The Bridges of Ames, Iowa

Photo taken in August 2011

Our next post brings you to Ames, Iowa. Located 30 miles (48 km) north of the capital of Des Moines, the city of 59,000 is perhaps the engineering hub of the state. The Iowa Department of Transportation has its headquarters in the city’s business district.  Iowa State University is filled with engineering students with promising aspects in the future. And even though it is not the county seat of Story County (that honor goes to Nevada, located 8 miles (15 km) east of the city), the city is part of the triangular district, sharing with its neighbor to the east as well as to the west, Boone, Iowa, located 10 miles  (18 km) west of the city and home of the Kate Shelley Viaduct and the Wagon Wheel Bridge.

Now as far as bridges are concerned, the city, like Story County, is loaded with numerous pre-1960  bridges dating as far back as 1875, with numerous bridge types to choose from and regardless of whether they used for rail or vehicular traffic. Some of them used to cross Skunk River (located east of the city) before being taken off the highway system or relocated to a less traveled road. This includes those that served the Lincoln Highway (US Highway 30). But many of them cross Squaw Creek, which snakes its way through the city before emptying into the Skunk River in the southern part of the city.

Luke Harden, a college student at Iowa State University and a regular contributor of the Historic Bridges of the US website, picked out the top five of the bridges that one should visit, even though the selection is rather difficult. He will provide you with a tour of the bridges, with a bonus question on the part of the author: Can you match the picture I posted above to the ones he profiled?

Luke Harden:

These bridge my favorites not because of build dates or because of a specific design, or anything like that. These bridges are my favorites because they aesthetically befit the scenery in which they are located.  These bridges were places that I would visit, sit down, and do nothing but be one with the surroundings.  These bridges are simply aesthetically beautiful in their surroundings.

Bridge #1 Veenker Memorial Golf Course Pony Truss Bridge
This bridge is a footbridge located within the Iowa State University Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames. It spans Squaw Creek and it is part of the cart path and is crossed often with golf carts by users of the course. It is located in the western part of the course.  Now that corner of the course has quite a fair amount of trees. This bridge is a welded truss comprised of angle irons and was built at a presently unknown date by an equally unknown builder. The bridge itself aesthetically befits the scenery in which it was set.  The steel is thin enough that from a distance on a spring or summer day, you could hardly tell there was a bridge there until you got up close.

Bridges #2-3 Squaw Creek Railroad Bridge & 6th Street Bridge
These bridges are not too far from each other in Ames. They are only of few meters apart from each other.  The double tracked railroad bridge was mostly built in 1898 by the Lassig Bridge & Iron Company of Chicago, Illinois with one span bearing a tab/plaque for the Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The bridge replaced an earlier single tracked pony truss bridge. The 6th Street Bridge over Squaw Creek is a girder bridge that was built in 1948.  The bridges are both surrounded by trees and are located adjacent to Brookside Park and the Ames municipal skatepark and bike trail. The 6th Street Bridge was recently replaced by a newer span in 2016.



Bridge #4 Skunk River Bridge
This Warren through truss bridge was originally built in 1876 by the King Bridge Company at Cambridge, Iowa over the (South) Skunk River, where it’s piers faced issues and was eventually replaced in 1919, at which point the span was moved to this location, paired with a generic pony truss provided by the Iowa State Highway Commission (now known as the Department Of Transportation), which is based out of Ames, Iowa.  It served as a crossing of the Skunk River on a small and extremely rarely used gravel road until the bridge, along with the road, were vacated in 1990. The bridge presently sits abandoned, utilized by locals who live in the nearby residential neighborhood to walk their dogs and college students going to the first US land grant college, Iowa State University.  The bridge is located in an area that is quite scenic, and, most importantly for a nature lover of any form, quiet. The only non-natural noise that is frequently heard would be the sound of airplane engines droning as the Ames municipal airport is nearby.


Bridge #5 Squaw Creek Park Bridge
This bridge is part of a rail-to-trail within the city limits of Ames that is presently closed due to flood damage on an approach span (The plate girder itself is in good shape for a railroad bridge.).  The bridge was part of an Ames-Slater line on the Chicago &and Northwestern Railway, which was abandoned in the 1980s. The bridge was presumably built by the American Bridge Company of New York. This assumption is based upon two holes on the side of the bridge. These holes match up with known riveting/bolting patterns for bridge plaques on girder spans built by the American Bridge Company. The assumption is also backed up with knowledge that the American bridge company built extremely similar pony plate girders for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. The bridges (and the trail) are part of Ames’ Squaw Creek Park.  The views from the bridge shows you an upstream view, including the  nearby confluence of Worle Creek with the Squaw as well as well as the surrounded wooded area, and the downstream view will show you the rest of the surrounding woods. It’s a great place in Ames to just stand and watch the creek flow whilst listening to the birds chirp.

Author’s Note: This bridge was replaced in 2012.
Images linked are John Marvig’s, I have been given permission to use them:
So there you have it. My top 5 most aesthetically pleasing bridges of Ames, Iowa.

Author’s note: For more information on the bridges in Ames and Story County, you can click on the link here.  Some of the bridges I visited during my trip through Iowa last year while visiting the Iowa DOT, and I have to agree with Mr. Harden, many of these bridges are highly recommended to visit, but there are many others outside the city that deserve some visitors in one way or another.  In either case, when you are in Story County and happen to stop in Ames, take an hour or two for the bridges. You will not regret it.


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