The Bridges of Des Moines Part II: The Arch Bridges

Court Avenue Bridge in Des Moines Unless noted, all photos taken by the author in August 2011

After a night photo tour of the bridges in Iowa’s state capital, the next segment will look at the arch bridges serving the city of 250,000. Like many cities in the US, these bridge types were successors to truss bridges built between 1870 and 1880 and made of either iron or steel. In one case, the predecessor was a Post through truss bridge, reported to have been the lone bridge of its kind built in the state. These bridges were built out of concrete, either made with gravel or clay. Two periods should be noted when the bridges were built: the one between 1909 and 1920, when these bridges were built using a closed spandrel design. Four of them were built using a combination of gravel and clay as materials, albeit three of them are still in service today. Then there was the period between 1918 and 1940, where the structures were built using the open spandrel design and gravel for concrete as materials. The Scott Avenue and the previously mentioned Meredith Bikeway Bridges are the youngest bridges that are still standing in Des Moines, each built in 1937 during the period of the Works Progress Administration. Most of the bridge construction were the work of a local bridge builder who became known for his patented rainbow arch bridges. James B. Marsh dominated the bridge building scenery, first while working for the King Bridge Company with its branch office in Des Moines and later as an independent entity known as the Marsh Bridge Company. While there is speculation that the Seventh Street Bridge over Raccoon River may have been built by him (judging by the arch design that is similar to the rainbow arch), he is credited for building four of the arch bridges in Des Moines, one of which was with the help of another bridge engineer, George Koss, whose business was (and still is)  located in Des Moines, as well.

All but two of these bridges are being renovated even as this article is being posted. The reason for this is to strengthen them against the floodwaters. This is all part of the long-term plan to ease flooding which had affected the city on four different occasions: 1993, 2008, 2011 and last year. How exactly will this be done remains to be seen, but already work is being carried out on the Scott Avenue Bridge at present. The plan is to rehabilitate the bridge one-by- one before 2020, while raising the dikes and the Red Bridge.  Two of the bridges are not affected, for the Grand Avenue Bridge over Walnut Creek has been replaced and the St. John’s Road Bridge is spared from the work because of its location away from the Raccoon River.

Despite the construction going on, one can see the bridges in their place while touring Des Moines, even though the best time to photograph them are either in the day time or on a cloudy evening when the city lights illuminate the skies. Here are the bridges worth seeing while in Des Moines (just click onto the names to get to the external links):

Locust Street Bridge:   The Locust Street Bridge has the reputation of being the only crossing to have been built twice by the same builder. James B. Marsh built the three-span Pratt through truss bridge in the 1880s while working for the King Bridge Company. He later replaced it with the present bridge in 1909. The bridge features a closed spandrel arch bridge with the gravel concrete arch being filled in with  brown-colored clay. The bridge is 447 feet long with six spans total. It was rehabilitated in 1967 as part of the urban renewal project and remnants can be seen on the bridge, going beyond the 60s-style street lamps. Yet it will not be long before a rehabilitation and renovation will come to this bridge, prolonging its life and making it more attractive.

Update: This bridge was replaced with a faux pa arch span in 2018

Court Avenue Bridge:
Located over the Des Moines River, this 496 foot long bridge features five spans of the closed spandrel arch bridge and is the most ornamental of the arch bridges in Des Moines. The bridge was designed by James Marsh and constructed by George Koss’s company in 1917 and serves as a key link between Des Moines’ city center and the State Capitol. The bridge was rehabilitated in 1986 as part of the construction project to redesign the street and eliminate the Capitol Hill Tunnel (the latter occurred in 1992). Today, it still serves as the important link between the two entities, with the lighting making it more attractive to photographers at night. This bridge replaced the Post through truss bridge built in the 1870s and is the only one known to have been built in Iowa thusfar.

Grand Avenue Bridges The Grand Avenue Bridges featured two closed spandrel arch bridges located within four miles of each other: the Walnut Creek Bridge, which was built in 1914 and featured two spans totalling 168 feet, and the Des Moines River crossing, built in 1918 and totalling 495 feet worth of six spans and looking identical to the Locust Street Bridge. The 1914 bridge was recently demolished and is being replaced at the time of this post, whereas the 1918 span is slated for extensive rehabilitation in the near future.

Update: The crossing over the Des Moines River was replaced with a faux pa arch span in 2017

Walnut Street Bridge: Spanning the Des Moines River, this bridge was one of four built by James Marsh and features a closed spandrel arch bridge design similar to the ones on Locust Street and Grand Avenue. The 1911 structure features five arches totalling 503 feet, yet like the Locust Street Bridge, it has seen better days since its rehabilitation in 1967 featuring modern railings and 60s-style street lamps. Yet with its next rehabilitation, it might change that state. Interesting fact is the fact that the bridge replaced a bowstring arch bridge built in 1871. Although unknown who the bridge builder was, it appeared to have been the longest bridge of its kind in the state and even surpassing the still exant Kern Bridge in Mankato in neighboring Minnesota. Evidence is needed to support this claim, though.

Scott Avenue Bridge  
The Scott Avenue Bridge is located over the Des Moines River at the junction of the Raccoon River and the Meredith Bikeway Bridge. Built in 1937, this bridge may have been part of the Works Progress Administration project, authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to get people back into the work force. The five-span open spandrel arch bridge is 747 feet long and the thickness of the arch is similar to the Seventh Street Bridge spanning Raccoon River. But it is unknown whether Marsh, Koss or another bridge builder was responsible for building this bridge. During the visit in 2013, the bridge was closed to all traffic because of rehabilitation. But it did not stop those from making a stop at the nearby Mullet’s restaurant, which serves local specialties, including fish and the like.

Update: The bridge was renovated and reopened in 2014. It has been christened the Meredith Bridge, named after the company in Des Moines

Seventh Street Raccoon River Bridge 
The Seventh Street Bridge over Raccoon River is the second longest but the tallest of the deck arch bridges in Des Moines. Built in 1915, the bridge is 800 feet long with the height above water being over 40 feet. The bridge features a four-span open spandrel arch bridge which can be easily seen from a mile away. Yet the best photo opportunity can be found at the Fifth Street Pedestrian Bridge.

Photo taken by Daniel Barnes in 2018

University Avenue Bridge  
More information is needed for the University Avenue Bridge, located north of the I-235 Bridge. According to current data, the bridge was built in 1920, although when exactly it was built, let alone who built it was unknown. It is known that the bridge is an open spandrel arch bridge featuring seven arches, totalling 850 feet, making it the longest bridge of its type in Des Moines. Although not visible from the interstate bridge, one can see it from the bike trail going along the Des Moines River, which the bridge serves. The bridge serves as an important link between Drake University on the west end of the bridge and the Iowa State Fair, located two miles to the east.

Photo by Matt Marzan

St. John’s Road Bridge  Located over an unnamed creek north of Water Works Park, the St. John’s Road Bridge is famous for its ornamental bracings made of concrete, together with the rest of the one-span closed spandrel arch span. Built in 1900, the bridge is only 40 feet long, yet its features will make the driver pull over for a short photo opportunity.

While most of the arch bridges are still in use, the truss bridges on the other hand have disappeared in large numbers, making it very difficult to determine when they were built and who were the contractors for these metal bridges. In the third part of the series on Des Moines’ bridges, we’ll focus on the lost bridges of Des Moines but will feature the ones that were not mentioned but are still important parts of the city’s history. The bridges mentioned in the first and second part and the CGW Railroad Bridges will not be a part of this article for their histories have been mentioned already.

The Bridges of Lübeck, Germany: Preview

Photo taken in October 2013

 

Marzipan, architecture, labskaus, and the Baltic Sea. Those are the characteristics of the city of Lübeck, located on the Trave River west of the border to Mecklenburg-Pommerania in Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany. With a population of 220,000 inhabitants, the second largest city in the state (and sixth largest in northern Germany behind Hamburg, Bremen, Hanover, Kiel, and Brunswick) prides itself on its architecture, as the Altstadt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the key ports to the Baltic Sea, which is 10 km to the north.  Even the historic bridges in the city is a must-see if you are a pontist or have an interest in the city’s bridges.

I had a chance to tour the bridges in Lübeck most recently, as part of a short hiatus to see what the city has to offer. This included a tour of the ones in Altstadt by boat and learning about the history of each one. Before digging in on the tour, there are five questions to test your knowledge on the city let alone encourage you to do some research on them. The answers will be provided in the next article dealing with this particular topic.

So let’s start off with the Five Fragen for the Forum, shall we?

  1. Look at the picture of the statue. This was one of eight statues that can be found on which bridge? (Can you name the statue in addition to that?)
  2.  How many movable bridges exist in Lübeck? (Can you name them?)
  3. One of the movable bridges is a bascule bridge. What is it and what types exist? What bridge type is this one?
  4. The last crossing along the Trave before emptying into the Baltic Sea is located where?
  5. Which bridge is the oldest extant bridge in Lübeck?

And a pair of non-bridge bonus questions for you to ponder:

6. How do you make marzipan? What candy company makes this candy?

7. What is labskaus?

You can leave your comments here or on any of the social network pages bearing the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. The answers will come in the next week or so to allow you some time to guess or research and share your answers online.  Sister column The Flensburg Files will feature a few articles on this city from a couple perspectives worth noting which will also be posted on the Chronicles’ facebook and twitter pages.

But in the meantime, as there are a couple lose ends to cover beforehand, happy guessing! 🙂

Mystery Bridge 31: Thacher Truss Railroad Bridge in Waverly, Iowa

Thacher Truss Bridge in background. Photo courtesy of Luke Harden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few months ago, the Chronicles did a special on the Thacher truss bridges, designed and patented by Edwin Thacher and first used in 1884 in the state of Iowa. To refresh the reader’s memory, the Thacher truss is a combination of Warren, Kellogg and Pratt truss with an A-frame in the center panel of each truss span. While the Wrought Iron Bridge was reported to have built these trusses, using the exact design prescribed by Thacher, the King Bridge Company built the hybrid version of the design that resembled a Warren truss bridge with a center panel that is half the length of the outer panels.  If you count in the Phillips Mill Crossing in Rockford, the pony truss variant located west of Milford and the three hybrid Thachers in Emmet County, Hamlin County (South Dakota) and near Hastings, Minnesota, a total of ten Thachers were reported to have been built.

With this mystery bridge, as seen in the picture, let’s make it eleven Thachers.

Fellow pontist Luke Harden came across this picture of a Cedar River crossing in Waverly. According to the information, the bridge (which is in the background behind the wagon bridge) served the Chicago and Great Western Railroad and featured at least three spans of the Thacher truss. The bridge was about 400-500 feet long, looking at the picture more closely, with each truss span being about 120 feet long. The bridge served traffic until a train derailment brought down the entire structure in 1914.

Collapse of the bridge in 1914. Photo courtesy of Hank Zaletel

This means that the structure was in place for no longer than 30 years. Even more curious is the fact that the trusses were built using a combination of wood and steel, making the railroad bridge look rather unusual for the materials used for bridge construction. While bridge builders used iron and wood for construction in the 1860s and 1870s, it is even rarer to see a wooden truss bridge built using steel truss support, although one is reported to exist in Allamakee County in the Red Bridge (abandoned for over four decades).

While the bridge no longer exists- a replacement was built but only existed for another 30 years before the railroad abandoned the line and removed the bridge- piers from the structure can be seen from Adams Parkway Bridge, located next to it in the northeast end of the city. Yet more information about the bridge is needed. For instance: when exactly was the bridge built? What were the exact dimensions? Who built this bridge? And lastly what was the cause of the mishap. Any information on the bridge can be submitted using various channels including the comment section of the Chronicles.

Furthermore, information is needed for the Adams Parkway Bridge, for the two-span truss bridge existed before its replacement in 1968, yet its markings is similar to a bridge built by the Clinton Bridge Company at the turn of the century, including the portal bracings. Both bridges will be included in the Iowa Truss Bridge book, which is being compiled by the author even as this article is being posted. Any information would be much appreciated.

With this latest discovery, it leads to the question of how many other Thacher truss bridges were built in Iowa, let alone in other parts of the US. We’ll find out more as other pontists and people finding old photos will bring bridges like this one to the attention of the readers and other interested people alike.

 

Bunker Mill Bridge sold to private organization

Bunker Mill Bridge southeast of Kalona, Iowa- victim of arson that occurred on 11 August, 2013 and whose future is in doubt. Photo taken in August 2011

Washington County sells bridge to private organization for $1 plus donates funds for restoration.

Kalona, Iowa-  Efforts to save and restore the 1887 Bunker Mill Bridge took two gigantic steps towards reality yesterday, as Washington County officials voted unanimously to sell the King Bridge Company structure to the Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge and the North Skunk River Greenbelt Association for $1. In addition to that, the county commissioners voted to appropriate the $80,000, originally set aside for demolishing the bridge, for restoring it to its original form.  With $80,000 from the county, plus the funds raised by the organization itself, the group will be able to proceed with the plans to restore the bridge, which includes determining what is needed for the bridge and carrying out the work.

The 290 foot long bridge, which spans English River southeast of Kalona, was severely damaged by arson on August 12th with the wooden decking destroyed. The Pratt through truss structure appeared to be unscathed in the blaze. There’s still no word on who started the blaze but those with information on the arson are asked to contact the county authorities.

The cost for a full restoration of the bridge is estimated at $460,000 with fund-raising efforts to continue together with applying for grants on the county and state level. Yet that sum may be reduced as the project progresses, according to Julie Bowers, Executive Director of NSRGA which is helping FBMB with the project.  FBMB with Suzanne Micheau as Managing Director and NSRGA, with Julie Bowers as Executive Director will be overseeing the project with plans to restore and reopen the bridge to pedestrians and cyclists. There is hope that the plan to use the bridge as part of the bike trail connecting Kalona and Richmond will be realized once the bridge is restored. But when that will be done remains open.

  If you are interested in donating money or expertise to this project or would like more information, please contact Suzanne Micheau, Managing Director at suzanne@kctc.com or (319) 936-6339 or Executive Director, Julie Bowers, jbowerz1@gmail.com (641) 260-1262.

The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest developments on this project and congratulates all parties on a job well done. Purchasing the bridge is half the battle. The second half is doing the actual work, which has received enormous backing from the county and elsewhere. Best of luck! 🙂

Newsflyer 2 October, 2013

Bunker Mill Bridge southeast of Kalona, Iowa- victim of arson that occurred on 11 August, 2013 and whose future is in doubt. Photo taken in August 2011

 

Bridgefest in Iowa; Bridge Closures due to Concerns

Let’s start off with a simple question for this Newsflyer: If you see a bridge that is unstable, who do you go to to address these concerns? Naturally a local government agency who oversees responsibility for the structure and passes it on to the state in hopes money will come their way for repairs or replacement. Yet with the US Government at a shut down due to impasses between the Republicans and Democrats on how to free up money to pay Washington’s employees, a chain reaction from Washington to the local levels occurs. And then we have the next problem, which is “We don’t have any money, sorry!”

Imagine that the number of unstable bridges increases into the hundreds and they include major crossings. This will be the case unless politicians at the House and Senate come together to resolve the fiscal issues that have faced them for weeks, or face recall elections that would be the largest ever in history.  Three bridges represent examples of pressing issues that need to be addressed.

Green Bay Interstate Bridge Closes- approach span collapses: Motorists last week woke to a nasty surprise as the commute across the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge was impossible. Reason: A pier in the southern approach span sagged, pulling the section down by four feet. The closure happened on the 25th of September and will remain that way indefinitely. Already people are developing bridge-phobia because of the height of the bridge, consisting of concrete slab approaches and a steel through arch main span over Fox River. But Gov. Scott Walker and transportation officials reassured the people that the bridge will be fixed and reopened, albeit it make months to even a year to fix the problem. Built in 1981, this is the third 80s style bridge in the country that has collapsed this year.

Barge rams Matthews Bridge, closing it indefinitely: Jacksonville, Florida is known for numerous large steel truss bridges spanning St. John’s River carryinmg massive volumes of traffic. When one bridge closes, the others endure more stress by extra portions of cars having to take a detour, causing jams and structural strain to the bridge. The Matthews Bridge, carrying FL Hwy. 115 (a.k.a. Matthews Expressway) represents a clogged artery needing to be opened again, after a ship carrying cars rammed the cantilever truss bridge on 26th September, forcing the closure of the bridge indefinitely. No one was hurt on the bridge, but the damage to the decking of the 1951 span was substantial, meaning it may take weeks until the bridge can be reused again.

Historic Bridge in Pennsylvania closed- future uncertain

Wolf Bridge, located over the Conodoguinet Creek near Carlisle, is a Pennsylvania through truss bridge with pinned connections, one of many examples of bridges built by Nelson and Buchanan, as it was built in 1895. Yet the 192 foot long bridge is in trouble as it was closed for safety reasons on the 26th of September. County officials are now determining whether the bridge should be repaired or remain closed until 2016 when it is scheduled to be replaced. This has put more strain on motorists who had relied on this bridge to access the community because another bridge is still closed for reconstruction. And that’s not all: the county is strapped for money for bridge repairs, which makes it a chore for people to find new alternatives. And this apart from the interest in saving the bridge….

Yet if the government cannot do something about the deficiencies, then it is up to the people, who are suffering from the effects of a governmental shutdown, to step in and get the job done. In Kalona, Iowa, the preservation group working to save the Bunker Mill Bridge, an 1887 wrought iron truss bridge that was severely damaged by arson last month, is making strides in saving the bridge. Already, the Friends of the Bunker Mill Bridge, an umbrella group of Workin Bridges (WB), a Grinnell-based company that specializes in preserving historic bridges, has raised over $5000 to carry out inspections to determine the needs for the bridge, with the goal of rehabilitating the bridge and keeping it in its place. Yet more is needed to actually carry out the work, pending on what work is needed for the bridge.

Apart from donations being accepted through WB, the Friends of the Bunker Mill Bridge and WB would like to invite you to join them for the 2013 Bridgefest, which is scheduled to take place this Saturday, October 5th beginning at 7:00pm at the Kalona Brewing Company and Restaurant, located at 405 B Avenue in Kalona. Proceeds from the festival will go to the restoration of the bridge. For more information or if interested in coming, click onto the link and contact Suzanne Micheau, who is in charge of the festival.

 

Hastings High Bridge (Big Blue) Coming Down, But How?

Hastings High Bridge at sunrise. Do you notice anything strange here? Photo taken by Dave Youngren, used with permission.

It has not been that long ago that Big Red, known as the new Hastings Bridge spanning the Mississippi River north of the largest city in Dakota County, Minnesota opened to traffic, ending two decades of concerns towards its predecessor, the 1951 Hastings High Bridge known as Big Blue, which was too narrow for traffic and too rusty to maintain. Once a treat to cross while leaving the Twin Cities for southern Minnesota, one now has the longest tied arch bridge in North America to contend with, but the memories of Big Blue will last forever. As of present, demolition has commenced on the old steel arch bridge with both the approach spans being completely removed and the main span being left over.

It’s now a question of what to do with it. Because it is a navagation hazard, the main span will have to be removed. Imploding it is not an answer without having to severely disrupt traffic going through the city and even damaging the new structure. Dismantling it the way it was built in 1951 would be quite a challenge. And using cranes to lift it, carry it to shore and allow people to dismantle it on land would be physically impossible and the costs for the work would be exorbitant.

This leads to the question of what’s next for the bridge. Dave Youngren, who runs a facebook page called Hastings Bridge Watch, has been eyeing the events and presented this picture of both bridges at sunrise, perhaps the last time the bridges will stand side-by-side in this fashion. This leads to the question of what will happen to the old bridge. Look at the picture and see what’s different than the ones provided via link here, based on the author’s multiple visits.  How will the main span go down and why? Put your comments here or on the Chronicles’ facebook and LinkedIn pages and share your thoughts about the bridge.

More information on the bridge will follow on the Chronicles.

 

Answers to the Park Complex Questions

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Photo taken in August 2011

After a brief absence due to other column items to cover and to allow people to be curious about the park, here are the answers to the Quiz provided in a post a couple weeks ago on the FW Kent Park in Tiffin (west of Iowa City) and the rooftop truss bridge. Before mentioning about the bridges and F.W. Kent Park in the quiz, some interesting facts you need to know include the fact that the park was named after two well-known people. The first was Frederick Kent, a photographer who took pictures of life on and off the campus of the University of Iowa, located in Iowa City, for over 4 decades, including his role as the college’s professional photographer between 1915 and his retirement in 1962. He was an avid birdwatcher and published a book on this topic in 1975. Plus he was a walking encyclopedia on Johnson County, which earned him many local and state accolades. He died in 1984 at the age of 90.  The other person was Ron Dunlap, who was a member of the Johnson County Conservation Board from 1970 until his unexpected death in 2010, and spearheaded efforts to restore the bridge brought into FW Kent Park during the 1980s and 90s, with the last bridge being imported in 2003. The Dunlap trail, which crosses all seven restored historic bridges, was named in his honor.

Keeping these facts in mind, here are the answers to the bridge quiz, however, there are many questions that are left open which will be answered through interviews with people who worked with these two gentlemen and posted later in the Chronicles. But in the meantime, here are some facts that will make you curious to know more about the park and the bridges….. 🙂

1. The FW Kent Park is younger than the Historic Bridge Park near Kalmazoo, Michigan. True or False? 

False. The FW Kent Park has been in existence since the 1960s with the name being carried since 1967, honoring Frederick Kent, who was a locally renowned photographer for the Iowa City region. The bridges did not come until the 1990s, with the last one being installed in 2003. The bridges at the park in Michigan were in place between 1996 and 2006, with more scheduled to be imported. Note: The Historic Bridge Park in Michigan is located just southwest of Battle Creek, home of the Kellogg’s cereal company.

2. Which of the following truss bridge types can NOT be found at FW Kent Park?

a. Pratt        b. Warren        c. Whipple     d. Queenpost

Whipple truss bridges are nowhere to be seen at the park.

 

3. The origin of the Rooftop truss bridge was a building that was demolished in Iowa City. Can you name the building and when it existed?

The trusses came from a car dealership in Iowa City that had existed from the 1930s until the building was dismantled. Yet the name of the dealership is unknown.

4. How many bridges can be found at FW Kent Park?

a. 8   b. 10   c. 11  d. 13  e. 15

Eight bridges can be found in the park. Of which, seven are historic bridges that were restored, while the eighth one, a Warren pony truss, is a new bridge built of wood, connected with steel plates. In terms of truss designs, apart from the new Warren pony truss span, the park features two Pratts (one through and one half-hip pony), one V-shaped Pratt pony truss, two Queenpost pony trusses, one bowstring arch and the rooftop truss span.

5. At least one bridge was airlifted to the Park. True or False?

True. One bridge, a through truss span, was airlifted by helicopter to the park in 2003 and placed on new abutments, but not before retrofitting the bridge’s width.

6. All of the bridges brought in were the ones that served traffic in Johnson County.  True or False?

True. All seven historic bridges were crossings over small creeks, including Old Man’s, Deer, Dirty Face and Eagle. Sadly no bridges came from the Iowa River, which slices the county into two, let alone the Cedar River, where the Sutliff Bridge east of Solon is located.

7. How was the Rooftop truss bridge assembled?

After finding the trusses in a road ditch outside Iowa City, workers tried successfully to refit the trusses so that they support the roadway as railings. Additional exterior truss bracings were added to keep the bridge intact. In other words, the roadway is a bridge supported by trusses.

 

8. What activities can you do at the park, apart from photographing bridges?

a. swimming   b. hiking   c. fishing   d. biking   e. all of the above

In addition, you can do some bird and insect watching as many species of birds as well as butterflies and dragonflies can be found in the park. Also one can find some turtles and other wild animals at the park, but beware! Hunting is not allowed.

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Here is the guide to the bridges you can see at the park (click onto the names to go to the website)

Maier Road Bridge (Through Truss Bridge)

Rooftop Truss Bridge

Otter Creek Queenpost

1920 Queenpost

Bowstring arch bridge

Bayertown Road V-shape Bridge

Buck Creek Pratt Half-hip bridge

Wooden Warren Truss Bridge

Don’t forget to read more about F.W. Kent and the park’s history to understand how the park came into being. You can click here for more details.

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