Mystery Bridge Nr. 148: The Lima Bridge in Iowa

LIMA, IOWA- If there is one county that has a wide selection of through truss bridges that have been left in their places with concrete bridges serving as functional crossings- and observation points for passers-by, it is Fayette County, in northeastern Iowa. At least 10 unique crossings can be found in the county, each with its unique history behind its bridge builder, let alone the local history associated with it. Some are well documented, while others are not but their value is worth researching.

The Lima Bridge is one of those that belongs to the latter. The bridge spans Volga River on Heron Road at the state recreational area between the villages of Albany and Wadena. The structure features a pin-connected, seven-panel, Pratt through truss span with M-frame portal bracings and V-laced struts supported by heel bracings. The bridge is clearly visible from the concrete bridge which has been in service since 1979, yet when accessing the bridge, one has to be aware of brushes and other vegetation. In fact given the vegetational overgrowth on the bridge during my visit in 2011, the bridge’s structural integrity is stable and there’s no doubt the relict will remain there for years to come.

There is little history about this bridge in general, except to say that if we count the current concrete structure, this is the fourth crossing at this location. According to history, the first bridge was a bowstring arch span, built in 1865, though there was no mentioning of the builder of the bridge. Judging by the outriggers and the H-beams, this bridge may have been built by the King Bridge Company, as it had been established in 1858 by Zenas King, seven years before the first crossing was built.

Source: http://www.angelfire.com/ia/z/limastore.htm !: For the following two pictures

The crossing was subsequentially washed away by floodwaters in 1875 and was replaced with another crossing. This is one where the debate comes in. Sources have pinned the current through truss span as its replacement crossings. However, its portal bracings show that the truss span was built much later, between 1890 and 1910. During the 1870s and 80s, portal bracings were characterized by its Town Lattice features, supported with ornamental shapes that were sometimes curvy. Beginning in the 1890s the portal bracings based on alphabets were introduced, which featured frames resembling the letters A, M, V, W, VW, MA, and X. Howe lattice portals that feature rhombus shapes were also introduced at the same time and they became common for use through the first three decades of the 20th Century. Today’s letter-style portal bracings are predominantly A-frame but M-frames and Howe lattice are also commonly used as well.

This leads us to the following questions to be settled regarding this bridge:

  1. Was the bowstring arch bridge built as the first or second crossing?
  2. If it was the second crossing, what did the original crossing look like?
  3. If it was the original crossing, what did the second crossing look like, when was it built and by whom?
  4. When was the through truss truss bridge built? In the second black and white picture there was a builder’s plaque which has since disappeared.

In theory, there were four crossings that have served this location since 1865. The only argument that would justify three crossings built would be if repairs were made to the through truss span, such as replacing the portal bracings. This was practiced with some of the through truss spans during the introduction of the letter-based portal bracings in 1890 and two examples can be found in Washington County, at Bunker Mill near Kalona and Hickory Avenue Bridge over the English River, the latter has since been abandoned in place.

Another theory was that a flood in 1947 knocked the bridge off its abutments but was later put back into place and continued to serve traffic until 1979 but that would mean finding out how the bridge was washed away and how this truss structure came about.

We do know that the Lima Bridge is one of three relicts that is left from the town of Lima. It was founded by the Light (Erastus and Harvey) Brothers in 1849, when they constructed a saw mill along the river. In addition to over a dozen houses, a church, lumber yard and general store were later added, though the general store itself survived through the 1960s when it was torn down as part of the conservation project. A railroad line also went past Lima but had only provided service until 1938. The church on Heron Road north of the bridge and an adjacent cemetary on Fox Road are the other two structures left of the community that once had over 200 people during its heyday. More information on Lima’s history can be found in the links at the end of this article. Ironically, Lima is located just three bird miles east of another village, Albany, which also boasts a through truss bridge spanning the same river. The town is now a campground area, while the bridge, which is on Hill Road is only open to pedestrians.

While there is a lot written on Lima’s history, the history of the bridge itself has many questions that have yet to be answered. We know that the through truss span still exists and serves as part of the town’s history. We know that its predecessor was a bowstring arch bridge. Yet what we don’t know at all is how many crossings have existed on Heron Road since its first one in 1865?

And for that, it’s now your turn to discuss this.

You can find more about the bridge by clicking here. This includes its predecessor (here). For more on the history of Lima, Iowa, click here.

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