Mystery Bridge 41: The Queenpost Truss Bridge over Okabena Creek

Photo taken by Sam and Anna Smith in 2012

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.


What to do with a Historic Bridge: The Monroe Bridge at the Jasper/Marion County Border in Iowa

Photos taken in August 2013

text Author’s Note: This is Part II of the series on the two Skunk River Bridges in Jasper County, Iowa that are threatened with their own demise after being abandoned for some time. Part I dealt with the Red Bridge and can be seen here. This parts looks at the bridge’s southern neighbor, the Monroe Bridge at the county border.

After being turned away at the Red Bridge, our next stop was the Monroe Bridge, located downstream at 126th Avenue at the county borders of Jasper and Marion Counties. Here, we got lucky and not so lucky with this bridge, built in 1899 by the local contractors, Burchinal and Hertzog.  Lucky because the bridge was noticeable in view and we could park near the structure. Unlucky because we could not cross it. After being closed to traffic in 2012, workers made sure that no one crossed the bridge by digging a hole 30 feet long and 15 feet deep behind the abutments, exposing the wooden wingwalls to the extremities. Unless you are an experienced pontist, like Nathan Holth, you don’t want to attempt to jump from the ledge to the bridge in order to photograph it.

Side view of the exposed wingwall after the abutment was dug out to prevent drivers and pedestrians from entering the bridge.

That it unless you have a reliable camera, like the Pentax 300, where you can get some long-distance photos, like I took during our stop there.  The bridge features a 150-foot long steel through truss bridge with Howe Lattice portal bracings, I-beam strut bracings with 45° heel supports, and pinned connections. With the wooden approach spans the total length is 230 feet and the width, 17 feet.  Yet looking at the portal bracings more closely, there are ornamental designs in the center of the bracings, where the two diagonal portions meet forming an X.

This is common among bridges built by George E. King, son of Zenas King who ran the King Bridge Company in Cleveland, Ohio.  King established his bridge building business in Des Moines in the 1890s and was responsible for bridges throughout Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, built between 1890 and 1910. This includes the Green Bridge in Des Moines and the Straight River crossing at Clinton Falls, north of Owatonna in Minnesota.  It is possible that the Monroe Bridge consisted of a bridge previously located somewhere else, but the local contractors brought it here to be erected at its current site.  Yet judging by the design pattern on the portal bracing of the Monroe Bridge, it is possible that the local contractors may have ordered the bridge fabricated by the steel companies in the Rust Belt region, and the ornament was at their discretion.  More information would be needed to support one claim or another.

Close-up of the ornamental feature on the portal bracing.

The situation looks grim for the Monroe Bridge. Already a replacement bridge located 300 feet south of the structure is in the works, and it is unknown whether the bridge will be torn down after the new bridge is opened or left in its place.  As mentioned in the previous article on the Red Bridge, ideally would be to restore the bridge as a bike trail crossing connecting that with neighboring Red Bridge as well as the communities of Colfax, Monroe and Pella.  The other option would be to relocate it to a park in one of the nearby communities within 100 miles of the crossing. This includes the Red Rock Lake area, where some historic bridges are residing, including the Wabash, Harvey and Horn’s Ferry Bridges.  The third option is to give it to the nearby landowners, where they could use it as a private path. As this concept is well received in Iowa, this could be an option to take to compensate for the land lost to the new bridge and road alignment.  In either case, as aesthetically beautiful and historically significant as the Monroe Bridge is, it would be a shame to watch the bridge be reduced to a pile of rubble, when there is a chance to find out more about its history, let alone save it. Since last year, The Friends of the Red Bridge group has been looking at some ideas as to what to do with the neighbor to the north. Perhaps they have some space for the Monroe Bridge as well. Saving both may take hard work and lots of resources, yet in the end, it will save money and a piece of history for others to enjoy. And that is something Jasper County could take pride in.

The author has some more photos taken of the Monroe Bridge, to be seen in the Historic Bridges of the US website, available by clicking here.

What to do with a Historic Bridge: Red Bridge in Jasper County, Iowa

Photos taken by Chris Johnson, used with permission. Photo gallery available on the Chronicles’ facebook page.

Author’s Note: This is a three-part series on two bridges, spanning the South Branch Skunk River in Jasper and Marion Counties in the state of Iowa, both located within two miles of each other. Unfortunately, they are BOTH in danger of being lost forever unless action is taken to save them. The first part is about the Red Bridge.
Gliding up and down the steep hills along East 24th Street and Red Bridge Street, one would expect to see another relict of the past up ahead going north, as the road turns to the right and then left going down towards the river. Unfortunately, at the top of the hill before the first curve, we were met with a Road Closed and No Trespassing signs in large bold letters in a white background. This was as far as we got to getting to the Red Bridge during our summer visit in 2013, right after the conclusion of the Historic Bridge Weekend in Pella, located 15 miles south of there.
Now the chance to see the Red Bridge would only have to be through one of two options: if the bridge was relocated to a nearby community or if it underwent extensive restoration in place, and a bike trail was constructed along the river connecting the two bridges as well as the communities of Colfax, Monroe and Pella.  Both options are realistic and doable if contributions are plenty, both financially as well as with regards to manpower and expertise.
But what’s so important about the Red Bridge?

The bridge features two truss spans bearing a similar design: the Warren truss with subdivided vertical beams. The main span is a through truss with pinned connections and an A-frame portal bracing. It was the original crossing erected by local contractor H.S. Efnor in 1892. At the cost of $3515, he and his crew constructed the 120-foot long span with stringer approach spans, which extended the total length to over 160 feet long. In 1947, the approach span was washed away by floods and was sub-sequentially replaced by the other Warren span, a riveted pony truss span measuring 80 feet long. The total span after the reconstruction efforts were completed was 212 feet, and the bridge continued to serve traffic until its closure in 2003. Since that time, the bridge has remained in place, but is in really bad shape, due to missing or burned out wooden planks and erosion damage due to flooding. In the last flood in 2013, the pony truss approach span partially collapsed because the abutments were washed away. That span appears to be salvageable, whereas the main span still stands to this day.



Last year, a local group, Friends of the Red Bridge was formed, consisting of locals associated with the Red Bridge as well as pontists with the goal of finding ways to save the structure. At the present time, the project is in its infancy due to the search for ideas on how and what to do with the bridge, as well as fundraising efforts needed to move the project forward. With Jasper County trying to wipe out the remaining bridges that are older than 69 years of age, the group is trying to find ways to get the ball rolling so that the bridge does not become a victim of either a natural disaster, like a flood, or paranoia, where the bridge is removed for “liability” reasons. The second reason was what led to the demise of the Imperial Avenue Bridge over the North Skunk River, west of Kellogg earlier this year. This led to an outcry by many historians because the structure was in stable condition prior to its removal.  It is feared that it could happen to the Red Bridge, as well as its neighbor to the southeast if action is not taken now to preserve the bridges.
At the present time, the Red Bridge still stands tall, despite being battered by years of wear and tear as well as the weather extremities. Yet the question is for how long. If action is taken in due time, the bridge might have a prosperous future for generations to come. If not, then ……
You can join the Friends of the Red Bridge on facebook under the group page. There, you can join the conversation as to what to do with the bridge. Some ideas that are worth noting include:
a. Leaving the bridge in place, restoring it and reusing it for a bike trail connecting Reasoner and Pella, utilizing also the County Border Bridge.
b. Leaving the bridge in place and let nature take its course, but stabilizing the abutments and approach span to prevent further flood damage.
c. Relocate the bridge: There are several places that could use a historic bridge for recreational purposes, whether it is the National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City,  the wildlife areas around the Red Rock Lake vicinity, a rail-to-trail bike trail project near Pella, or other recreational areas within a 50-mile radius.
An interview with the organization was conducted through facebook last year and will be included in Part 3 of the series. In the meantime, enjoy the pics provided by Chris Johnson, which were taken in 2012. The photo gallery can be seen through the Chronicles’ facebook page, as well as the group page bearing the Red Bridge name.



Padlocked Bridges: The Incident at Pont des Arts in Paris and the issue of padlocks on bridges

Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris. Photos taken in 1999

Lovelocks. Love locks the two together for eternity to come. And how to provide that but to attach a lock on a historic bridge and throw the key away into the river. The origin of lovelocks was from Serbia, where a school misstress fell in love with a World War I soldier and met often at the Most Liubavi in the Serbian town of Vrnjacka Banja. However, the couple broke up after he went off to war and the woman died a broken heart. In response, locals showed their solidifying love by putting their padlocks on the Most Liubavi and it became part of a work by Serbian poet and writer,  Desanka Maksimovi?. The bridge of love, where lovelocks are attached to bridge railings and other parts, later spread to other bridges in Europe, and today, lovelocks can be found in the hundreds of thousands on popular bridges, such as the  Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin, the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and even the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne.

Love locks on the Hollernzollern Bridge in Cologne, Germany

Yet these lovelocks are starting to pose a major problem, as can be seen with the latest incident with the Pont des Arts Bridge, spanning the Sienne River in Paris. According to reports by the BBC, parts of the parapet of the 1804 iron deck arch bridge collapsed on Sunday because of the weight of these love padlocks. This has raised a debate on whether the padlocks should be removed in its entirety due to concerns of the historic integrity and aesthetics of the bridge being compromised, as well as the hazard that is being imposed on boat traffic passing underneath the bridge. The Pont des Arts is one of three of the dozens of Parisian bridges that are laden with padlocks. The other two are the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor and the Pont de l’Archevêché. Consideration is being taken to remove the padlocks in its entirety, as it has been done to several bridges in Europe and North America that have been the magnet for these lovelocks, such as the Humber Bridge in Toronto, as well as the aforementioned bridges in Dublin and Florence. Yet if any action is taken, it will run into stiff opposition by those wishing to keep the tradition alive, as this was seen by action taken with the Kettenbrücke in Bamberg and the Hollernzollern Bridge in Cologne last year. At both places, protests forced the proprietors of the two bridges (the City of Bamberg and the German Railways (Deutsche Bahn)) to retract their decision to remove the locks.

Close-up of the arches, the parapet and the lamppost.

While lovelocks are a symbol of eternal love and the tradition should be alive. The question is why choose certain bridges, such as the Ponts des Arts in Paris. Upon my visit in 1999, before the bridge became a magnet for this sensational ritual, the bridge was clean of all its padlocks, including the parapets and the lampposts dating back to the 1800s, when the bridge was not affected by the years of conflict it would sustain through the French wars with Germany lasting up until the end of World War II. It was restored in 1984 after parts of the span collapsed in the 1970s and was the hub for artwork, mainly from the students of the school of art École des Beaux-Arts. This included a series on cowboys and indians from the American wild west, which was on display during my visit:



And while art exhibits have changed from time to time on the bridge, nobody has expected the lovelocks to decorate the bridge, making it look colorful and more beautiful on the one hand, but ugly and one that can ruin the structural beauty of the bridge. But then again, love does have its good and bad sides as well, and conflicts can be solved through compromise, which will need to be made before too many lovelocks do indeed cause damage to historic bridges, causing damage and costing more money to repair and restore them than necessary.

It does not mean that lovelocks should not be allowed on the bridges and other places of interest. It should be encouraged, however in moderation. This means that only a limited amount of lovelocks should be allowed on a bridge or at or near a place of interest to ensure that the aesthetic and structural integrity are not harmed in anyway. This means that there are more places to show your love with lovelocks than just this one particular place, as long as it is allowed.

After this incident at the Pont des Arts, questions will arise as to what will become of the lovelocks on that bridge as well as the other two in question. Yet as lovers have done when being in love, when there is a will, there is a way to show the love and keep the tradition alive; if not at this bridge, then another one.


Apart from the aforementioned bridges in this article, which other bridges in the US, Europe and other places have this lovelock tradition? And if there is a bridge where you would love to see lovelocks on there, apart from the Lover’s Leap Bridge in Columbus Junction, Iowa and New Milford, Connecticut, which ones would you place your lovelock on and why?  Put your comments here as well as in the Chronicles’ facebook pages.


What to do with a Historic Bridge: Bridge 2628 in Jackson County, Minnesota

Photo taken by Sam and Anna Smith in 2012

Jackson County is pursuing plans to replace the first concrete through girder bridge in the State of Minnesota. Public discussion on its future to be planned soon.

Jackson County, Minnesota. Apart from my place of childhood, where I grew up and graduated, the county was once a place laden with historic places people like me grew up with. We had the roller skating rink south of Windom, the National Guard Armory in Jackson where we played basketball in high school, the Jackson High School Complex across from the county courthouse, plus many historic farmsteads that were scattered across the landscape.  It was here where my interest in historic bridges took shape, as I grew up having seen and crossed dozens of pre-1920 bridges, six of which crossed the Des Moines River, including the Black Bridge (the Milwaukee Railroad Viaduct), one of three steel bridges that existed in Jackson.
Yet like it has done with the aforementioned artifacts, the historic bridges are disappearing like flies, with the county pursuing a merciless plan to modernize the landscape to beyond recognition and attempts to save what is left are being quashed by political tactics and pressure by those with enough power to have things their way.  Bridge 2628, spanning Okabena Creek at Township Road 183 in Alba Township is one of those bridges standing in the way of progress, and unless attempts are made to halt it, the 60-foot long bridge will be gone by 2017.
When looking at the bridge for the first time, one could perceive it as just an ordinary bridge. Yet the 1917 structure has a history of its own, which justifies its listing on the National Register of Historic Places and the need to preserve it.  The bridge was built during World War I, where steel was scarce for it was being used for the war efforts. Originally a Warren pony truss was supposed to be in its place. Yet with no steel available, the State Road Department (the predecessor to today’s Minnesota Department of Transportation) decided for a bridge variant built using concrete.  While box culverts were used prior to 1917, using art deco railings, the state vied for an experiment, which later justified its expanded usage for both rail and vehicular traffic: the girder bridge. Reason: the girder bridge featured railings that supported the roadway instead of the piers and abutments, as found with beam bridges.  The first concrete through girder bridge was constructed and opened to traffic in the summer of 1917 and has remained in service ever since. This is symbolic for no bridge had been constructed which was 60 feet long or more. It set the stage for the use of concrete bridges for long-span crossings, which commenced after 1920 in Minnesota and after 1940 in Jackson County.
Yet the situation is looking bleak for the structure. The county engineer wants the bridge replaced with a wider and sturdier one, citing age and structural deterioration, weight limit and the structure’s narrowness as the main reasons. The county has already taken a look at alternatives, none of which have circumvented the inevitable plan decided upon to replace it outright. This included constructing a replacement alongside the original one (the argument against that was because of the dangerous curves presented in bypassing the road around the bridge), rehabilitating it (which would be too expensive), leaving it alone and closing it (which would cause a hindrance to the 20+ vehicles crossing the bridge every day.)  Being located in a sparsely populated area, it would make sense to have farmers and passengers go the extra mile to get to their destinations, thus allowing the bridge to be left in place with permanent barriers. Having a park in the vicinity of the bridge would be possible, yet money would be needed for a shelter house, picnic area, playground and especially trees. It would actually go well with a bike trail along Okabena Creek. Yet with the recent opposition by county residents to construct bike trails along the Des Moines River connecting Jackson and Windom due to issues of property easements and increase in costs, the idea of having a bike trail along Okabena Creek connecting Heron Lake and Brewster with many pre-1940 bridges long gone would send many to the barracks to arm themselves.
Yet because the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, there is hope that a solution can be reached so that the bridge can have another life after serving vehicular traffic for almost 100 years. The county will need to conduct environmental impact and cultural significance studies as required by law concerning all historic places. In addition, public input will be needed to determine what to do with the bridge. This will buy some time for the bridge as well as for the parties willing to do something with the 60-foot structure, including securing funding for rehabilitation and possible relocation.
Relocation. An option for a concrete bridge?
The idea sounds absurd, but it is doable.  As seen in the Ammann Awards entries from last year, the first ever prestressed and pretensioned concrete bridge in the world, constructed in 1938 over a motorway in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia was relocated to a rest area near its original site and now serves as a monument.  Yet a pair of more local examples include the relocation of two arch bridges in Iowa. The first ever reinforced concrete arch bridge, designed by Josef Melan and built by Fritz von Emprenger in 1894, was spared demolition and relocated to its current site, Emma Sater Park in Rock Rapids, 50 years ago. It was one of the first structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which occurred in 1970. A Keystone stone arch bridge in Pocahontas County, built in the 1880s, was relocated from a small creek to a park outside Pocahontas in 1980. Both structures are about the same length as the girder bridge in Jackson County.  As the construction of bike trail extensions are underway in and around Jackson, such a historic bridge could be relocated to a site along the way, to serve either as a crossing or a monument.  Even its relocation to one of the parks in Jackson, Lakefield or Heron Lake to serve as a monument would suffice as well. This would perhaps be the best alternative to it being bypassed and/or left alone as is, being a forgotten relict with a fruitful history and its contribution to the development of concrete bridges after 1920 and the state infrastructure as a whole.
Bridge 2628 is one of two remaining historic bridges left in Jackson County, yet its future is in doubt as the county wishes to replace the structure with a longer, wider and even sturdier bridge.  Given the number of pre-1930 bridges that have dwindled in numbers, it would not be surprising if Jackson County joins McLeod, Swift, Waseca and Douglas Counties in a couple years with absolutely no bridges left over, unless action is taken to save the remaining two structures (ironically, a Queenpost pony truss bridge is the other structure left in the same county and in the same township, only seven miles upstream). Given its structural and historical importance, it is essential that something is done for the bridge without destroying it, setting the example of other remaining historic bridges that are in need of the same treatment as given to the county courthouse in Jackson, as well as the historic business districts in Jackson and Lakefield, to name a few.  After suffering a harsh setback with the fall of the Middle School building in 2011, it is now more important than ever to save what is left of the county’s history before it is too late.

Photo courtesy of MnDOT, taken in 1965

For more information about how to save Bridge 2628, please contact the Jackson County Highway Department and the Jackson County Historical Society for more details and pay attention to the upcoming public meetings pertaining to the future of the bridge.

Information can also be obtained by the US Army Corps of Engineers under  Linda Pate, using the following contact details:
Linda Pate Cultural Resource Historian Regulatory Branch U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District 180 Fifth Street East, Suite 700 St. Paul, MN 55101 (651) 290-5970 (o) (651) 245-8276 (c)
Author’s Notes:
Jackson lost the 1928 Armory Building in 1999 (now replaced with a bank), the Jackson Junior and Senior High School Complex in 2011 (the 1909 half was demolished in 1982 and was not replaced, the 1938 half in 2011 despite protests and litigation, and replaced with a modern building), and the 1975 First National Bank Building in 2012 (replaced).

The author would like to thank Sam and Anna Smith as well as Pete Wilson at MnDOT for the use of the photos. Originally, they were used for the book on Jackson County’s historic, whose abbreviated version can be found in the county’s 150th anniversary book, published in 2007. The extended version is being edited and will be made available for purchase once it is finished. An article on the Lost Bridges of that county is in the making for the Chronicles, together with some information on the girder bridge.

Bridge Photos on Sale

Browns Creek Bridge near Stillwater, Minnesota. Winner of this year’s Best Kept Secret Award for the US. Photo taken and submitted by David Parker of David Parker Photography.

Interested in picking up a good photo? Perhaps one of a historic or modern bridge as a gift or an addition to one of the rooms in the house?  If interested, one of the fellow pontists and professional photographer is selling them this weekend.

David Parker, who owns Parker Photography based in Stillwater, Minnesota, is hosting a garage sale this Saturday, June 7th from 1:00 to 5:00 pm at his studio, located at 1149 Bergmann Drive in Stillwater. There, you will have an opportunity to purchase one of his works, as well as order any unprinted photos that are not in stock. Some of the photos on the selling block include landscapes, historic buildings and  bridges in parts of Minnesota (including the Twin Cities), including this one, the Browns Creek Bridge, which received the 2012 Othmar H. Ammann Award for Best Kept Secret.

Refreshments will be provided. For more information or if you have any questions, please contact Mr. Parker using the following contact details here. Hope to see you there and best of luck finding the best photo. 🙂