Mystery Bridge Nr. 61: Sugar Island Bridge

Bridge damaged by tornado in 1916. Public domain.

Our next mystery bridge takes us to Kankakee County, Illinois and to Sugar Island. There, a fellow pontist brought this bridge to the author’s attention. Little information regarding the crossing can be found, photos included. We do know that the bridge is located 10 miles south of Kankakee and 20 miles south of the interchange between I 80 and I 57 near Chicago.  The current structure spans the Iroquois River on a county road, east of US Hwy. 52 (click here for more information on its location and information). It replaced a multiple-span through truss bridge around 1979 although there was no information on its aesthetical appearance, let alone the bridge builder. That bridge replaced a two-span Pratt through truss bridge, seen in the picture above.  That happened around 1916 after a tornado damaged half of the span, causing it to lean over. More photos of the damage can be found here.

What is unique about the first bridge at Sugar Island is the builder’s plaque that were located on each end of the crossing. Here is where a debate is most likely to be brought up until further research is needed to prove one or the other. On one hand, the plaque looks like one that was used by the Continental Bridge Company in Chicago. The bridge company was located in the Monadnock Building and was in service between 1903 and 1907, with another bridge company located outside the city in Peotone from 1906 to 1931. Yet it is unclear whether the company moved to Chicago from Pennsylvania (where another CBC existed in the 1870s) or was simply shut down and reestablished. A report written by the author in 2005 provides some information on the company’s history and the possible relationship between the Chicago and Pennsylvania firms. A fine example of a CBC product is the Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. According to the plaque, the bridge was built in 1906 but was relocated to its present site in 1952. Research is still needed to find the origin of the bridge- where it was located prior to its relocation.

Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Photo taken in 2005

Looking at the portals more closely, one can see the bridge builder and the year it was constructed.

Builder’s plaque on the Chimney Rock Bridge

Yet by the same token, some people claim that the plaque similar to CBC can be found on some of the bridges built by the Massillon Bridge Company in Ohio, thus creating the argument that the Sugar Island Bridge may have been built by that company. What would be objected is that only a handful of bridges were reported to have carried this plaque before they were replaced. This included the Kilmore Creek Bridge in Clinton County, Indiana, which existed from 1885 until its demise in 1991. In addition, the portal bracings of most Massilon bridges feature an arched Howe lattice portal bracing and not those of CBC, which are Town Lattice with heel bracings, like the aforementioned examples. Furthermore, many counties inside Illinois looked in-state for bridge builders that can assemble a crossing together at a price cheaper than the giant companies, like the American Bridge Company, King Bridge Company and even the companies in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. The cost included the fabrication of steel bridge parts and transporting them to the site for assembly. While Chicago, Springfield and Joliet became main bridge building hubs, serving as competitors to the giants, the most popular was the Illinois Steel Company, which built bridges well into the 1980s. Therefore, it would make sense to buy locally resulting in the ability of these companies to survive on their own.

Keeping these arguments in mind, we now look at the Sugar Island Bridge again, asking ourselves whether the crossing was a CBC or a Massillon bridge. Furthermore, when was the bridge built and what did its predecessor look like. Any ideas? Fill out this form and send it in this direction, so that we can solve the mystery of this bridge. Also helpful is any facts involving the tornado that damaged the bridge to a point where the replacement was a necessity. 1916 was the time of the tornado and the photo taken. Anything else before or after that remains open……


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