Our next Mystery Bridge article takes us back to Jackson County, Minnesota, specifically along Okabena Creek. Flowing west from Heron Lake to Brewster and beyond in Nobles County, the creek was once laden with pony truss bridges, built between 1900 and 1910, some of which were relocated here in the 1930s. The Okabena Creek Bridge near Brewster (known by MnDOT as Bridge L5245) is one of those structures that was built in the early 1900s but relocated here during the Depression era. According to records, the bridge was built in 1905 at an unknown location. It was one of seven Queenpost pony truss bridges built in the county during that time. Characteristics of a Queenpost pony truss bridge are a bridge built with three panels, with the center panel featuring a pair of diagonal beams crossing together, making the letter X. Most of the Queenpost spans are pin-connected, making it easier to disassemble and reassemble wherever needed. This bridge is unique because it is the oldest remaining bridge of its kind left in the state, according to state historical records. Relocated to its present spot in 1938, this bridge once served a minimum maintenance road known as Township Rd. 187 but now known as 330th Avenue, and despite being closed to traffic since 1990, it can be seen from County Road 18 to the north.
This bridge is mysterious in the way for there are no known facts as to where the bridge was originally built at the time. Even the builder’s date of 1909 is vague, for it was based on the testing of the metal parts of the structure. Yet some of the features of the bridge (in particular, the V-laced endposts) match those of a couple bridges built by the bridge contractors, Raymond and Campbell in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Established in 1874, the bridge building firm was Jackson County’s prime contractor, having George C. Wise as their agent. Over two dozen bridges were built between 1880 and 1915, first by the bridge company, and later through Mr. Wise himself, who had left the bridge company in 1881 to start off his own business. At least seven of them were located over the West Branch Des Moines River, including the one at Kilen Woods State Park, whose very first structure featured a through truss bridge with similar endposts like this one. More evidence is needed to determine whether this hypothesis is true or not.
According to local newspaper articles, the bridge was relocated here in 1938, most likely as part of the Works Progress Administration project that was undertaken during that time to get as many of the unemployed back into the workplace as possible. Many of these structures were relocated during that time to replace wooden structures that either had worn out or had been washed away by floods. It is possible that a previous structure had taken its place before 5245 came in to replace it. It was one of at least two bridges along Okabena Creek that was relocated to their current spots. The other was the County Road 9 Bridge north of Okabena, relocated to its current place from Owatonna in 1936 to serve traffic until its replacement in 1998.
At the present time, the bridge near Brewster is still idle, waiting to either be reused as a pedestrian bridge or be part of the nature that is currently taking its course. Talks are still being carried out as to how the bike trail network should be extended from Jackson onwards, including adding one along the Des Moines River. Yet with scarce funding and opposition from county residence, it will take a few years until the project is realized. Yet this bridge would be a key asset, together with Bridge 2628, located three miles east of this one and is scheduled to be replaced in two years’ time. Like Bridge 2628, Bridge 5245 is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because of its unique bridge design and age. Yet more information is needed to fill in the missing gaps left in the bridge’s history. This includes:
1. Where and exactly when was the bridge originally built?
2. Who was the bridge contractor?
3. Was there a bridge at this location prior to 1938?
4. Who led the efforts to relocate the bridge here?
Any leads and other information should be sent to Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the e-mail address in the informational page About the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. While the bridge was mentioned in the County’s Bridge book, there is still a possibility that more information is out there, which warrants some searching and inquiries, especially if the bridge was to be reused as a bike trail bridge in the near future. The more information for this unique bridge, clearer the information will be regarding its history and significance in the county and the state of Minnesota.