Chimney Rock Bridge Given New Life

Chimney Rock Bridge
Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Photo taken in 2009


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111-year old product of a Chicago bridge builder to be rehabilitated and reopened to traffic after being closed since last year.

DECORAH, IOWA- Winneshiek County has made headlines in the past couple years due to its problems with functionally obsolete bridges, many of them being over 80 years old and in need of extensive repairs in order to keep them open longer. With a lack of funding, the county is having problems with making the necessary repairs and replacements, while at the same time, enforce the laws involving weight limits. The collapse of the Gilliece Bridge last month by an overweight and oversized truck stressed the importance of laws to protect bridges, especially this bowstring arch bridge, as it is still listed on the National Register of Historic Places but its future is rather bleak at the moment. The driver of the rig has since been formally charged for reckless driving, damage to property and disobeying traffic laws.

But there is a silver lining behind one of the county’s few remaining historic bridges in the Chimney Rock Bridge. Built in 1906 by the Continental Bridge Company at an unknown location, the 162-foot long bridge has spanned the Upper Iowa River at its current location since 1952. The pin-connected Parker through truss bridge with Town Lattice portal and heel bracings has been closed since flooding devastated the region late last summer. Now it will be given new life as supervisors of Winneshiek County have recommended repairing the bridge instead of tearing it down. According to county engineer, Lee Bjerke in an interview with Decorah News, the cost for totally replacing the historic bridge would be at least $780,000, whereas making repairs to the bridge would cost $400,000 less. Furthermore, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency chipping in for most of the expenses, the county would only have to pay $57,000 for the work.

For many, this is a win-win situation not only for its preservation of a key crossing that has been in service for over a century- 65 years of which has been at this site. For county supervisor Dean Thompson, this might be the best shot at preserving a historic bridge in Winneshiek County.  The county has lost several bridges since 2005, which includes the demolition of the beloved Fifth Avenue Bridge in Decorah in 2005, the last-minute decision to tear down the Turkey River Bowstring Arch Bridge in 2009, salvaging only the Queenpost portion of the Upper Bluffton Bridge in 2012, and lastly the most recent destruction of the Gilliece Bowstring Arch Bridge last month. The truss bridge at the Diversion Canal west of Decorah is slated for replacement very soon, while the Ft. Atkinson and Henry Bridge‘s futures are questionable, the former having been closed since 2013. With Eureka, Ten Mile Creek and Freeport preserved as historic sites, the county may have to think ahead about preserving the remaining bridges before they are met with the wrecking ball. With F.W. Kent Park up and running, followed by another one set to open in Winterset in the near future, having a historic bridge park similar to the one in Michigan may be the most viable option left on the table together with a bike trail connecting Decorah and points along the Upper Iowa or to the southwest.

Whether residents are of the same opinion and are willing to chip in their money and manpower has yet to be seen. Yet, saving the Chimney Rock Bridge is taking a step forward in the right direction. If anything, it provides access to the park and campground again and will be a recreational treat for hikers and fishers alike.

Click here to read an essay the author wrote 12-years ago about the Chimney Rock Bridge and the Continental Bridge Company. You can also find it on the wordpress version of the Chronicles. Enjoy the pics by clicking on the links above in the article.  The Chronicles will keep you informed on the latest on the bridges in the county.


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