Mystery Bridge Nr. 24: The Red Rock Bridges

Red Rock Bridge
One of the Red Rock Bridges (now gone) Source:

Our 24th Mystery Bridge profile (as I counted the unusual bridge type in a salty German city as nr. 23) features not only one bridge, but as many as five, all going back to Marion County, Iowa, which houses another landmark we’ll get to in a short bit. And all of this happened by chance, thanks to a local librarian who responded to an inquiry about this bridge:

The structure featured two-spans of an identical design: Camelback Pennsylvania petit with pinned connections and Howe lattice portal bracings, located NW of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge. This bridge used to serve traffic connecting two villages along the Des Moines River: Red Rock and Runnells- that was until they were both inudated by the Red Rock Dam and through the creation of the Reservoir, a project that was completed in 1969 after nine excrutiating years of construction. How excrutiating was it?

Swan RRB
Swan Railroad Bridge, built in 1968. Now owned by BNSF. Photo taken in August 2011

The project required the relocation of hundreds of miles worth of highways and roadways, 80 miles of rail lines, plus uncountable amount of miles of utility and telephone lines. And it also required the construction of three vehicular crossings and a new railroad bridge: Hwy. 14 over the reservoir near Cordova Park, still holding the title as the longest and tallest bridge built in Iowa, but was built replacing an earlier bridge built in the early 1940s. Alongside that bridge was the Swan Railroad Bridge, a three-span Warren through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings that is owned by BNSF Railways, built parallel to the Hwy. 316 Bridge built at the same time. And lastly, there is the Hwy. T-15 crossing above the Red Rock Dam, connecting Knoxville with Pella, which has been the lone link since the closing of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge in 1982. However, a half dozen communities were either partially relocated or completely innundated along the way, including Red Rock, Runnels, Whitebreast, Cordova and parts of Swan. And with that, went the bridges along the way. But why?

One has to look at the motive behind the construction of the Red Rock Dam and Reservoir, for the Des Moines River prior to 1960 was a wild river that flooded frequently. Six different major floods had occurred along the river, including the ones in 1851, 1859, 1903, 1944, 1947, and 1954. The last four floods wreaked havoc on the bridges that existed, including the Horn’s Ferry Bridge (the first bridge built over the river), this crossing (whose construction date goes back to either 1897 or 1899), the Rosseau Bridge (built in 1908), the Bennington Bridge, and the Hwy. 14 bridge (built in the early 1940s). After the floods of 1944 and 47, plans were underway to control the flow of the Des Moines River, which included the Red Rock Project, but to the dismay of residents who used these crossings frequently because of their convenience from point A to point B. Many residents wanted the bridges affected by the project- namely the Red Rock, Rosseau and Bennington Bridges opened to traffic despite sustaining substantial damage because of flooding. For the Red Rock Bridge, the north span was destroyed in the 1944 flood. The Rosseau Bridge sustained heavy damage to the approach spans despite having them rebuilt on two separate occasions. Other smaller river crossings that were affected by the flooding were also in the way of the project and needed to be dismantled.

Sadly these bridges were eventually removed as the project went forward, while some crossings affected by the project became low-water crossings, meaning they did not become part of the Red Rock Reservoir per se, but as the streams flowing into the lake become flooded, the road and bridge were simply impassable. The questions involving the bridges lost to the Red Rock Reservoir and Dam were what they looked like and when were they built. This applies to the Red Rock Bridge, whose construction date is either 1897 or 1899. Therefore, here are some questions to solve this mystery:

Which bridges in the Red Rock Lake region were built in 1897, 1899, 1908 and 1912, and where were they located?

What are some facts involving the crossings at Cordova, Swan (Hwy. 14), Red Rock, Rosseau and Bennington? This includes the railroad crossing, which was also relocated?

What about the other bridges that did not cross the Des Moines River but were affected by the project?

What did the Red Rock Lake Bridges look like before they were lost to flooding and the Red Rock Dam and Reservoir Project? Any photos to support it?

Were any of the bridges in the Red Rock Region relocated at the time of the project?

Any information about these bridges and the facts about the villages inundated by Red Rock Lake can be submitted via e-mail. Yet, you can also provide some information in person at the Historic Bridge Weekend, which takes place August 9-12, which includes a meeting at the Red Rock Information Center at 2:30pm on August 11. A bridge tour and dinner at Bos Landen Golf Course will follow.


Photo courtesy of Luke Harden from the historic collections

 Update on Horn’s Ferry Bridge Mystery:

It appears that the story of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge, the first bridge to cross the Des Moines River in Marion County may be solved after all. According to information from the local library in Pella, the eastern two spans of the bridge (as seen in the picture above) were lost to an ice jam in 1929, cutting off the link between Pella and Knoxville. A contract was let out to Wickes Construction of Des Moines to construct the replacement spans, and reinforce the remaining seven spans including the Camelback through truss main span. These two 1929 spans still remain today, serving as the primary observation point overlooking Ivan’s Campground. The question remains of whether the two eastern spans wiped out in 1929 were original spans or if they were built after 1881. The hunch is that they may have been replaced after the 1903 floods, but more evidence is needed to support this argument.  Stay tuned!




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