The Bridges of Bertram, Iowa (USA)

Rosedale Bridge
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 in Bertram
Ely Street Bridge in Bertram in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2013

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.

Ely Street Brdg. Bertram
Ely Stret Bridge in Bertram

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 Bridge
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.

Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

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.

Photo taken by Dave King

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. This bridge was bypassed and replaced in 2017.

Photo taken by Dave King

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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2014 Ammann Awards: Results Part Two

Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, UK. Photo taken by Laura Hilton

Picking up after leaving off Part I and the Author’s Choice Awards, we now move onto the next category of Bridge of the Year 2014.  Several bridges nominated for this award because of their golden anniversary celebrated this past year became disappointments in the voting stats. Among them include the Tower Bridge (which turned 120 years old), the Forth Bridges (the suspension bridge turned 50 years old) and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (which also turned 50). Yet none of the bridges stood a match against the winner of the Bridge of the Year Award- the Clifton Suspension Bridge over the River Avon in Bristol (the UK). It turned 150 years old in December and was the masterpiece of Ishambard Kingdom Brunel, who started this bridge (and his career) 30+ years earlier but died shortly before its completion. The bridge was mentioned even in the comment section when the ballot was finished and ready to vote in December. How did it do with second place Fehmarn Bridge in Germany and third place Firth of Forth Bridges? Look at the results below and see how much loving this chain suspension bridge spanning the high gorge got in the voting process:

FINAL RESULTS.

1. Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol (UK):  67 votes  (77%)

2. Fehmarn Bridge in Schleswig-Holstein (Germany): 8 votes (9%)

3. Firth of Forth Bridges in Scotland (UK): 5  votes (6%)

Raven Rock Bridge in New Jersey. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge

In the category of Best Preservation example, there was a tight race among seven candidates battling for first and second places. However in the end, the Raven Rock Bridge in Huntderton County, New Jersey edged out the Red Bridge in Kansas City and the Freedom Prime Bridge in Indiana for the award. The bridge is one of the oldest in the state and was dismantled, sandblasted and repainted before being reassembled on a new concrete decking, all during the summer. The bridge looks just like new with the railing and decking being the only differences. Impressive enough for the award. 🙂

FINAL RESULTS:

1. Raven Rock Bridge in New Jersey 5 (26%)

2. Red Bridge in Kansas City 4 (21%)

3. Freedom Prime Bridge in Indiana 3 (16%)

Monk’s Bridge at Ballasalla, Isle of Man, UK Photo submitted by Liz Boakes

Best Kept Secret Individual Bridge

There were many really good bridge candidates in this category, regardless of whether it was in the US category or the International one. That was the primary reason for the rather low voter turnout because of the difficulty in deciding which ones deserved the awards. But in the end, the winner has to be determined, right? In the US category, we have the Independence Bowstring Arch Bridge, an abandoned King Bridge Company structure that has been abandoned for many years, but after winning the award, will most likely receive some attention regarding its reuse. It edged the Fort Morgan Rainbow Arch Bridge in Colorado by three votes and two bridges by four votes to win the title.

FINAL RESULTS USA CATEGORY:

1. Independence Bowstring Arch Bridge 6 votes (43%)

2. Ft. Morgan Rainbow Arch Bridge in Colorado 3 votes (21%)

T 3. Backyard Bridge in Packwood, Washington and Powwow Polygonal Truss Bridge in Amesbury, Massachusetts  2 votes (14%)

In the international subcategory, the results of this award were really tight, for each candidate received at least one vote. In the end, the Monks Bridge on the British Isle of Man won the award, followed by the Pont de Langlois in France and the Swimming Bridge in Wuppertal in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Here are the results:

INTERNATIONAL:

1. Monks Bridge on the Isle of Man in the UK- 4 votes (33%)

2. Pont de Langlois in France- 3 votes (25%)

3. Swimming Bridge in Wuppertal, Germany- 2 votes (17%)

In the all around category, the Monks Bridge finishes second behind the winner, the Independence Bowstring Arch Bridge, with the Pont de Langlois and Ft. Morgan Bridge finishing tied for third.

Ely Stret Bridge in Bertram

 

Best Kept Secret- City Tour Guide

The final category for the 2014 Ammann Awards is the City Tour Guide, awarded to the city and/or region with a high number of unique (historic) bridges worth visiting. Some of them have been mentioned in the Chronicles, yet other places to visit have been recommended by other websites, including some city websites. This year’s category featured a big upset in the USA category, as the historic bridges located in Bertram, Iowa (east of Cedar Rapids) upended Chicago and Pittsburgh for the title, whereas in the international category, Manchester (the UK) won the award, beating out Budapest and Sault Sainte Marie. Despite losing the Ely Street Bridge to flooding, Bertram has a wide selection of pre-1910 truss bridges located within a 10-mile radius, many of whom were built by local bridge contractors. Manchester has a wider selection of historic and modern bridges, whose designs are very appealing to the tourists. Both communities also share the title in the all around division as well, beating Chicago and third place Pittsburgh and Budapest.

FINAL RESULTS:

USA

1. Bertram, Iowa- 5 votes  (33%)

2. Chicago- 4 votes (27%)

3. Pittsburgh- 3 votes (20%)

 

INTERNATIONAL

1. Manchester- 5 votes  (42%)

2. Budapest- 3 votes (25%)

3. Sault Ste. Marie- 2 votes  (17%)

 

ALL AROUND:

T1. Bertram and Manchester

2. Chicago

T3. Pittsburgh and Budapest

This sums up the 2014 Ammann Awards. The next time we start nominating and voting will be at the beginning of November. Please check the page on the Chronicles to find out when nominations are being accepted. In case you want to provide feedback on this voting process, please do so either in the comment section or by sending an e-mail directly to the author. Otherwise, get the cameras going and start finding some bridges worthy of this year’s results. Happy Bridgehunting and thanks for voting. 🙂

Mystery Bridge Nr. 43: Blaine’s Crossing

Not included in the tour of Bertram (Iowa)’s historic bridges but worth noting is this bridge. 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.

What is known about the bridge is that it was used for local traffic for many years before the US 151/13 bypass supplanted it in 1965. Yet it is unknown whether this bridge used to serve main traffic between Cedar Rapids and Dubuque via Bertram. According to known sources, US 151 used to run through Cedar Rapids via Marion, located three miles east of the bridge. It was originally known as US 161, which ran from Keokuk to Key West, the southernmost suburb of Dubuque. It had been in service from 1926 until the US government decommissioned it in 1938, replacing it with US 151, which had run from Manitowoc, Wisconsin to Dubuque, and US 218, which had previously ended at Vinton but was later extended to Keokuk. Today, US 151 terminates at I-80 near Williamsburg, while large portions of US 218 are part of the Avenue of the Saints between Charles City and Cedar Falls and again between Cedar Rapids and Donnellson, following its original route from Minnesota until its termination at Keokuk. It is possible that before the highway was designated in 1926 that this bridge had provided direct access between Cedar Rapids and Central City/Dubuque via Bertram, yet when US 161 was assigned in 1926, the road was realigned to the west so that it went through Marion instead of Bertram. Should that be the case, then the bridge was nothing more than a crossing that provided local access to Bertram until US 151 was bypassed around Cedar Rapids and Marion, and the highway was realigned closer to Bertram.

Photo taken by Dave King

Despite the theories and speculations on how much traffic Blaine’s Crossing once had, there are no known records of the bridge’s existence to date. It was not even mentioned in the state and national bridge inventories, nor was it listed in any of the historic bridge surveys conducted by the state, which makes this bridge open to many questions for discussion. This includes, among other things, when the bridge was built, who was the contractor for the bridge, how much it cost to build it, whether the bridge is in its original location or if it was imported from elsewhere, etc. Judging by the pinned connections and the use of A-frame portal bracings, it appears that the bridge was built between 1890 and 1910, before the introduction of state bridge standards. As the roadway has been removed and because of issues of private property, it is impossible to have a closer look at any inscriptions on the bridge parts, which might be helpful; namely the steel fabricator that produced the bridge parts before transporting it to its final destination via contractor. Therefore the owners on both sides of the bridge would need to take the time to examine the bridge and provide any historian interested with the details. This in addition to going through what records are available in Cedar Rapids at the museum and highway engineer. In the end, it is unknown whether the information is useful.

Therefore the bridge is wide-open for discussion. Any stories and information? Send them to the Chronicles at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com, and any information will be added to what is known so far.

Blaine’s Crossing is the bridge that caps off the tour of the Bridges in and around Bertram, as it has many questions that need to be answered, some of which are important for the history of Bertram and the region east of Cedar Rapids. By answering them, we will know more about how the bridge and US 151 go together, whether it was once a major crossing or just a local one that had once served Bertram until in the late 1960s.

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The Bridges of Bertram, Iowa

Rosedale Bridge
Rosedale Bridge. Photo taken in September 2010

The collapse of the Ely Street Bridge a few weeks ago was a tragedy for people living in the small village of Bertram. Located east of Cedar Rapids in Linn County, Bertram has over 300 inhabitants and prides itself on it historic bridges located not only directly in the village, but also within a five-mile radius of each other. As many as eight historic bridges are located directly in or in the vicinity of Bertram, many of them are accessible by car.  They include six structures built before 1915 that are made of either iron or steel. Two of them are confirmed to have been built by a local bridge contractor. One of them is a mystery bridge, which can be seen from US Hwy. 151/ IA 13, and will be documented as such in the next article.  These bridges have received their share of visits from photographers, pontists and history junkies alike visiting the area. They were on the Saturday morning tour of the Historic Bridge Weekend last year. This makes it even more important not only to recognize them as important places of interest that contributed to Linn County’s history but also protect them from wear and tear and modernization. Already residents rejected funding from the state and county to replace these bridges last year, a sign that they want to keep their bridges from becoming history. Yet with the Ely Street Bridge down, the challenge will be not only to try and rebuild it, but also strengthen the other bridges so that they do not become the next victims of flooding. With Linn County having one of the strongest track records with regards to historic bridge preservation in the state, many people are taking comfort in the fact that something will be done to ensure these bridges will last for future generations to come.

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 has already been mentioned in a previous article, yet you can click here if you have any ideas as to how to rebuild the bridge. Blaine’s Crossing will be featured as a Mystery Bridge in the following article, which takes us down to six bridges featured in this guide, starting with:

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.

Bertram Bridge
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.

Photo by Quinn Phelan

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.

Photo by Dave King

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. This bridge was bypassed and replaced in 2017.

Photo by Dave King

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.

The last bridge on the tour is the Blaine’s Crossing Bridge. Yet this mystery bridge has a story of its own, as you will see in the next article.

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Ely Street Bridge in Bertram Washed Away

Ely Street Brdg. Bertram
Ely Stret Bridge in Bertram

1891 Bridge near Cedar Rapids knocked into flooded Big Creek.

June of this year saw unprecedented flooding in the Midwest, as heavy rainfall saturated the ground and turned quiet creeks into violent rivers flowing out of control. This includes the areas of Linn, Jones and Johnson Counties in east central Iowa, where floodwaters and erosion caused damage to two major highway bridges northeast of Cedar Rapids, and sadly the destruction of a prized historic bridge in the small town of Bertram.

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.

Ely Street Bridge in Bertram
Ely Street Bridge in Bertram in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2013

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, cutting the truss bridges into pieces and the street off from its main access to US 151 and IA 13.  Once standing while underwater, the truss structure is now in many pieces, and there is no word on whether the bridge will be rebuilt or scrapped in favor of a more modern structure.

Already last year, attempts were made by Iowa DOT and Linn County to encourage residents of Bertram to “upgrade” the bridges, including the Ely Street Bridge. The offer of covering a wider portion of the cost to replace them was rejected by residents for they did not want to have an increase in traffic going through the community. The decision was sensible given the quiet setting Bertram has to offer, with its narrow streets and houses that are more than 70 years old. With the Ely Street Bridge washed away, the issue of the future of the crossing will indeed be brought back onto the table of the Bertram town council, Linn County and eventually Iowa DOT.

There are three options facing the parties involved:

1. The bridge could be scrapped and replaced with a modern bridge, with the plaques being saved and showcased at either the museum or on the railings of the new bridge. There, the issue of the increase in traffic and the opposition to building a new bridge because of cost and historic significance will be discussed vehemently.

2. The second option is removing what is left of the bridge and not replacing the bridge at all. This would be a definitely inconvenience for it would cut the community in half with a crossing disappearing forever.

3. Then there is the third option, which is rebuilding the truss bridge, piece by piece, making it resemble the original crossing. While that may be expensive to undertake, judging by the state of the truss spans, most of the pieces are salvageable, with the exception of the diaginal beams and portal bracings, which can be done by a local bridge builder. This option would keep the bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the honor it had received in 1998.

Even if only one of the truss spans is salvageable, one can either construct a replica of the lost span, as was done with the Motor Mill Bridge in Clayton County and the easternmost span of the Sutliff Crossing near Lisbon, both done in 2012. Both bridges had been washed away by flooding years before, and residents associated with both bridges raised funding and received help from state and federal authorities to rebuild them.  That financial support is also available if one would import a historic bridge from elsewhere to replace one of the lost spans, whether that span originates from somewhere in either Linn, Jones or Johnson Counties or a couple river miles west of the bridge. There, the Blaine’s Crossing Bridge, seen from the Hwy. 151/13 Bridge, has been out of use for many years but still has some use left, judging by the appearance after the bridge was visited by two pontists within two years of each other.

Given the many opportunities available, combined with the technical know-how available for rebuilding and restoring historic bridges, and the residents’ interest in a (preferrably restored) crossing at East Bertram Road, it will be most likely that the Ely Street Bridge will be rebuilt and the crossing will be reopen in the near future. The questions will remain though as to how to approach this problem. Will the bridge be rebuilt to its original form or (partially) replaced? How much money is needed to rebuild the crossing and where will the money come from? Will there be any campaigning for restoring the crossing, like on facebook, etc., and if so, how? And lastly, what will the rebuilt bridge look like: in its original form, in a replicated form, in an altered form, or in a completely new form?  All these questions will need to be answered in the coming weeks and months before construction of the crossing can commence. This time, those affected will have their say as to how (new) crossing should be built.

Author’s Note: Check out Bridgehunter.com for more pictures of the Ely Street Bridge, taken by the author and two other pontists. This includes a couple shots of the bridge after being knocked into Big Creek. 

A tour of Bertram’s bridges can be seen here.