What to do with a HB: The McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Poweshiek County, Iowa

Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers



Poweshiek County rescinds grant and support for McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge. Bridge now for sale to be relocated.

Preserving historic bridges for future generations is not an easy task, given the amount of work needed to restore and maintain the structure. It is even a bigger challenge to rebuild the structure if it was damaged or destroyed by flooding, as we saw with the Sutliff Bridge in Johnson County, Iowa. But when things appear to go in the right direction, with bridge parts restored and ready to be put back over the river to be reopened and reused, the last thing a person needs is opposition to the project, whether it is rescinding a grant or even making a “behind the door” descision to force the cease and desisting of the project in favor of scrap metal.

Here in Poweshiek County, Iowa, this is exactly the case with the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge. Built by the King Bridge Company in 1883, the bridge was washed away by floodwaters in 2010. In the past three years, Workin Bridges, with Julie Bowers as Executive Director, undertook a Herculean effort to fish the bridge out of the waters of the Skunk River, and reconstruct the bridge, piece by piece, straightening out the metal, replacing parts and having it ready to be put together like a set of Tinker Toys, as you can see in the picture below….

The original plan was to put the bridge on new piers, raised by two feet to clear floodwaters and have the county maintain the bridge for the next 20 years. This was supposed to be done using a grant provided by the state to cover the cost for the work- namely $140,000.  While the county supervisors had originally supported the plan, the most recent decision the county not to take the grant has basically put the last nails in the coffin as far as any efforts to save the McIntyre Bridge. Already the bridge was delisted from the National Register of Historic Places, considering the structure a total loss.  But this decision is one that has sent many people scratching their heads about this, and one that has put Workin Bridges at the crossroads as far as its future existence is concerned. From the author’s point of view, especially as he studied political science both in the US as well as in Germany, this form of lip service is very common for politicians and county officials will say one thing the first minute and then change its mind because of some factors that made them reconsider the decision.  There are many factors that may have led the county to change its mind.

For instance, the bridge collapse in Washington state caused by a truck driver disregarding the vertical clearance of the truss bridge has caused many counties to rethink the way through truss bridges are being used for traffic. Already a movement has started to dismantle the environmental and cultural impact surveys when replacing “sturcturally deficient” bridges in Washington state in response to the disaster (see articles enclosed here), which if successful, could spread throughout the country in the next five years, especially if the next president after Barack Obama is a Republican.

Photo taken by Julie Bowers

The other factor has to do with the flooding that has been going on so far this summer. As you can see in the picture, the Millgrove access was where the bridge used to be located prior to the flood in 2010. Yet flooding drowned the access making the county rather nervous about having a bridge over the river they have to maintain for 20 years. However, as one can see with the Great Flood of 2013 in Germany, Austria and parts of Europe, many of the bridges built similar to McIntyre have survived the onslaught of the floods with only concrete beam bridges being destroyed in the process. If McIntyre can be rebuilt on higher piers with steel that can withstand flooding, the bowstring arch bridge will last another 50-100 years, as seen with one of the bridges that survived the Great Flood in Germany.

watertown wi
Tivoli Island Bridge in Watertown, WI. Photo taken by the author in August 2010

Bridge for Sale:

With all the resources exhausted, the future of the McIntyre Bridge is in limbo. Workin Bridges wants to give the bridge away to someone who is willing to use it for recreational purposes. While some work and assembly is required, it would be a shame to throw away three years of efforts of restoring the bridge to look like the bridge in Watertown, Wisconsin at Tivoli Lake, or even to the form that it appeared before the flooding. There are many places that could use a bowstring arch bridge for a bike trail, picnic area or the like. FW Kent Park near Iowa City has a collection of nine restored truss and bowstring arch bridges that still serve a trail encircling a small lake.  It would be an excellent addition. But other regions in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota could use a bridge like this one for their projects as well. Minnesota has only one bowstring arch bridge left in the Kern Bridge near Mankato. South Dakota has none. And perhaps as soon as the bridge finds a new home, it can retain its National Register status if it is not altered beyond recognition.

If you know of a place where the bridge could be reused or are interested in the bridge, please click here to contact Julie Bowers and information will be provided as well as the conditions for reusing the bridge. We can only hope that the efforts to restore the bridge will not be in vain. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest regarding the future of McIntyre Bridge.