on 16 May, 1999 and despite pleas by the public to construct a new bridge, it fell on deaf ears by the county and the road was later abandoned. The Orr Bridge is one of the most unique bridges that existed in the county and one whose history is still open and left to be solved. To have a proper closing, here are some questions I have for anyone that has information about this bridge:

1. When exactly was the bridge relocated and who oversaw the relocation efforts,

2. Where (in Missouri or Kansas) did the bridge originate from,

3. When was the bridge first built and who built it, and

4. What is the story behind the bridge, both at its place of origin as well as in Harrison County prior to its tragedy in the hands of the tornado?

Any leads and information can be sent to the following e-mail address: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.  Looking forward to your comments on the bridge.

 

Interesting Fact: The tornado that annihilated the Orr Bridge was the same one that wreaked havoc on the county seat of Logan, indiscriminately damaging or destroying many homes and buildings. Many historic sites at the county historic village were either leveled or severely damaged. Two people were killed in the twister and many others were injured. The city has since recovered from that disaster. Another historic truss bridge at 8th Street was one of many structures that were spared by the tornado. It has now been closed to traffic.