Joliet Bridge and Iron Company

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Bridgeport, Michigan. August 2018. Standing on a finished work of art. The Bridgeport (State Street) Bridge spans the Cass River. The structure had been rehabilitated, turning a pair of rusty and partially twisted Pratt through trusses leaning on a center pier into a structure that had just been put together for the first time. Hours of welding and new bolts, restoring it in-kind and complete with new decking and new railing. The Bridgeport Bridge has become a centerpiece of tourism in a town, which neighbors another popular tourist attraction, Frankenmuth.

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Petersburg Road Bridge in Jackson Minnesota. Photo taken by MnDOT in 1979

The bridge itself is a cousin resemblance to a pair of bridges built in Jackson County, Minnesota, where I grew up. This was one of them: The Petersburg Road Bridge which was built in 1907 by a company that became a primary supplier of bridges for a decade, the Joliet Bridge and Iron Works Company. The portals are typical of such a bridge built by Joliet, the one that was later adopted by other bridge builders. Another bridge of similar features was built two years later, spanning the same river as this one: West Branch Des Moines River, but just south of Windom. Both structures are now extant.  Another feature are the builder plaques that represent either a shield or a New York-style trapezoid, as you can see in the Bridgeport Bridge shot.

Still what was the bridge company all about?   I did some research on this while writing a book on Jackson County’s bridges a decade ago and found that the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company was like a fame flower (Phemeranthus rugospermus)- it built dozens of bridges during its short existence.

The company was founded in 1896 by Robert C. Morrison and had agents throughout the USA, including Max J. Frey, the company’s agent in St. Louis, who may have been responsible for the Upper Midwest.  Much of the work was concentrated in the South and Midwest, mostly in Michigan, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Minnesota, though the company also built bridges in countries outside the United States. It garnered international reputation for its prompt action and good workmanship.  At its peak, 400 people were employed at Joliet by 1914 with its bridge building headquarters located on Collins Street, right next to the penetiary.  A subsidiary plant under the direction of George Larimer was in operation in Memphis, Tennessee from 1909 until its closure by 1912. Apart from the Bridgeport Bridge, some of the noteworthy bridges built by Joliet during its almost 25 year run include the earliest known existing bridges- a pair of twin suspension bridges at Chautauqua Park in Pontiac, Illinois, constructed in 1898.  Other examples include the existing historic bridges in Michigan, such as the Black Bridge at Tiny’s Farm and Church in Frankenmuth, the Gugel Bridge south of Frankenmuth, Currie Parkway Bridge and Smith Crossing both in Midland. The Bello Street Bridge at Pismo Beach in California is the only example of a bridge built the furthest away from Joliet’s coverage.  Minnesota once had a lot of bridges built by Joliet, eight of which in Jackson County. All of them have since disappeared.

Despite its popularity in bridge construction, the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company was forced to shut down briefly when Robert C. Morrison died in 1913. His son Raymond K. Morrison took over operations afterwards and reorganized the company as the Joliet Bridge and Construction Company in 1920.  That company continued to construct bridges in the region, despite the decline in steel mills due to the Great Depression and later lesser demand for the product. The company ceased all operations by 1985, making it one of only a few bridge companies that had dominated bridge building at the turn of the century and survived through the Reagan era of the 1980s.  Key structures built during Ray’s era included the Algoma Street Drawbridge in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the Braceville Arch Bridge in Illinois, which used to carry Route 66. Both structures no longer exist, but it does lead to questions of what other structures had been built by the company before it folded permanently. Just as important is which bridges in foreign countries were built by Joliet, regardless of which era. 

 

Joliet Bridge and Iron is not related to another company located in the same city, the Joliet Iron and Steel Works Company. That company was founded in 1869 but constructed many steel parts for buildings, bridges and the like. That company was taken over three times before it became part of US Steel in 1936. The company closed down by the early 1980s but the site was later converted to a historic site.

The Joliet Bridge and Iron Company represents a bridge company that survived many mergers and crises and still built many structures that represented fine examples of infrastructure that expanded throughout the USA during the first half of the 20th Century. Its innovative designs and great workmanship has resulted in many structures still standing today, most of which in Illinois and Michigan. Many of them have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and some have even been restored to their former glory. Nevertheless there are still many that have long since disappeared that deserve recognition because of their association with the company and the Morrison family. You can find a database of the bridges that were built by Joliet below:

bridgehunter.com database: http://bridgehunter.com/category/builder/joliet-bridge-iron-co/

HistoricBridges.org: https://historicbridges.org/b_a_listings.php?bitem=builder&bsearch=Joliet+Bridge+and+Iron+Company+of+Joliet%2C+Illinois

HABS/HAER/HALS: https://www.loc.gov/search/?fa=contributor:joliet+bridge+%26+iron+company

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BHC Pic of the Week Nr. 133: Tribute to James Baughn

Our next Pic of the Week tribute to James Baughn takes us out of Missouri and to neighboring Iowa. Located southeast of Mount Pleasant, the county seat of Henry County in the southeastern corner of the state is the Oakland Mills Truss Bridge. Spanning the Skunk River west of Franklin Avenue, the bridge was built in 1876 by the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company which was based in Leavenworth, Kansas. It’s one of a handful of combination spans left in the State of Iowa, featuring (from north to south) a Pratt half-hip, a wooden trestle, two Pratt through trusses and a four-panel Pratt pony. Sources indicated the trestle may have replaced a third Pratt through truss span but it hasn’t been confirmed in the bridge records. The entire truss system features pinned connections while the southern through truss span has ornamental portal bracings. The bridge was converted into a park in the 1970s and has been on the National Register of Historic Places for almost a half century.

The Missouri Valley was one of a few companies that lasted well into the modern era, having been formed in 1874. It was dissolved in 1975 after a fire destroyed the shop at its original home in Leavenworth. It was reorganized shortly afterwards but it left the bridge building business altogether. The Kansas State Historical Society did an extensive write-up on the company’s history, which you can view here. In the 101 years of business, the company constructed a wide variety of bridges, ranging from single and multiple span truss bridges to cantilever spans. It even constructed a concrete pony truss in New Mexico in 1915, one of two of its kind left in the US. 80% of all bridges built by Missouri Valley were towards the south central part of the country, concentrating on Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. Only two bridges in Iowa were reportedly built by this company, yet the Oakland Mills is the only one left in the state that’s still standing.

And it is also one of the most popular bridges to visit among bridge lovers, tourists and historians as one can make a picnic on the bridge and devote time to spending it on the bridge. Even at night, one is greeted with Christmas lighting as was my case when I visited the bridge in 2011 in the evening, on the eve of the Historic Bridge Weekend in St. Louis. But James’ pic was taken at the time of the Historic Bridge Weekend in Iowa- two years later! In my opinion, the daytime shot was better than all the shots I took because of the lighting.

Still, who’s competing? 🙂 We both agree: The bridge is worth stopping for a visit, no matter for what purpose. And if properly and regularly maintained, the bridge will be around for generations to come. ❤ 🙂

Wartime Bridge: The Legacy of the Bailey Truss

Photo taken by Kevin Skow.

One will find this one anywhere. Even on the backroads like this one: a single span truss span spanning Soldier River just south of Iowa Hwy. 141 in Crawford County. The bridge was erected here in 1957 to replace a span destroyed during the great flood of 1945. At 90 feet, one would think a through truss span could have fit here. Yet the span is a pony truss and it was put together in layers and put together with bolts. A set of Tinker Toys that was put together easily with the purpose of ensuring even the heaviest vehicles- in this case, farm equipment like tractors- would be allowed to cross it. One has to assume that it was imported somewhere where it had a purpose.

And it was. This span is an example of a Bailey Truss bridge. And even though one can find them here and there, in the farmlands of Iowa to the steep hills of central Saxony, even to the far east, such as India, Australia and New Zealand.  Bailey Trusses were unique because all they require is a few metal beams and bolts, combined with manpower, and the bridge is put together in an instant.  Bailey Trusses were the works of a brillant engineer and and without his expertise, it would not have won World War II. As Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, the British commander, once said. ”It was the best thing in that line we ever had; without the Bailey Bridge we should not have won the war.”

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Who was that brillant engineer?  Sir Donald Coleman Bailey.

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Source: Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer / Public domain

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Bailey was born on 15 September, 1901 in Rotherham in Yorkshire. He obtained a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Sheffield in 1923 and was a civil servant in the War Department when the war broke out in 1939.  The concept of the Bailey Truss was developed in 1936, when Bailey scribbled the design on the back of an envelope. His idea was that prefabricated sections that were interchangable could be deployed to the war front and, with steel pins, soldiers could construct the span, which would be anchored on one side and connected on the other side by the use of force. No heavy equipment would be needed to construct a temporary span, and the parts could be transported with the basic equipment or with man power from one place to another because of their lightweight. Constructing them would be easy for it could be achieved within hours, instead of months. For the war effort, the concept of makeshift bridge construction in the shortest time span possible was of utmost importance in order to win the war.

Firstly ignored, Bailey’s truss design was accepted in 1941 when the Ministry of Supply requested that Bailey construct a full scale span completed by May 1st.  The design was successfully tested at the Experimental Bridging Establishment (EBE), in Christchurch, Hampshire, with several parts being provided by Braithwaite & Co. The first prototype was tested in 1941. For early tests, the bridge was laid across a field, about 2 feet (0.61 m) above the ground, and several Mark V tanks were filled with pig iron and stacked upon each other. Another prototype was constructed in 1943 at Stanpit Marsh also in Dorset and was proven successful. That span still exists to this day. After a series of successful trials, the Corps of Royal Engineers introduced the Bailey Truss as a means of construction in 1942 and companies began constructing parts for the Bailey Truss to be transported to the war front.

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Use in World War II:

The first Bailey Truss was constructed over Medjerda River near Medjez el Bab in Tunisia on the night of 26 November 1942 by the by 237 Field Company R.E. After learning about the bridge‘s success, both the Canadians and Americans embraced the truss and started their own production to complement that of  Britain. Detroit Steel Products Company, the American Elevator Company and the Commercial Shearing and Stamping Company were three of dozens of companies that constructed the Bailey Trusses in the US, which was known as the Portable Panel Bridge. In total, over 600 firms were involved in the making of over 200 miles of bridges using the Bailey design,  composing of 500,000 tons, or 700,000 panels of bridging during the war- at the height of the war, the number was at 20,000 panels that were produced and transported. Bailey Trusses were used successfully for transporting military equipment and supplies during the war, including the Normandy and Italy. American troops built over 3200 Bailey Trusses in Italy as they advanced through the Alps into Germany from the south.  The longest bridge there was located over the Sangro and had a span of 1200 feet.

Bailey Trusses were also implemented in Germany, when hundreds of key structures were imploded by the Nazis as a way to slowing or stopping the advancement of Allied Troops. This included the bridges along the Rivers Rhine and Main. Canadians were credited for building the longest Bailey Bridge during the war. The Blackfriars Bridge, a 1814 foot long (558 meters) over the River Rhine at Rees, in North Rhine-Westphalia, was the longest span in the world when it opened to traffic on 28 March, 1945.

US Army soldiers working together to put a Bailey Truss span in place at the site of the crossing at Wesel (NRW). Source: Beck, Alfred M., et al, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Even when the war ended on May 7th, 1945, Bailey trusses were in use as temporary crossings while the bridges were either repaired or rebuilt throughout Germany. It had a dual purpose: To help displaced residence get around and to allow for the transportation of necessary goods needed while the country was being rebuilt. Some of them were made permanent, while others, including the major crossings along the Rhine, Main and Elbe were temporary, allowing time for the original structures to be either repaired or rebuilt fully.

Bailey Truss span erected over damaged arch bridge in Italy in 1944. Source: War Office official photographer / Public domain

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After World War II:

When the war was over, there was a surplus of Bailey spans that were available for reuse. This allowed for Americans, British and Canadians alike to reuse them for various projects. Many of them made their way to Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, where counties in the western half of the state needed at least temporary crossings to replace the spans that were destroyed during the floods of 1945 and again in 1952. Some examples still remain in use today. Bailey trusses were used as temporary crossings as bridges were being replaced. In the case of a viaduct in Maryland, the Bailey spans were built prior to the original trestle being replaced with steel trestles.

Large numbers of Bailey truss spans were built in mountainous areas in California where constructing bridges to accomodate travelers was difficult because of the steep, rocky terrain. Some of the spans were part of the ACROW bridge- temporarily built as moveable bridges. The Fore River Bridge and the Lynn Baschule Bridge both in Massachusetts are classic examples of such Bailey Trusses used. Bailey trusses were also used as extra support for the truss bridge, as is the case with the Haiti Island Bridge in New York, which happened in 2007. The span and the truss bridge itself were replaced three years later.

Ontario had the largest number of Bailey truss spans for the years after the war, with the spans being built in and around Toronto in response to damages caused by Hurricane Hazel. The Finch Avenue Bridge is the last of its kind and is now a historic landmark. The Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission used some for their office and as walkways. And lastly, Australia built several Bailey bridges, including the world record holder, a 2585-foot (788 meter), two-lane structure over the Derwent River at Hobart, which was constructed in 1975. It served as a temporary structure before the Tasman Bridge was opened to traffic on October 8, 1977. Later, Bailey Truss Bridges were constructed in the far east, including northern Africa, Suriname, and India. Many of them, like the trestle at Wadi el Kuf in Lybia were built by the British during the time of its Empire.

Bailey bridge, Wadi el Kuf, Libya. Constructed by the British Army, shortly after World War II. Source: Jollyswagman on Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

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The Legacy of Bailey:

Many scholars and even those who served in the military during WWII believed that the Bailey Truss was the key to mobilizing Allied Troops and securing a victory over Germany and Italy in World War II. As a result, Mr. Bailey received several international accolades for his work. In Britain alone, he was given the Knighthood on 1 January, 1946 and the Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau exactly two years later. By that time, Bailey was living in Southbourne in Bournemouth and was unaware that he had been knighted until one of the girls at the bank had informed him about it. Bailey would live out his days in Bournemouth, where he died in 1985.

He was considered a quiet man but one where he left a footprint with his truss bridge design, which is still widely used in bridge construction, big and small. And while the successes of World War II fell to the common person who fought for freedom and democracy, Bailey was considered one that played a key role, not only in helping bring an end to the war, but to help rebuild the areas ravaged by war with the Bailey Truss. And when you see a bridge like this one below, one will see how the use of simple parts and tools, combined with the use of manpower could make a work of simple art, something we still see today on our roads.

The Prototype Bailey Bridge at Stanpit Marsh. Photo by Eugene Birchall for wiki

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Memorials:

There are not many memorials dedicated to Bailey, even in Britain, for most of the places where he lived have been razed and replaced with newer housing. Yet the prototype Bailey span at Stanpit Marsh still exists today and his birthplace at 24 Albany Street in Rotherham still stands albeit privately owned. Yet there are some companies that specialize in Bailey trusses, including one in Alabama that bears its name. Bailey trusses were rarely used in films, except one based on the battle of Arnhem, A Bridge Too Far, released in 1977. There, the Bailey Truss Bridge was used in the film.

It is really hoped that a statue and/or additional honors, even a museum would be created honoring Bailey for his life and works. 75 years after the end of the great war, nothing of that sort has been considered. This should be considered, especially as talk of the significance of World War II is disappearing together with the War Generation and the children of the Baby Boom that followed. For historians, bridge enthusiasts, teachers and the public in general, it would produce some great talks about the common man who did great things and became Sir Donald Bailey in the end.

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Minneapolis Bridge Company- Minneapolis, MN (USA)

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Granite Falls Suspension Bridge, spanning Minnesota River. Built in 1933

During a period between 1870 and 1940, the United States experienced an exponential growth in the number of not only iron and steel truss bridges, but also the number of bridge companies and steel mills. Originating from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and New York, companies were established in the 1870s but through consolidations and insider business training, the numbers expanded westward, reaching Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa by 1910.

With these expansions came the development of the schools of bridge builders. Consisting of family dynasties and strong ties among the builders, these bridge builders were established either as family businesses or businesses with closest ties- whose founders later established ventures out west as a way to compete with the giant monopolies, like the American Bridge Company. Many schools of bridge builders existed beginning in the 1880s, including ones in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Ohio, New England,

Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter. Photo taken in 2018.

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and this one in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders featured bridge builders having established companies in Minneapolis and points to the east. These bridge builders were either self taught, had ties with companies to the east or both, and had a close-knit network of family members and close partners who later established companies or contracted westwards in the Great Plains and western states. They included the Hewett Family (William, Seth, Arthur), Commodore P. Jones, Lawrence Johnson and Alexander Bayne. Jones and Bayne were responsible for the Minneapolis Bridge Company, which was the longest tenured bridge company in the Minneapolis School and one of the longest in the United States.

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Kilen Woods State Park Bridge in Jackson County, Minnesota. Built in 1913, replaced in 2004. Photo taken in 1994

Founded in 1887 by Commodore P. Jones, the Minneapolis Bridge Company has a unique history, some of which is still being debated by historians and scholars today. What is known is the fact that the bridge company operated under different ownerships as well as different names. According to the 1985 study on Minnesota’s bridges by Robert Frame, the company operated under Minneapolis Bridge Company from 1888 to 1898 and from 1913 to 1941, the Minneapolis Bridge and Iron Company from 1898-1910 and as the Minneapolis Bridge Construction Company 1941- ca. 1944.  Jones operated the company before he left in 1910 to join Seth Hewett (with whom he was partners in the bridge business some years earlier) and formed the Great Northern Bridge Company, which operated until 1922.

It is unknown what happened to the company between the time span of 1910 and 1913, although some sources claim that the company was out of business by 1910 and was restarted in 1913. But more research is needed to determine whether this was the case. However, one of Jones’s disciples, Alexander Y. Bayne took over the company in 1913, and the Minneapolis Bridge Company resumed its bridge building business. Bayne was president of the company from 1913 to 1917, when his partner, Oliver Mattison took over the presidency and held it until his death in 1943. Mattison had been an agent of the company up to 1917 as well as an agent for two other previous companies prior to the resurrection of the Minneapolis Bridge Company.

The last president of the company, Isak Helseth took over the operations in 1941 and presided over the company until it folded in 1950.  Assuming the bridge company was not closed down between 1910 and 1913, the Minneapolis Bridge Company relocated twice in its life span: first to the Met Life Building from its original location at the Lumber Exchange Building in 1913 and seven years later to 3100 NE 6th Street. The company was known to have constructed dozens of bridges during its existence. The 1985 study by Frame indicated that five were built by Jones and 27 by Bayne. However upon doing a count by the writer as part of a book project completed eight years ago,  31 bridges were constructed under Commodore Jones and dozens of others by Bayne.

Winona Bridge. Built in 1941

Several historic bridges remaining in the country were built by Minneapolis Bridge Company, almost all of which were under the operations by Bayne, even though he had another business in Canada. Examples of bridges built by the company that are still standing include the following:

Winona Bridge (Minnesota)

St. Mary Aqueduct (Montana)

Sorlie Memorial Bridge (North Dakota/ Minnesota)

Ortonville Arch Bridge (Minnesota)

Granite Falls Suspension Bridge (Minnesota)

Anoka-Champlin Bridge (Minnesota)

Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter (Minnesota)

Ten Mile Road Bridge (Michigan)

Savanna-Sabula Bridge. Built in 1932. Demolished and replaced in 2018.

Bridges that no longer exist but were built by Minneapolis Bridge Company include the following:

Savanna-Sabula Bridge (Iowa/Illinois)

Kilen Woods Bridge (Minnesota)

Meadow Hill Drive Bridge (Wisconsin)

Walworth Bridge (South Dakota)

Rockdale Viaduct (Iowa)

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Sources:

Frame, Robert III „A Report on Historic Bridges in Minnesota.“ St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society and Minnesota Department of Transportation, 1985

Gardner, Denis. “Wood + Concrete + Stone + Steel: Minnesota’s Historic Bridges.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008

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Raymond and Campbell- Council Bluffs, Iowa

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Moscow Mills Bridge Photo taken by James Baughn in 2008

 

Another bridge builder worth mentioning and listing in the Bridge Builder’s Directory is a company based in Council Bluffs, Iowa named Raymond and Campbell. While only one bridge example remains which is credited to the name of the firm, multiple newspaper sources claimed that dozens of bridges were built  by this company during the last two decades of the 19th century, with more claimed to have been built by the company’s primary agent, George C. Wise, who later established his own business with his brothers. This included the bridges in Jackson County, Minnesota, one of the bridge builders’ primary customers. According to research done by the author for a bridge book on this topic, from 1883 until 1907, between 10 and 17 bridges were credited to the company’s name and to that of George C. Wise. This includes all but four crossings along the West Branch of the Des Moines river as well as those along the Little Sioux River. By 1955, all of them were replaced with current structures.

Yet the question we still have is what other counties and states did Raymond and Campbell do business with and how many bridges were built?  Before opening the question for forum and adding some examples to this article, let’s have a look at the history of the company and its primary agent, George C. Wise:

Little has been written about the company partly because there are only a few records of its existence.  However, the company was unique for the founders originated from the northern third of North America and migrated to Iowa to make their living there. E.W. Raymond (1842-?) originated from Lockport, NY and made his way down through Illinois, before settling in Council Bluffs in 1868. Charles Edward Henry Campbell (1850-1902) was a Canadian from Prince Edward Island, who immigrated to the US in 1867, eventually settling down in Omaha, located across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs. Together, the gentlemen founded the bridge building company in September 1874. It is unknown how long the company stayed in business, except the fact that Raymond and Campbell, during the 1880s, had employed about 50 workers and made over $200,000 worth of business.[1]  Apart from Mr. Wise, Raymond and Campbell did have an agent for a short time, who would later reach his fame in bridge building through constructing magnificent bridges and patenting his own truss bridge design. That gentleman was John Alexander Low Waddell, and much of his work still exists today. (Click on this link to see his profile)

As for the company’s primary agent,  George C. Wise, Raymond and Campbell hired him in 1875 as an agent for the upper Midwest. Born in Huntingdon County, PA in 1851, Mr. Wise served in the Army for five years, was involved in many military conflicts with Native Americans in Nebraska and Wyoming, as well as serving as an escort for the peace commissioners in brokering a truce with Sitting Bull and his Northern Sioux tribe in the Black Hills in July and August of 1875. Shortly after the peace agreement was signed, he was honourably discharged from the Army and emigrated to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he worked for Raymond and Campbell. According to the Pottawattamie County history books, Mr. Wise worked there until he established his own bridge building accounts and worked independently in 1883. He oversaw the construction of crossings in Minnesota and other places and even had his brothers join the business, some of whom continued the business after he retired from the business in 1907. George spent the rest of his life involved in public affairs in Council Bluffs until his death in 1916.

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Moscow Mills Bridge. Photo taken by James Baughn in 2016

The only known bridge that is still standing today is the Moscow Mills Bridge. Built by Raymond and Campbell in 1885, this Pratt through truss bridge with a three-layered combination of Town Lattice and X-frame portal bracings and pinned connections has a length of 214 feet (the main span is 177 feet). Closed for over a decade, the bridge is sitting idle with overgrowth covering the portal bracings and part of the top chord. Yet plans are in the making to convert this bridge into a recreational crossing in the future, as county officials would like to utilize the bridge as part of a city park. Before doing that though, the bridge will need to be rehabilitated and a new deck. This bridge is located over the Cuivre River on the east end of Moscow Mills in Lincoln County, Missouri.

 

Other examples of bridges built by Raymond and Campbell but no longer exist include the following (this is an ongoing list as more examples will be added here.)

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North Bridge in Jackson, MN  Photo courtesy of the Jackson County Historical Society

State Street (a.k.a. North) Bridge in Jackson, MN:  Spanning the West Fork Des Moines River at State Street and Ashley Park, this bridge has had its own history which could easily be written into a booklet and sold at the County Historical Society. The bridge was unique because it was the first structure built over the river in Jackson. It was rebuilt seven times over the course of 150 years, counting the current structure. Three of which were credited to Raymond and Campbell and especially to George C. Wise, who was the county’s primary provider of bridges. The first structure was built during the winter of 1866/67,  using oak pile and hewn wood courtesy of Welch Ashley. It lasted only a couple months as it was destroyed in an ice jam. It was rebuilt later that year and lasted 12 years until a contract was awarded to Raymond and Campbell to build a new structure in 1879. The iron structure measured 194 feet and had a width of 22 feet. It survived less than two years as flooding and an ice jam took out the structure in March 1881. It was one of several bridges along the river that was destroyed that spring. The county contacted Wise again for a fourth structure, which was built later that summer. The structure only lasted 15 years and Wise was asked to build a stronger structure in 1896, which upon its completion, featured a Pratt through truss with M-frame portal bracings and pinned connections. The bridge was a permanent fix, providing access to the east and north of Jackson for 58 years. The bridge used to carry two primary highways (US 71 and 16) until it was realigned through a new crossing at the junction of Springfield Parkway and Third Street (near the now demolished St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church) in 1924. That bridge eventually was relocated to the site of the last Wise structure in 1955, after city officials revealed that the bridge was no longer able to carry traffic because of structural issues. The North Bridge was the site of many accidents and stories involving floods and ice jams, yet inspite of its checkered history, it was only one of a few rare stories of bridges built either by Raymond and Campbell, George C. Wise or both. This one clearly belongs to the third category, especially as Wise continued to have Jackson County as its primary customer until his retirement in 1907.

 

 

 

Source page:

[1] Waddell, Dr. John Alexander Low and John Lyle Harrington. “The Principal Professional Papers of Dr. J.A.L. Waddell” unpublished manscript. Downloaded from Google Books Online 10 November, 2008; Keatley, John H. “The History of Pottawattamie County, Iowa.” Council Bluffs, IA, 1883, p. 50  Downloaded from Google Books Online 10 November, 2008. Stewart, James: E-mail correspondence, 10 November, 2008,  Roenfeld, Ryan of the Pottawattamie County Historical Society: E-mail correspondence 29 October, 2008.

[2] Roenfeld, Ryan of the Pottawattamie County Historical Society: E-mail correspondence 29 October, 2008; Stewart, James: E-mail correspondence, 10 November, 2008; George C. Wise obituary Pottawattamie County Genealogy. Obtained on 3 November, 2008.

 

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A.H. Austin of Webster City, Iowa

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During the summer of 1998, I embarked on a bridgehunting tour along six rivers in northern Iowa, among them the Des Moines River. Before splitting into the East and West Forks, the river literally cut the state and its capital Des Moines into two up until Frank Gotch Park south of Humboldt. Then before entering Minnesota, the East branch snakes its way through Humboldt, Kossuth and Emmet Counties, whereas the West Fork stays in Humboldt County, nicking a corner of Pocahontas before halving Emmet County and its county seat Estherville. It was along the West Branch I saw the bridge in the photo above: the Murray Bridge. Located two river miles southeast of Bradgate, this Pratt through truss bridge with pinned connections had a very unique feature on its portal bracing: star-shaped heel bracings welded right through. That, plus the plaque indicating its builder’s date of 1905 all belonged to a local Iowa bridge builder, A.H. Austin.  Little did I realize at that time was that although Mr. Austin may have been a local bridge builder, he left a legacy in northern Iowa that is still talked about to this day. And while three bridges were officially credited to his name in a state-wide survey conducted by the late James E. Hippen in the early 1990s, he built more than any of the historians knew about. And henceforth, we will look at his legacy and the bridges that he built up until now, plus the ones that still exist today.

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Born Alva Hiram Austin in Colchester, Vermont on 7 September, 1848, he grew to manhood, having graduated at the University of Vermont. After many of his friends decided to heed to the advice of Horace Greeley, the young man of 27 years emigrated west to Webster City in 1875. After having worked for the county auditor and a local church, Alva became interested in bridge building, and in 1877, did an apprenticeship for a bridge builder in Cedar Falls, who was building bridges in Hamilton County, where Webster City is located. Shortly afterwards, he became a contractor, having established his bridge building business in Webster City at 737 Bank Street. For over 40 years, Mr. Austin built dozens of bridges in Hamilton County, as well as surrounding counties, although records have indicated him constructing bridges mainly in Humboldt and Kossuth Counties. It is possible that he built bridges in other counties but more research is needed to confirm these claims. Mr. Austin was known for his athleticism as a civil engineer, having walked 10 miles between his workplace and the bridge building site daily, and thus having known every village and field in the county and its surrounding neighbors.

 

Mr. Austin was also a committed civic leader, having served as a mayor of Webster City from 1898-1900 as well as the head of the school board from 1899 to 1901, having successfully spearheaded efforts in building the Webster City High School. He later worked as a city inspector, having overseen the construction of the public swimming pool to ensure the design suited the builder’s expectations.

 

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Bancroft Bridge in Kossuth County. Photo taken by Kossuth County Hwy. Dept.

When Alva died on 8 July, 1944 at the age of 96 years, he was survived by his three children, Roy, Jesse and Fred- all of whom had attended college at Iowa State University, yet his daughter Jesse became professor of economics at Cornell University in New York. Especially in his later years before his death, she became his caretaker. Alva’s wife, Chloe Rachel (née: Scullin) died in 1896 after having been married to Alva for 18 years. Another daughter, Grace, had preceded in death 18 years before his ultimate passing.

 

Riverdale A H Austin
Riverdale Bridge near Irvington. Photo taken by Kossuth County Hwy. Dept.

As far as bridges are concerned, at least 20+ bridges had been built by Austin in five counties, including Hamilton County, yet Kossuth County seemed to have been his primary customer for at least six bridges were built during his career as a bridge builder. One of them was later relocated to Emmet County. Three were reportedly built in Humboldt County, including the now extant Lewis Street Bridge in Humboldt and the aforementioned Murray Bridge near Bradgate. It is still unknown if and where Austin has built other bridges. However, here is the databank of the bridges that he had built. Information on its dimensions and other photos are available by clicking on the name of the bridge, which will take you to the bridge:

 

Murray Bridge- This 1905 bridge spans the West Fork Des Moines River southeast of Bradgate, in Humboldt County. The bridge is still open to traffic and considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It’s still open to traffic but plans for possible reuse for bikes and pedestrians are being considered.

 

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Close-up sniper photo of the Armstrong Gravel Pit Bridge. Photo taken in 2011.

Armstrong Gravel Pit Bridge- This bridge spans the East Fork of the Des Moines River north of Armstrong in Emmet County. It can be seen from 160th Street but is privately owned. The bridge was built in 1899 by Austin, but its original location was in Kossuth County. Emmet County’s engineer bought the bridge in 1940 for relocation to the gravel pit, where it served traffic until its closure in the 1970s. The bridge then sat abandoned for three decades until a new owner restored it for private use. The markings on the portals are typical of Austin’s design which could be seen with most of the structures built.

 

Albright Bridge- Spanning the Boone River at Inkpaduta Avenue south of Webster City, this 1907 bridge represents the common form of the Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings and is one of the latest examples of Austin’s work. At 156 feet, this bridge is still one of the longest of its kind in Iowa.

 

Second Street Bridge- Spanning the Boone River in Webster City, this two-span Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracings with curved heel bracings was one of the first bridges built by Austin in 1878-9. It served US Hwy. 20 when it was designated in 1926. Sadly, a truck crashed into the bridge in 1949 and it was subsequentially replaced in 1950.

 

Blackford Bridge- Spanning the East Fork Des Moines River west of Algona, this bridge was one of the earliest structures built by Austin. It was one of the first with its star-formed heel bracings but one of the last using the Town Lattice portal bracing. The bridge was replaced in 1942 for unknown reasons except that the steel was probably reused for the war efforts.

 

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Albright Bridge south of Webster City.

Lewis Street Bridge- Located in Humboldt, this two-span Pratt through truss with Town Lattice portal and heel bracings used to carry this thoroughfare until the late 1960s, when it was bypassed by the Hwy. 169 bridge to the west. The bridge closed to traffic in 1970, yet attempts were made to convert it to first pedestrian then afterwards a pipeline crossing. Heeding to the demands of the county engineer to have the structure removed with haste, the bridge was removed in 1981. Today, only the center pier and the abutments can be seen.

 

Riverdale Bridge- Located over the East Fork Des Moines River at 150th Street, south of Algona and west of Hwy. 169, the Riverdale Bridge was a late example of a bridge built by A.H. Austin. He was awarded a contract to build the bridge in October, having completed it in 1900. The 142-foot Pratt through truss bridge with M-frame portal bracings functioned in place until its replacement in 1991.

 

Bancroft Bridge- Spanning the East Branch Des Moines River west of Bancroft, this Pratt through truss bridge is similar to the bridge at Armstrong in Emmet County. It was built in 1899 yet it was replaced before 1990, when the statewide Iowa historic bridge survey was carried out.

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Second Street Bridge in Webster City. Photo courtesy of Hank Zalatel/ IaDOT

(Blue highlighted bridges denotes link to bridgehunter.com website; yellow denotes no info outside this page to date)

According to the surveys carried out by Hippen and Clayton Fraser, several other bridges may have been credited to Austin’s name, yet there has not been any full confirmation. Therefore, there is a plea from you. Do you know of other bridges that Austin built? If so, when was it built, where was it located and most importantly, what did it look like prior to its replacement?

 

All of these bridges will be added to this page on A.H. Austin in the Chronicles’ Bridge Directory. Stories are also welcomed.

Special thanks to Martin Nass of Webster City for the information on A.H. Austin and Doug Miller at the Kossuth County Highway Department for the photos and information on the bridges in the county.

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