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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