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.