The Bridges along the Baltic-North Sea Canal Part I: The Grand Canal

Underneath the Raderbrücke (a.k.a. Europabrücke) near Rendsburg.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is doing an upgrade of the tour guides of the bridge-laden regions the author visited, by relocating them to the wordpress version of the column and updating them with maps and information. This includes the series on the Bridges along the Baltic-North Sea Canal in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, which the author visited in 2011. Unlike the areavoices version, the tour will be done in reverse order starting with part I on the Grand Canal, followed by part II on the Rendsburg High Bridge, part III on the Alter Eider Canal, which runs parallel to the Grand Canal between Rendsburg and Kiel, and lastly, the bridges in Kiel, the state capital and where the canal empties into the Baltic Sea after a 90-km trip across the state. 

Our first stop on the tour of the canal area in northern and central Schleswig-Holstein is the bridges along the Grand Canal itself, known as the Baltic-North Sea Canal (in German: Nord-Ostsee Kanal.  To understand more about the canal, one has to look at the history of it, which is plentiful in color. We already know that the first canal followed the same path as the river Eider, swerving about like a snake through Knoop, Rathmannsdorf, Kluvensiek and Schinkeln, running parallel to the present day canal between Kiel and Rendsburg before taking a more northerly route in the direction of Friedrichstadt and Tönnern before emptying into the North Sea. As the decades wore on however, the boat traffic increased in size and volume and despite its unique construction, the canal locks, let alone the double-leaf bascule bridges built to cater to horse and buggy at that time, were no longer able to accommodate the marine traffic. Therefore beginning in 1887, engineers of the German Navy embarked on a plan to construct a newer and wider canal that would run straighter than the Alter Eider and on a shorter length than its predecessor so that in the end, the Grand Canal would flow southwesterly from Rendsburg, past Gruenental and Hochdonn, and emptying into the North Sea at Brunsbüttel, approximately 65 km south of Friedrichstadt. The length totalled 90 km, which is more than half the distance of the Eider Canal. While the canal was built as a means of providing a short naval route instead of going around Denmark, the Grand Canal today serves as a shortcut for the shipping and commerce.

Ten Bridges serve the Canal, including the Rendsburg High Bridge. Yet because of its historic and technical significance, a separate article accompanies this one as part of the series on the Bridges of the Grand Canal. The following profiles features bridges that you can see when travelling along the canal, going from Kiel to Brunsbüttel:

Oympia Bridge (left) and Prince Heinrich Bridge (right)

Prince Heinrich and Olympia Bridges: The twin bridges, with the identical shape and color are the first bridges to see when entering the Grand Canal from the Kiel side. They are located 700 meters from the first canal lock from the side of the Baltic Sea. Yet they have been together since 1996. Before that, there was a true landmark that was part of Kiel’s heritage. While the first bridge consisted of a combination of a pontoon and swing bridge, which opened to allow ships to pass, the 1912 truss and trestle bridge replaced the 17-year old temporary structure. It was one of the first architectural artwork designed by Friedrich Voss, the same person who built the Rendsburg High Bridge (which will be discussed in a separate article), and the Friedrichstadt Arch Bridge (which you will find here). The 320 meter long bridge featured two deck trusses supported by steel trestles resembling a bow tie and a 110 meter long subdivided Warren through truss with riveted connections and a V-frame portal bracing (also subdivided).  A link with post cards of the bridge can be found here. While the bridge sustained substantial damage during World War II, it was repaired and served as a single lane bridge connecting Kiel and its suburb Holtenau until 1972, when an additional bridge was deemed necessary as part of the plan to convert the road into an expressway. The Olympia Bridge was 150 meters longer than Prince Heinrich, yet the decision on which bridge type to build remains to this day a controversial subject. While the majority of the residents favored an identical truss design, their plea fell on deaf ears as the Kiel city council voted for a steel deck girder bridge. For 19 years, the two bridges served traffic, with the Olympia Bridge serving traffic going to Holtenau; Prince Heinrich going to Kiel. Yet due to extreme corrosion on the truss bridge, the two communities voted unanimously in 1990 to replace the 1912 bridge with an identical deck girder bridge. Again  the decision was against the will of the majority who favored a cable-stayed bridge instead of the design chosen by then state representative Gerhard Stoltenberg. The truss bridge was demolished during the summer of 1992. During the dismantling process, the eastern approach span collapsed on its own in August, taking two cranes with. Fortunately no one was injured. As soon as the bridge was removed, the replacement span was built, taking 58 months complete. Reason: design and construction flaws combined with increasing costs resulted in delays in its construction and impatience among the Kiel city council. Yet when the new span was completed, the bridge resembled its sister span the Olympia Bridge. Since 1997, both bridges have been serving the expressway connecting Kiel and Holtenau with the replacement bridge serving the role once taken by Prince Heinrich. Yet for many in Kiel, the bridges serve as an eyesore for the decision to build a modern bridge was against their will for they wanted something that the city can be proud of and not something bland. The aesthetics of the bridge today are questionable even from the author’s point of view, but if there is a consolation, the bridges serve as a marker

Levansau Bridge with its parallel span in the background

Levensau Bridge:

Located just 10 km west of the Olympia and Prince Heinrich Bridges, this bridge is unique because of its unique design. Made of steel, this bridge features a half-pony and half deck arch design. Built in 1894 by Hermann Muthesius, it used to feature a through truss design in a form of a Howe design. Its decking featured rail traffic between Kiel and Flensburg for the eastern half and vehicular traffic for the western half. A picture of the bridge can be found here. Yet, as mentioned in the bridge quiz a few weeks ago, the bridge became a safety hazard by the early 1950s, as collisions at the portal entry were the norm- in many cases with injuries involved. Henceforth, beginning in 1952 and lasting for two years, the through truss portion and the concrete portal entries were removed, the roadways were reallocated and separated with a barrier to ensure through traffic and better passage, additional steel supports were added to the deck arch sections, and the entire bridge was stripped down to resemble its present form today.  The stripped down version of the Levensau Bridge was reopened to traffic in 1954 and continued to be the lone link between Kiel and Levensau for another 20 years. An additional bridge was added to relieve the bridge of heavy masses of traffic in 1974.  The bridge still remains in use, yet its days will soon be numbered. Plans are in the making to demolish the bridge and replace it with a tied arch span as part of the plans to widen and deepen the Grand Canal. Specifically, the new span will be built on top of the old span, which will then be dismantled one-by-one until only the abutments are left. They will be preserved and used as observation points as well as a place of habitats for a rare species of bats that exist inside. At present, no work has been done on the bridge due to funding and regulatory issues. Yet when the green light is given, the project is expected to be completed with three years.

Oblique view of the Raderbrücke

Rendsburg’s Highway Bridge and Tunnel:

About a third of the way down the canal we come to Rendsburg, a city of 30,000 that once prided itself on the cast iron industry, but is now simply a tourist trap. Rendsburg is a rather quiet community with friendly people who enjoy talking about its heritage and history. And the city should be proud of it, especially when it comes to its bridges. Several bascule bridges were erected over the Alt Eider Canal in and around Rendsburg, most of which were built by the cast iron company Carlshütte (for more information, please refer to Part I and the Kluvensiek Bridge). Yet as iron became a fad of the past thanks to the coming of steel, so was the canal itself as the Grand Canal replaced it and effectively made these bridges obsolete. Today another landmark overshadows the city, which we’ll talk about in the next article with the Rendsburg High Bridge, yet two other crossings existed over the Grand Canal: The City Tunnel and the Europe Bridge. The City Tunnel was built in 1961, replacing the steel swing bridge, built using a cantilever truss design. That bridge featured two spans, each with a turning wheel, that would turn outwards to allow ships to pass. Because of the traffic congestion along the main street going through Rendsburg which the bridge carried, combined with the rust and corrosion and the hindrance of marine traffic, that bridge was taken out of service in favor of two tunnels, each one carrying one-way traffic. Two additional tunnels for bikes and pedestrians were added in 1965. At the same time of the construction of the tunnel, plans were approved to construct an Autobahn-Bridge spanning the Grand Canal. The 1491 meter  long bridge (with a 221 meter main span) was christened the Raderbrücke (or Europabrücke), as it not only connected Flensburg and Hamburg via A7, but it created the longest Autobahn in not only Germany (at 961 kilometers in length), but Europe, connecting Flensburg with Füssen in Bavaria, but Scandanavia (namely Kolding, Aalborg, Copenhagen and Stockholm) with the Alps region (and with it, Austria and Switzerland). The bridge has been serving traffic since its opening in 1972. However, plans are in place to replace the entire structure to better accommodate Motorway A7 beginning in 2018. A new span will be built alongside the current one, which after that bridge is open to traffic, will be torn down and replaced. All in all, two bridges with three lanes in each direction will be in service by 2026.

Oblique view of Grünental Bridge. Photo taken in 1987 by Rainer Butenschön, used with permission

Grünethal Bridge

Located near the town of Beldorf, this 1892 structure, featuring a half through and half arch bridge and serving a local road and railroad line. Little has been mentioned about this bridge except for the fact that it is most likely the second bridge built along the canal by Hermann Muthesius, the same person who built the Levensau Bridge near Kiel. Furthermore, it was one of two bridges in Schleswig-Holstein that carried both vehicular and rail traffic (the Heide- Neumuenster Line). The Lindaunis Schlei drawbridge is the other bridge.   The bridge served traffic for 92 years before severe rust and corrosion on the superstructure led to first a severe weight restriction, forbidding trucks from using the bridge, later the German Railways to cease train service across the bridge, and finally its eventual replacement with the present structure, a Warren through truss bridge with no vertical beams.  The arch bridge, deemed unsafe even for pedestrian use, was taken off its foundation using two massive cranes in 1988 and cut up and hauled away for scrap metal. Only the brick abutments, once used as portal entrance before its partial demolition in 1952, remain as observation decks. Unique is the fact that the state shield of Schleswig-Holstein, made of iron, can be seen while passing under the new bridge.

 

Main span of Hochdonn Bridge. Photo taken by Rainer Butenschön. Used with permission

Hochdonn Bridge

Featuring Warren deck truss approaches supported by steel bowtie-like trestle towers and a Camelback Warren through truss main span over the canal, the 2218 meter long Hochdonn Viaduct cannot be missed while travelling along the Grand Canal. Built between 1913 and 1920, this bridge is possibly the third bridge built by Friedrich Voss, who had previously built the Prince Heinrich Bridge near Kiel in 1912 and the Rendsburg High Bridge , one year later. It replaced a swing bridge located west of Hochdonn, which was removed and replaced with a ferry today. Since its opening in 1920, the bridge has been serving rail traffic between Hamburg and the Island of Sylt, located at the German-Danish border.  The only work done on this bridge was between 2005 and 2008, when the deck truss trestle spans were rehabilitated and the 42 meter high main span was replaced with a replica of the original bridge. In historic standards, it would have compromised the bridge’s historical integrity, but given the circumstances, and the fact that the truss swapping was necessary because the original span sustained severe corrosion making the rehabilitation impossible, it was deemed necessary to carry out this work while keeping the bridge’s integrity in tact. It has worked, as the bridge is still considered historically significant on the state level. A link with detailed photos of the bridge can be found here.

Deck truss approach spans. Photo taken by Rainer Butenschön, used with permission

 

Hohenhorn Viaduct:

The last two bridges crossing the canal are not only the westernmost bridges, but they serve the main artery connecting Hamburg and the Island of Sylt, passing through the cities of Itzehoe, Husum and Heide. The Hohenhorn Viaduct, built in 1989, is the younger of the two bridges, and serves the Autobahn motorway 23, which connects Heide and Hamburg. It was built as a relief to the main highway 5, although stretches of them have been replaced by the motorway since then. It still serves traffic today. The 390 meter long bridge features a similar main-span steel cantilever bridge to that of the Europa Bridge, but it one of the shortest bridges along the canal.

 

Main-span of the Brunsbuttel Bridge. Photo taken by Nightflyer. Can be viewed here: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hochbr%C3%BCcke_Brunsb%C3%BCttel

Brunsbüttel Bridge

At 2831 meters long, the Brunsbüttel Bridge, the last bridge before approaching the North Sea, serves the Main Highway 5, which runs along the North Sea coast. Built in 1983, the bridge, which featured a Warren through truss main span and two deck girder approach spans, is not only the longest bridge over the Grand Canal, but it is also one of the longest bridges in Germany. Given the landscape where the bridge is located, the bridge can be easily seen from a distance of as far as 10 kilometers in both directions.

To sum up the tour of the Bridges along the Baltic-North Sea Canal, the canal is rich in history, not only in its construction and how the towns profited from it, but also the bridges that either used to cross it or still cross it. There are many bridges in shapes and sized that a person can see. Yet there is one bridge that was left out of all this, which we will get to as we approach Part II: The Rendsburg High Bridge.

Here’s a map with the complete guide of the bridges along the Baltic North Sea Canal, which features both the Grand Canal and the Alt Eider, which the former supplanted. This includes both the Rendsburg High Bridge, which will be in part II and the Alt Eider, which will be in part III. Kiel is not included in the map as there is a separate one, but will be featured in Part IV.

 

Special Thanks to Rainer Butenschön for the photos of the Hochdonn and Grünental Bridges and for allowing the author to use a couple of them for this article.

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The Bridges of Friedrichstadt, Germany

The Stone Arch Bridge and the market square with the Dutch facade housing in the background. Photo taken in August 2012

Located seven km (or four miles) south of the fourth largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, Husum, at the junction of the Eider and Treene Rivers, seven kilometers inward from the North Sea, Friedrichstadt appears to be a typical small town in the northernmost state of Germany with rows of small houses, farmland scenery with cattle and sheep grazing in the fields, and people greeting each other with “Moin! Moin!”. The town prides itself on its tourism and the typical specialties with fish, just like the rest of the cities up north. But Friedrichstadt also prides itself on its history and multiculture. Founded in 1623 by King Friedrich III and despite surviving four wars with its neighbors plus persecution of certain races, Friedrichstadt is one of the cultural points of interest, where large groups of Dutch, Frisans, Danes, Jews and Germans speaking northern dialects have lived for almost 400 years. It was a center commerce point for trade with empires from Russia, Scandanavia and Prussia, but is now a tourist attraction, where thousands of tourists from over 100 countries visit every year.

The town was built using Amsterdam as the ante-type, featuring canals that slice through the town of 2,300, but encircling its beloved Dutch-style houses, and like the Dutch capital, the city is loaded with bridges of different types and coming from different eras of time. Eighteen Bridges can be found in this city, including two major crossings over the Eider just outside the city limits and some key notables in the town itself. Each of the crossings can be reached by foot, by bike, or by boat, with most of them telling a story or having a picture showing its history, making the town proud of its history and heritage.  While one can write a library about the town’s 18 bridges, which is unusual for small town standards (a town of that size could have 3-5 bridges on average pending on location), this guide shows you the most important bridges you will see when spending a few hours in this quiet but important historic town.  Each bridge has a brief history, but photos for you to see, courtesy of not only yours truly, but also many contributors, who were willing to step forward to help. The credits will be provided at the end of the article.  So without further ado, we’ll start with the outer edge of town with the two Eider Bridges and work our way towards the Treene.

Inside the Friedrichstadt Arch Bridge. Photo taken in August 2012

Friedrichstadt Arch Bridge

Spanning the Eider River at the southwest end of town, this bridge represents one of the finest works of Friedrich Voss, who had constructed six bridges along the Baltic-North Sea Canal, including the Rendsburg High Bridge. Built in 1916, three years after the world-renowned bridge was open to rail traffic, the Friedrichstadt Arch Bridge features three spans- the center span being a two-part draw bridge; the outer spans being steel through arch bridges. Up until the 1950s, it was a toll bridge, where money was gathered based on the size of the vehicles and the goods being carried across. That means one could pay 400 Pfennig for driving a truck across but only 20 Pfennig when walking across. The tolls have long since been lifted and the draw bridge span is seldom used nowadays, the bridge has received its regular wear and tear as it serves traffic in and out of Friedirchstadt from the south, connecting the town with Heide. It just recently celebrated its 100th anniversary with a marathon and other celebrations.  Despite being renovated only once (in 2006), the bridge still can handle a sizeable amount of traffic today and is expected to continue to do so.

Photo courtesy of the Friedrichstadt City Archives
Photo taken in August 2012

View of the Friedrichstadt Railroad Bridge from the Friedrichstadt Arch Bridge. Photo taken in August 2012

The Friedrichstadt Railroad Bridge

This bridge is one of the more popular structures in Schleswig Holstein and northern Germany. First built in 1887, the bridge featured multiple-span truss bridges with a swing span at the river crossing, with the purpose of providing passengers with rail service between Hamburg and the Island of Sylt, located in the North Sea at the Danish Border. The first bridge featured five bowstring arch spans on the north end of the Eider, followed by two Whipple through truss spans that were separated by a bowstring arch span, as shown in the picture below:

The first bridge after it opened in 1887, looking from the north end. Photo courtesy of the Friedrichstadt City Archives

In 1908, the spans were replaced, one by one with another set of trusses, which featured from south to north one Pennsylvania through truss with A-frame portal bracings, one bowstring arch swing span, another Pennsylvania through truss and five polygonal Warren through truss spans. Photographer H.D. Kienitz provided a diagram of what the spans looked like below:

Diagram courtesy of H.D. Kienitz, used with permission

Five years later, an identical was built alongside the 1908 bridge and for 74 years, the bridge provided two-way traffic before a major reconstruction job took place in 1987 and lasted seven years. It consisted of replacing the bowstring arch swing span with a polygonal Warren through truss  swing span that was operated electronically and removing the 1908 span in its entirety, reducing the number of tracks on the railline to only one. This is what the bridge looks like before and after the facelift:

The duo truss bridges before the facelift in 1987. Photo taken by H.D. Kienitz, used with permission
The northern Warren trusses at the time of the facelift. Photo taken by H.D. Kienitz, used with permission
Sideview of the bridge before the facelift. Photo taken by H.D. Kienitz, used with permission
Photo of the main spans after the facelift. Photo taken in 1997 by H. Doose, used with permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Friedrichstadt Railroad bridge still serves traffic today, which consists of the NOB Train services, which stops regularly at Friedrichstadt, and the InterCity lines, which starts at Westerland on the Island of Sylt and runs through Hamburg going to destinations in the south. It is unknown whether there will be another two-track bridge built at this site soon. It depends on the number of passengers travelling through the western part of Schleswig-Holstein and the problem with bottlenecks at this site. Right now, with four national raillines and the options available for rail travel in the region, it appears unlikely. That might change in the five years….

Fast Fact: Apart from the InterCity line connecting Sylt and Hamburg, the three other national lines include Hamburg-Luebeck- Copenhagen (crossing the Fehmarnsund Bridge), Hamburg-Rendsburg-Flensburg-Kolding (crossing the Rendsburg High Bridge) and Hamburg-Neumuenster-Kiel, the latter two of which carry ICE-Train services, whereas the second and third lines have international connections to Scandanavia.

Red Arch Bridge at Ostersielzug. Photo taken in August 2012

The Arch Bridges of Friedrichstadt:

It is unknown how many arch bridges were built during the time of the town’s infancy. But if one counts the Eider crossing, there are four arch bridges that still serve Friedrichstadt today, regardless of its shape and form. While there is little to no information about the Red Arch Bridge, located behind the main highway, as well as the modern arch bridge located near the police station (both in Ostersielzug), the most famous of the bridges is the Stone Arch Bridge, which is located at the eastern entrance to the market square. Built in 1773, the bridge is one of the oldest structures still standing in Germany. The one-span structure was renovated in 1981 by strengthening and widening it to provide traffic across the canal, which continues to do so today. It is one of the most photographed places in the town and provides tourists who eat at the ice cream parlor next to it with a picturesque background of the city.

Passenger Boat passing through the Stone Arch Bridge. Photo taken in August 2012
Cyclist crossing the Holmertor Bridge with the Mittelburg Bridge in the far distant background. Photo taken in August 2012

Wooden Bridges in Friedrichstadt

It is unknown how many wooden bridges existed in Friedrichstadt, for they differed on location and design. But today there are at least four bridges remaining that were built made of wood, most of which feature triangular deck trusses supporting wooden support piers and three of which can be found along the northern Mitteburgwall canal, the same one where the Stone Arch Bridge is located. A pair of notable bridges should be noted here. The Middle Bridge, located next to the Stone Arch Bridge, is known as the Holmertor Bridge and featured a bascule bridge supported by a wooden tower, as depicted in a painting provided by the city. It was replaced at the end of the 19th century.  The Kuhbruecke (Cows Bridge) is located at the mouth of the Treene adjacent to the Blue Bridge and is the third bridge located at the site. A lock is located right next to it and protects the town from flooding from the Treene River.

Painting of the Holmertor Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of the Friedrichstadt City Archives
Cow’s Bridge, oblique view. Photo taken in August 2012

 Blue Bridge. Photo taken by the author in 2012

Blue Bridge:

The final bridge on this tour is the Blue Bridge. Located over the Treene River in the district of Westersielzug, this bridge is the only one in the city that features a double leaf bascule bridge, one of the most common types of bridges to be found in Schleswig-Holstein. Yet this bridge represents a historic symbol for the city as about a handful of these bridges were constructed in the 1800s, including this bridge which was recently profiled as a Mystery Bridge and is also in the running for the Ammann Awards. That bridge was located in the same district as the Blue Bridge, according to the City Archives. Serving as a gateway to the historic city center from the north (and the train station), the Blue Bridge was constructed in 1991 to serve as a historic marker to the bridges that have long since been lost. However, the main spans were lifted only once in its lifetime. Reason? While the plan was to use the Treene as a thoroughfare, it was blocked thanks to a fixed span located to the west of the bridge. Since then, the bridge practically serves as a fixed span, even though technically it is a bascule bridge. Nevertheless, it is mentioned a great deal through boat tours and other notes in the travel guides and is a treat to those wanting to visit Friedrichstadt.

Author’s Note: The fixed span mentioned here has been in service since the 1970s. Its predecessor was the Kreisbahnbrücke, a polygonal Warren pony truss bridge that used to carry trolly traffic to the city from the train station.

Kreisbahnbruecke. Photo courtesy of the Friedrichstadt City Archives

To sum up, Friedrichstadt is a city full of history and surprises, no matter which aspect one is interested in. The city has 18 bridges, which is unusual, however, each one tells a story, which is worth listening to or reading about when spending time there, regardless of bridge type and size.  The city may be small, but its history and heritage makes Friedrichstadt a must-see place when visiting Schleswig-Holstein.

A map of the bridges is enclosed so you know of their location:

The author would like to thank Christiane Thomsen at the Friedrichstadt City Archives, Rainer Butenschoen, Dietrich Doose and H.D. Kienitz for their help in providing information and photos on the bridges in Friedrichstadt.

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The Bridges of Harvey/Tracy, Iowa

Never travel alone in the dark, as you are being watched. Photo of a rather spooky farmstead taken at dusk by the author in August 2011

This tour guide takes us to southeastern Iowa, where we have not only one but six bridges in the area where Harvey and Tracy are located. One mystery bridge, one extremely haunted one carrying a dead end low maintenance road, one railroad bridge that had a tragic end, another railroad bridge that was located next to a sunken ferry and two abandoned ones that are being considered for a bike trail. All of them span(-ned) the Des Moines River within a 10-mile radius of a small town of Harvey. Located approximately seven miles east of the county seat of Knoxville in Marion County, Harvey has a population of roughly 250 inhabitants. Judging by the appearance of the houses and even the two churches, the town had seen its better days, as the majority of them live at or below the poverty line and most of the buildings are run down, the yards littered with junk needed to be removed if the assistance is available. It doesn’t look any better for the town of Tracy, located three miles down river in Mahaska County. The town of 150 inhabitants had once seen better days with the railroad in business, connecting it with Oskaloosa, which is 10 miles to the east and the county seat.

But looking at Harvey, these characteristics are only scratching the surface, as the town, and the surrounding area, and the crossings along the Des Moines River are all haunted in one way or another. Photographing the bridges, there is a sense of eeriness that makes a person stay close to the car and not wander off, fearing that he will not return. The region used to be bustling with railway and commercial traffic in the 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, Harvey was plotted in 1876 by the railroad with a line passing through later that year, connecting Knoxville and points east through the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.  But the line that passed through Harvey was abandoned, and one by one, commerce moved away to nearby towns, but leaving traces of the past in the forms of ghosts and other paranormal activity that makes the region haunted, but researchers curious about its history. If there is a word of advice I have for the passers-by it is this: Never travel alone in the dark, for you are being watched. Travel in groups and in the day time to ensure that you are safe and sound. Make sure you do not wander off away from the cars, and never ever get lost when photographing in the area!

On one of the evenings in August of 2011, I took a tour of the region and its bridges. There were five historic truss bridges that I found and spent some time photographing them: The Horn’s Ferry, Wabash Railroad, Harvey Railroad, Belle Fountain, and Eveland Bridges. While the Horn’s Ferry Bridge has a topic of its own (click here), the primary focus of this tour is on the other four bridges.  In addition to that, there is an abandoned highway that used to pass through Harvey in a form of Iowa Highway 92, the same highway that used to crisscross Madison County, and its numerous covered bridges that existed (now there’s only six fully restored structures). It snaked its way towards the Des Moines River before crossing north of Tracy.  The highway was straightened and bypassed in 1978 but numerous questions remain about the highway. And lastly, east of Tracy is the remains of a railroad bridge which has a history of its own, including that of its tragic end 60 years ago.

This article provides you with a tour of the area and its bridges with some insight from the author on the structure and its significance. It will also include some stories of his encounters with some rather strange things that happened while on tour. We’ll start off with our first bridge:

Wabash Railroad Bridge:

The first bridge on the tour is one of two that used to be a railroad crossing but was repurposed to serve cars. The Wabash Railroad Bridge can be found spanning the Des Moines River just south of the present crossing at Keokuk Drive (CSAH T-17). It was built in 1881 by the Oliver Iron and Steel Company, even though it is unclear whether it was the company that had been operated by Henry Oliver in Pittsburgh or James Oliver in the state of Indiana. It consists of three Pratt through truss spans with pinned connections and Lattice portal bracings. The overhead bracings are V-laced with 45° heel supports. The center span was replaced in 1905. The total length is 545 feet long, meaning three 150-foot long spans plus an approach constructed in 1951 when it was converted to vehicular traffic. The Wabash Railroad was created in 1837 but started using the name out of the creation of several small railroads in 1865. The company served the Midwestern states which included an area between Kansas City and St. Louis to Chicago, Detroit, parts of Ontario and ending in Buffalo. This included the line going through Harvey and Tracy enroute to the Quad Cities (E) and Omaha (W). After its receivership in 1931 and purchase by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1933, several tracks were sold off, including this line and the bridge, which Marion County purchased in 1946. The bridge was eventually converted to a vehicular crossing by 1951 and the line was turned into a gravel road connecting Harvey and Oskaloosa. The bridge was bypassed by a newer crossing in the late 1980s but remained a crossing as a gravel road until its closure a few years ago. Today, it is a pedestrian crossing with each ends being barricaded and steel fencing having been installed. Plans are in the making to include the crossing into the bike trail network connecting Pella and Van Buren County.  In 2013, the remains of an antique ferry boat were found 500 feet south of the crossing. It is possible that a ferry used to serve locals during the time the Wabash Railroad was in service, but more information is needed to prove these claims. The Wabash folded into Norfolk and Southern in 1991, ending its storied 153 year run.

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Harvey Railroad Bridge:

Built in 1878 by the American Bridge Company, this four-span Pratt through truss bridge was one of the first bridges that featured the bridge company’s signature portal bracings (as you can see in the pictures below). They were used often for railroad crossings with most of them built after the consolidation of 26 bridge companies in 1901. The bridge served rail traffic until it was abandoned in 1938 and purchased by the county, which then converted it into a roadway bridge. At some time later, the Des Moines River was re-channeled making the road expendable. Yet it still serves this dead end road to nearby farms along the river today. The railroad that used the bridge was the Rock Island, which started its decline at the time the bridge and the line were sold off and was eventually liquidated in 1980.

The bridge is surrounded by thick trees, which covers the structure and makes the tall and narrow structure a haunted place to visit. During my visit to the bridge, the first impression after looking at the entrance was that of walking through a dark black hole filled with bats, owls, and creepy insects. Crickets were already out in full force chirping away. Everything else was deathly still as I was crossing the structure, taking pictures of it. Yet as I was at the easternmost portal entrance to the bridge, I heard gunshots ringing out from the opposite end of the bridge. The first shot did not stir me but it did scare off the birds that had been dining in the nests. The second shot however made me rethink my stay on the bridge as there was speculation that someone was shooting at me (or trying to). There was no one approaching me on the bridge and no other people in the vicinity of the structure. The third gunshot was the final signal for me to make my exit as I rush towards the car, hearing more gunshots along the way, got in and took off. As I was leaving, a party of two people on an ATV rushed onto the bridge.  If this was a way of shooing someone from the bridge just so they could have it, then they could have done better than that. Yet even if no guns were being used, the bridge is probably one of the most haunted structures you can ever cross, ranking up there with the Enoch’s Knob Bridge in Missouri. The best time to visit the bridge is in the daylight, where you can get the best pics and are most likely not be frightened by spooky creatures and guns going off without knowing where it came from.

 

 

 

 

 

Old Highway 92 Bridge:

Among the four being profiled here is another mystery bridge- the first in Mahaska County, Marion’s neighbor to the east. The first time this crossing came to my attention was on a GoogleMap, where there are two crossings bearing the name Hwy. 92- the present one in Marion County and what is left of the previous crossing on the Mahaska side, approximately 1.5 miles south of the present crossing. The road approaching the previous crossing is still in its original form- concrete from the 1930s and really narrow. Yet when arriving at the crossing, it is barricaded with signs and broken down excavators on each end, with the road turning to the south and becoming gravel.  Another piece of evidence to be presented was the fact that a US geological survey map of the 1930s indicated that the crossing consisted of four spans and a truss design, similar to a Parker design. And lastly, National Bridge Inventory records indicated that the present Hwy. 92 bridge on the Marion side was built in 1978. Given the fact that the Belle Fountain Bridge is located a half mile downstream, it is possible that the Old 92 Bridge was removed as it was deemed expendable and obsolete. Yet we do not know whether it is true or not.

What we do know is there are many questions that need to be answered about this bridge, such as: 1. What did the old bridge look like? Was it a Parker truss bridge or another truss type?  2. When was the bridge built? Who built the structure? and 3. When was the bridge removed? Was it in 1978 or afterwards? And why was it removed?

 

Belle Fountain Bridge:

This bridge is located in a small unincorporated village of Belle Fountain, located 1.5 miles south of Hwy. 92 on the west bank of the Des Moines River. It is one of the earliest bridges built by a prominent bridge builder in Iowa, the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, which built the structure at a cost of $9750 in 1898. The four-span Pratt through truss super-structure features A-frame portal and strut bracing and pin connections, the former of which was recently introduced to replace the Lattice portal bracing. The bridge is 595 feet long with each span being 145 feet. The bridge has been a subject of neglect, especially after the Old 92 Bridge was built in 1930 and located 0.5 miles upstream. The lack of maintenance of the structure for unknown reasons prompted its closure. Since then the truss bridge has been allowed to remain in place with the flooring rotting away to expose the bottom chord. However, given the awareness of the bridge and its historic significance and connection with Belle Fountain, interest is being garnered in restoring the bridge and reincorporating it into a bike trail. When and if that will happen remains to be seen. One of the factors to keep in mind is to rid the bridge of the overgrowth, which has been ruling the eastern truss bridge for some time, as you can see in the photos. Given the fact that the bridge has been sitting abandoned for a long time, it is possible that the bridge may have to be disassembled, with the parts being sandblasted and replaced, and the foundations being rebuilt, before reassembling it back into place. The cost for the whole work would be a fraction of the cost for replacing the bridge outright.  Having a restored bridge like this one would be a blessing for the community and the county, which seems to have embraced preservation given the importance of this bridge.

 

 

 

 

Eveland Bridge:

The next bridge on the tour is the Eveland Bridge. Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, this bridge replaced a ferry that was used to cross the river. It is perhaps the only bridge originally built by a bridge company in Indiana, the Fort Wayne Bridge Works, which built the foundations in 1876 and erected the three-span truss bridge in the spring of the following year. It featured three spans of the Whipple through truss with the portal bracing representing the exact truss design. The structure was made of iron and featured pin-connections. Flooding wiped out the center span in 1903 and was subsequentially replaced with a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge made of steel. Since its closure in the early 1990s, it has sat in its place waiting to be reused, but not before replacing the decking (which has rotted away substantially) and possibly reconstructing the trusses. Photographing the bridge is really difficult as both sides of the river are heavily forested with the southern bank being littered with trailer homes and small houses. It also does not present a welcoming feeling when driving past the structure, especially as there are many dogs roaming around, waiting to chase the next person away from the area. With a lack of lighting in the area, it is especially creepy at night when driving, let alone walking. But nevertheless, I took advantage of the little daylight that was left and got a pair of pics before anything unusual happened, and then drove back to the hotel in Des Moines, which was a good hour’s drive away.  Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, the Eveland may be getting a new lease on life, as plans are in the preliminary stages to convert the bridge into a bike trail.  Given its remote location, the whole area surrounding the bridge may benefit from having a bike trail pass through, as business and other services could be established to serve the bikers and tourists. It will also mean more lighting in the evening for those going on an evening stroll, something that this area and the bridge itself need very badly. It all depends on the costs, the interest and the question of what can be realized and what can be scrapped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracy Railroad Bridge:

The last bridge on the tour is one with a long history- and one that ended in tragedy. The Tracy Railroad Bridge consisted of two Whipple through truss spans with an X-frame portal bracing, all being pin connected. The bridge was originally built in 1882 by George S. Morrison for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (later became part of the BNSF Railways), spanning the Missouri River near Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Three bridge builders were behind the construction of the bridge, one of which- Keystone Bridge Company in Pittsburgh- had a hand in relocating and rebuilding the bridge at Tracy in 1903 for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. This was part of the plan to build a sturdier three-span Pennsylvania truss bridge at Plattsmouth while the 1882 bridge was needed for the line at Tracy. From 1903 to its removal in 1950, the bridge was located over the Des Moines River near the site of present-day Cedar Bluffs Natural Area, while the line connected Eddyville with Knoxville. After many years of disuse, workers in 1950 dismantled the structure and sold the parts for scrap. But it came at a price of one life, for one person was crushed to death as the eastern span fell thirty feet into the river. Another person was on that bridge and jumped into the river as it fell. He suffered only minor injuries. The accident happened after the western half of the bridge was removed. The rest of the eastern half was pulled out of the water and hauled away by another demolition company, months after the incident. The Tracy Bridge was a work of art of one prominent bridge builder, yet its life ended on a sour note, even though had the preservation movement started after World War II, there might have been a chance for this bridge, just like its neighbors to the north.

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It will be interesting to see what the future brings for the bridges in the greater Harvey area. Plans are in the making for a bike trail network going from its terminus at the Horn’s Ferry Bridge to Eddyville, possibly using the crossings for cyclists to pass through. This will bring a new lease in life for the ones that have been unused for a long time but whose history can be contributed to the development of the infrastructure in the state of Iowa over the past 150 years. And while it will take up to seven years to finalize the plans and actually build the network, when it is completed, people will take advantage of the trail and learn about the history of each village and bridge they pass by. And even if some of the bridges are haunted, it is unlikely that anyone will actually be taking the trail at night, unless they are as gutsy as I was when visiting the bridges last year. But it is a sure bet that safety features, including lighting, will be considered to accommodate those who dare to encounter the paranormal at night. As for the towns of Harvey and Tracy, the coming of the bike trail may help turn things around for a community that had seen its better days. Having the trail will boost commerce, like it did during the days of the railroad. And with that will bring good fortunes for the community, something that the people surely have been waiting for that for a long time and owe themselves to that share of the pie of prosperity.

A map of the bridges can be seen here. Should you be interested in helping out with the bike trail project in one way or another, please contact the county conservation board, historical societies and other groups involved and see what you can do for them.

 

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The Bridges of Bertram, Iowa (USA)

Rosedale Bridge. Photo taken in September 2010

 

 

Located only five kilometers (two miles) east of Cedar Rapids in the state of Iowa is the village of Bertram. There is not much of the village apart from a cluster of houses along the Cedar River, as well as Big, Indian and Squaw Creeks. But the village of 300 residents living in the largest incorporated area east of Iowa has one special gift for photographers and pontists alike: the area has a lot of pre-1920 historic bridges. Five truss bridges that are over a century old and several arch bridges flank the region, making a photo tour look like a day trip; especially when some of them were built by the likes of J.E. Jayne and Wrought Iron Bridge. Many of them still serve traffic today despite attempts to replace them with more modern crossings. And there is a reason why residents don’t want them: with new bridges comes more traffic and more pollution. Furthermore, they are emotionally attached to the structures as they fit a very natural landscape, which makes the region southeast of the second largest city in Iowa a treat to see.

This tour guide takes you through Bertram and the vicinity, providing you with a glimpse of the bridges you will see when passing through the area. The Ely Street Bridge is being replaced at the time of this revamp of the guide produced in 2014 as the structure was destroyed in a flood.  Blaine’s Crossing is featured as a mystery bridge in this article, which gives us eight bridges featured in this guide that comes with a map. Without further ado…….:

 

Rosedale Bridge:

Spanning Indian Creek on Rosedale Road, just north of Indian Creek Park, this bridge is one of the shortest through truss bridges in the state, with a span of 89 feet. The markings of the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge- in particular, the Town Lattice portal bracings with knee braces, “fish tail” style floor beams, and sway bracings with riveted angles- are similar to the ones at Ely Street, resulting in the conclusion that the bridge may have been built by J.E. Jayne and Sons of Iowa City. The contractor was the county’s main bridge builder in the 1890s, although only a couple examples remain in use today. 1890 was the date of construction for this bridge, even though it has not been fully confirmed. The bridge was renovated in the early 2000s, which included a paint job shoring up the rip rap and abutments, as well as the replacement of the wood decking and bridge railings (with the typically modern Armco ones), thus continuing its function as a through traffic crossing, albeit only for light vehicles.

Ely Street Bridge:

Located east of Cedar Rapids and accessible from highways 151 and 13, the town of 300 inhabitants is located on a key railroad line between Clinton and Cedar Rapids. The quiet community prides itself in having four historic bridges located within a six-mile radius, all of them located along Big Creek, one of the tributaries that eventually empties into the Cedar River.  The Ely Street Bridge, located on East Bertram Road just south of the railroad crossing is one of them.

Built in 1891, the two-span Pratt through truss bridge, with Town lattice portal bracings and pinned connections, is a key example of a bridge built by J.E. Jayne and Son Bridge Company in Iowa City, located 30 miles south of Cedar Rapids. Born in 1838,  John E. Jayne moved to Johnson County at the age of two where he settled down with his family on a plot of land in Graham Twp., according to county records. He started his bridge building business in Iowa City in the 1870s, with his company located on Gilbert Street. Many bridges built in Linn County were credited to his name, including three in and around Bertram. The red-colored Ely Street Bridge is the best known product built by Jayne, as the structure consists of two truss spans totalling 224 feet long and 14 feet wide. Plaques are found at the top center part of the portal bracings. The bridge is well-hidden but one will cross it right after crossing the railroad tracks.

That is, it used to…

Heavy rainfall caused Big Creek to flood its banks, resulting in trees and other debris falling into the rushing waters. One of the larger trees knocked the two-span structure into the water on June 30th, 2014, cutting the truss bridges into pieces and the street off from its main access to US 151 and IA 13. State and local governments contemplated on what to do with the structure, ranging from rebuilding the bridge in its usual form to a full replacement. The decision in June 2016 to scrap the remaining bridge and replace it with a 300 foot concrete bridge put the last nails into the coffin in the life of a bridge, whose builder has a place in the history books of Linn County, as well as the state of Iowa. Moreover, its design and service on America’s roads serve as a reminder of how truss bridges played a role in paving more roads in the history of America’s infrastructure. The replacement span is expected to open by the end of 2017.

Bertram Road Bridge Photo taken in September 2010

Bertram Road Bridge:

This through truss bridge at Bertram Road is the second to last vehicular crossing over Indian Creek before it empties into the Cedar River. Yet although the blue-colored bridge has markings typical of a bridge built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio- namely the Town Lattice portal bracings with ornamental features and builder’s plaque in the middle and a plaque with the date of construction found at each end of the portal bracing where the end posts and top chords meet, the 1876 bridge, whose main span is 115 feet long out of the total length of 192 feet, features a rather unique truss design. According to records from the Iowa DOT, the bridge is a double-intersecting Pratt truss bridge, yet one can look at it closer and argue that it is a Whipple truss with features resembling a Pratt truss bridge. The reasons are that the diagonal beams that cross two panels, going directly through the vertical posts, yet there are some that only cover one bridge panel but in a format similar to a Pratt truss.  The design can be discussed similar to the question of a beverage being half-full or half empty.  In either case, the bridge is listed on the National Register, like the Ely Street and Rosedale Bridges, because of its affiliation with one of the largest bridge builders that existed between 1870 and its integration into the American Bridge Company consortium with 27 other bridge builders in 1901, in addition to its unique but debatable design that is perhaps the last of its kind left in Iowa.

Big Creek Bridge:

Spanning Big Creek, the 100-foot long, red-colored Pratt through truss bridge can be seen either from Bertram Street or Holmann’s Road, providing a picturesque view of the structure and its wooden surroundings, year round. The bridge features pinned connections, V-laced bracings supported by riveted-connected angle supports, Town Lattice portal bracings with angle heel supports, and “fish tail” floor beams. Assumptions indicate a work of J.E. Jayne and Sons built in 1890, yet there is no real confirmation of the exact date. Yet records indicate that it was built in 1929, the date that is considered impossible because of the introduction of standardized truss bridges with riveted connections and letter-style portal bracings (such as the A, WV and M-frame style). Henceforth it must be the date of its relocation. Question is where was it originally built?  Like the Rosedale Bridge, the Big Creek Bridge was renovated recently with new paint, new flooring and new Armco railings, yet it functions as a key crossing within the city limits of Bertram.

UP Big Creek Bridge:

Northeast of the Ely Street Bridge is the two-span pony truss bridge with riveted connections. Although it can be seen from Bertram Street enroute to the Big Creek Bridge to the north, it is almost impossible to photograph it from a distance, and given the private property surrounding it, one cannot get close to it to find out the building date and detailed features. One can assume that it was built around 1901-2 to accommodate the increase in rail traffic. The two-tracked Union Pacific line, connects Cedar Rapids with Chicago to the east and Omaha to the west. It is the same line that has the Kate Shelley High Bridge, located 150 miles west of this crossing near Boone.

UP Stone Arch Bridge:

This bridge is the shortest of the crossings in and around Bertram. Built in 1901 as part of the double-tracking project along the now Union Pacific rail line between Cedar Rapids and Chicago, the stone arch bridge is no more than 45 feet long and 15 feet deep, spanning an unknown tributary that empties into Indian Creek. The bridge can be seen from Bertram Road, two miles west of Highways 151 and 13.

Squaw Creek Bridge:

The last bridge on this tour may not be the most spectacular-looking crossing, yet it is one that warrants some more research. The bridge is a concrete slab, measuring between 90 and 120 feet long, 15 feet wide and up to 20 feet deep. Yet given its derelict state, it appears that the structure was built between 1900 and 1920, serving the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line between Cedar Rapids and Central City, 20 miles to the north. It is unknown when the line was abandoned, yet given the amount of overgrowth and the concrete deck deteriorating, it has been out of use for at least 30 years. As there are no plans for a possible rail-to-trail project, it seems most likely that the bridge will give into nature and sit abandoned until it collapses on its own, but not before some research is done on the crossing.

Blaine’s Crossing

The Blaine’s Crossing Bridge spans Big Creek between Highways 151 and 13 and Bertram. The Pratt through truss bridge can be seen clearly from the main highway, as the crossings are only 600 feet apart from each other and viewing the bridge from a distance, it appears to be a tall bridge- roughly 18 feet in height from the top chord to the river bed. Despite seeing the bridge from that distance, access to the structure is almost impossible unless either negotiating with property owners or having a camera with a lens that can enable a person to take close-up photos from a distance.  During my visit in 2011, I chose the second variant, taking some pictures from a nearby gravel road (Cedar Woods Road), thus finding out the bridge type, the portal bracing and whether the connections are pinned or riveted. Judging by the photos taken (which can be seen here), the bridge is a pinned connected Pratt, with A-frame portal and strut bracing, and has seven panels.  Dave King, another bridge photographer took the first option of getting up close to the bridge (but probably not before talking to the nearby home owners about it first) and looking at the details of the bridge during the winter months (his photos can be seen here as well). There, one can take some assumptions about the bridge’s dimensions. As the truss bridge has seven panels, it is between 120 and 140 feet long with a 15-17 foot width, this not including the fact that the original bridge decking has long since been removed. Also noteworthy is the eye-loop connections of the vertical beam at the outermost panels, which is a rare feature for a truss bridge. The bridge originally served a local road going to Bertram until 1965, when the crossing was supplanted by the Highway 151 Bridge, as part of the project to bypass Cedar Rapids and Marion. Whether or not the road was once part of 151 is unclear, but a mystery bridge article shows the potential of the theory to be true.

A map of the bridges show where they are located so that in case you wish to visit them, you can.

 

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