BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 149: Tribute to James Baughn

Shortly after taking office in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt went to work to provide help to over a third of the population in the USA who were beset by unemployment caused by the Great Crash on October 29, 1929 which later ushered in the Great Depression. Two of the programs that were introduced were the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which started on March 21, 1933, and the Works Progress Administration, which was founded on May 6, 1935. Both organizations had a general purpose: to provide employment to people who needed, whereas the CCC was mainly for those between the ages of 18 and 25. Much of the projects that were undertaken during the time of the two programs were outdoors, which included erosion control, planting trees, renaturalizing areas near bodies of water and building infrastructure to accomodate waterways and vehicular traffic, including dams and bridges.

And this is where this Pic of the Week, which is also our 145th Mystery Bridge comes into being. James Baughn photographed this unique bridge, which goes by the local name, Geode Bridge. The structure spans Saunder’s Creek at the park which also bears the stream’s name in Mount Pleasant, located in Henry County in southeastern Iowa.  The build date of this very unique stone bridge goes back to 1933, which would mean that the CCC would have constructed the bridge. The bridge is no more than 40 feet long and is relativey short- between 10 and 15 feet. The bridge design is a pony girder with triangular pointed vertical posts at the end, resembling high heels. The railings are art deco.

There are some questions that surround this story about the bridge. The first one is who was behind the design of the bridge, for it is one of the most unique bridges- a rare structure that is one of a kind in Iowa.  The second question is where the stones used were quarried and hauled to the site while the last one is the most important: How was it built and how long did it take to build it?  For the third question, it is important to note that modern techniques in today’s standards would have this bridge completed between 3-6 months. But if we go back tot he Depression Era, where vehicles are smaller and slower, the building techniques are more hands-on, the machinery was sometimes old and outdated and the fuel needed was rationed due tot he lack of supply, the time to build a structure like the Geode Bridge was probably much longer than six months; presumably it was in the range of 12 months.  More research into the bridge’s history, including interviews and like, would be needed to answer the aforementioned questions.

Saunders Park features this bridge as one of its masterpieces, together with a historic log house and a pair of gazeebos along with some shelter houses, playground and some forest, thus making it one of the most attractive places in the city. It showcases some natural scenery to those working or being treated for injuries/ illnesses at the nearby hospital as well as school children, who attend Manning School only a couple blocks away. It’s a stop that is worth a couple hours, especially if you travel long distances or are visiting friends and relatives in Mt. Pleasant.

James photographed this unique structure in 2013 during the Historic Bridge Weekend, tying it in with the visit to the Oakland Mills Bridge. While the bridge may be small, it’s worth a photo session, regardless of how it is done- wedding, graduation or for a simple calendar. While there has never been a calendar on Iowa’s historic bridges, should there be one, this bridge should be one of them that should be added, regardless of who took the shot.

Author’s Note: If you have any information about the bridge’s history, feel free to add this in the Comment section below. You can also include the info in the BHC’s facebook pages or that of Historic Bridges of Iowa as well as Iowa Bridges Past and Today.

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