1910 Des Moines River crossing coming down after years of neglect, vandalism and natural disasters
BOONE, IOWA- Three years ago, the Wagon Wheel Bridge was one of the main attractions of the Historic Bridge Convention, which was attended by over 25 pontists from five states and two countries. It was originally part of the Kate Shelley Tour conducted by the Boone County Historical Society. It was one of the longest multi-span truss bridges ever built by the Iowa Bridge Company, one of many in-state companies that had dominated the scene since the consolidation of 29 bridge companies into the American Bridge Company consortium in 1901. The 1910 bridge had a total length of over 700 feet.
Now the steel span is coming down for good- in sections. Workers from the Hulcher Services began pulling down the western half of the bridge yesterday, which included two Pratt through trusses, one of which sustained damaged in an ice jam in February and subsequentially fell into the river in March. According to the Boone County engineer Scott Kruse, as soon as the water levels of the Des Moines River recede , the eastern half, featuring the Pennsylvania through truss and another Pratt through truss will be removed. The cost for the bridge removal will be $150,000, some of which will be deducted from the county highway fund, while the taxpayers will contribute to the rest of the expenses.
For many who know this bridge, it brings to an end a bridge that had historic character but was highly ignored and neglected. Closed since 2007, the bridge sustained damage to the eastern approach trestle spans in 2008 during the Great Flood. It took four years until new wooden decking was built on the span, but not before residents having voted against the referendum calling for the replacement of the bridge in 2010. Debates on the future of the bridge came to a head, as talks of converting the bridge to a memorial honoring Kathlyn Shepard came about in 2013. Reports of the leaning pier between the collapsed Pratt through truss and the one closest to the Pennsylvania truss span raised concerns that the structure would collapse, creating warnings even from local officials that one should not cross the bridge. But the last ten months brought the bridge to its untimely end, as vandals set fire to the eastern trestle spans last August, prompting the county to removed them completely. The arsonists have yet to be found and apprehended. The ice jams and the subsequent collapse of one of the spans, prompting the county engineer to put the bridge out of its misery for good.
The removal of the Wagon Wheel Bridge brings closure and relief to the city of Boone and the county, for despite pleas by preservationists to save at least part of the bridge, the county is doing its best to eliminate a liability problem that has been on the minds of many residents for nine years. The county engineer declared that they do not want any more problems with the bridge and therefore entertains no plans for keeping what is left of history. The mentality of “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” is floating around in the community, yet the city and the county will lose a key piece of history that was part of Kate Shelley’s childhood past as well as the history of Iowa’s transportation heritage. A piece of history which, if thinking dollars and sense, could have been saved years earlier, had everyone read their history books in school, and come together to contribute for the cause, that is. One wonders what Kate Shelley would think of this.
Facts about the bridge, based on the author’s visit in 2010 can be found here.
If you wish to know more about Kate Shelley, a link to her life and how she became famous can be found here.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has changed its cover pages on its facebook and twitter sites to honor the bridge and its heritage. If one is interested in relocating the Pennsylvania span, please contact the engineer using the information here. Hurry while the water levels are still high!
It is unknown if even a marker at the site of the bridge will be erected once the bridge is gone. Given the sentiment towards seeing the girl leave, chances of happening is highly unlikely unless a book is written about the county’s bridges or the bridges along the Des Moines River and the bridge is mentioned there….
Wagon Wheel Bridge struck by ice during unusual spring thaw- damage beyond repair- demolition expected within a year
BOONE, IOWA- Mother nature has finally taken its toll on a popular historic bridge in Boone.
The Wagon Wheel Bridge, spanning the Des Moines River at 200th Street, a product of the Iowa Bridge Company, was struck by ice on 22 February causing severe damage to the two middle Pratt through truss spans. The ice struck the pier connecting the two trusses, causing it to shift at a 60° angle and the third truss (from west to east) to slip off the pier. A couple pictures by Chris Johnson shows the extent of the damage:
Fearing the potential of collapse, the Boone County Engineer has barricaded the bridge within a parameter of up to a mile from the structure to ensure no one goes near it. At the same time, he announced that the bridge will be removed at the earliest possible convenience, with a target of it being pulled out within 12 months.
This latest disaster tops a list of disasters that has happened to the Wagon Wheel Bridge in over 10 years time. Sections of the eastern approach spans were misaligned during the Great Flood of 2008, which prompted its closure to all vehicular traffic.
While that section was restored and the bridge was reopened to pedestrians and cyclists in 2011, arsonists struck the bridge during August of 2015, setting fire to the eastern approach spans. They were sub-sequentially removed afterwards. The shifted piers had been there prior to the flooding, as floodwaters slightly shifted it in 2011. Still the bridge was reopened in time for the 2013 Historic Bridge Weekend in August.
Negligence on the part of the county and the citizens also contributed to its demise, as a referendum was voted down in 2010 to replace the bridge but keep the structure in place. In addition, a planned memorial on the bridge, honoring a teenager who was kidnapped and murdered near the bridge was met with protest as to how it should be commemorated with proposals to use the bridge as an observation deck being balked by those preferring the bridge to be restored and retain its function.
This disaster represents an example of how negligence combined with politics have led to it being condemned. With the bridge being an impediment to the raging waters of the Des Moines River, it was a matter of time before something like this was going to happen.
Inaction does produce its consequences in the end, and many opportunities to restore the bridge came and went without much interest in the structure and its role in Boone County’s history. If there is any chance of saving the bridge, it would most likely have to be like with the Horn’s Ferry Bridge, located downstream in Marion County: keep the outermost spans as observation decks with a plaque describing the bridge’s history. Rebuilding the bridge and elevating it to accommodate floodwaters, including new piers are possible, but at nearly 800 feet, the costs maybe more than the county’s budget, unless the county receives help from contributing factors outside. Then there is the option of relocating the spans for reuse elsewhere in the county. That has been done with the Bird Creek Bridge along US 66 in Oklahoma, but in this case, many actors would be needed here.
No matter what options are available, the consensus is clear: something will need to be done with the Wagon Wheel Bridge before it collapses into the river. It may not happen now, but without a short- and long-term solution, it will happen eventually, which will be lights out on a piece of Boone County’s history.
Whether or not Kate Shelley crossed this bridge in her lifetime, I don’t know if she would be happy to see her heritage go like that. In her shoes, definitely not. What about you?
Pictures of the Wagon Wheel Bridge before its latest disaster can be found here. This includes those taken during the Historic Bridge Weekend in 2013. Should you have any ideas to present to the county engineer, please contact Scott Kruse, using the contact details here.
Fire damages east approach span. Investigation ongoing.
BOONE, IOWA- Law enforement authorities are investigating a possible arson, which occurred on the Wagon Wheel Bridge most recently. According to reports from multiple sources, the fire was reported by Union Pacific Railroad on Sunday night at 11:00pm at the eastern end of the bridge. While the fire was brought under control and no damage was done to the multiple span truss bridge, the eastern approach spans were charred, prompting county officials to remove the spans. The bridge has since been closed off to pedestrians and cyclists with its future in limbo. Any information pertaining to possible arson should be directed to law enforcement officials in Boone as soon as possible.
The Wagon Wheel Bridge, built in 1910 by the Iowa Bridge Company in Des Moines, has seen its best and worst times, the latter occurring within the past eight years. Damage was sustained by high water in 2008 when sections of the eastern approach spans were washed away during the worst flooding since 1993. Attempts were made to pass a referendum in 2010, calling for a new structure to be built in place of the vintage structure, only to fall on deaf ears by a vast majority. Two floods later, the structure had been still been standing in tact with new decking added to the entire 710 foot bridge. Even an idea of having a memorial at the bridge site, dedicated to Kathlynn Shepard was brought up in 2013. This was in addition to having two bills passed to make kidnapping a felony and increase the age of the vicitims of such crimes to 15 years of age (instead of 12). More on the efforts can be seen through Kathlynn’s Hope facebook site. Homage was paid to the bridge through the Historic Bridge Weekend that same year, where 20 people from all over the US attended the event, with Pam Schwartz of the Boone County Historic Society providing the guided tour of that and other bridges- many in connection with the famous Kate Shelley story (click herefor details).
With the eastern approach spans removed, attempts are being made to restore the bridge to its original glory. This includes providing new decking that will not be vulnerable to fires. But also the need for repairing the truss parts and stabilizing the cylinder piers are there. All of this is part of the plan to use the bridge as a centerpiece of a bike trail to connect Boone and Odgen with a possibility to connect with the trails in Des Moines. Already, a facebook page has been launched with over 1440 likes on there. The main goal is to raise enough funds to realize the project. Repairs are estimated to be betwene $700,000 and $1m. But the race against time is underway. While the bridge is fenced off to all traffic with the eastern approach spans are removed, consideration is being taken to remove the entire structure for safety reasons. This is being met with solid opposition from locals, the state and other members favoring the preservation of the bridge becaus of its connection with the city’s history. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998 and any plans to alter, replace, or remove the bridge will require approval and survey, which could take time and money to take. With the love towards the bridge being as high as it was when the referendum failed in 2010, many paths to Rome will be built to ensure that the historic bridge will be saved from becoming scrap metal, even if it means spending more to rehabilitate the structure and make it part of the city’s history and bike trail network. It is more of the question of the availability of resources and effort to undertake this mission. If new decking was added after 2010 with no problems, and looking at the success with Sutliff Bridge, another multiple span truss bridge, people will more likely look at ways to make this project bear fruit.
The Bridgehunter’s Chroncles will keep you posted on the latest on the Wagon Wheel Bridge. Please click on the highlighted links to take a look at the stories written about this bridge and other items. Join the group saving the bridge on facebook and get in touch with them if you are willing to provide some ideas and help to restoring the bridge.
This Mystery Bridge article is in connection with a book project on the bridges along the Des Moines River. For more information about the book and how you can help, please click here for details.
The next mystery bridge features not only one, but SIX bridges, all within the vicinity of a lake. Saylorville Lake is the second of two man-made lakes along the Des Moines River in Iowa. The other is Red Rock Lake, located between Knoxville and Pella in Marion County (article on that can be found here). Yet Saylorville is the larger of the two, covering an area of 5,950 acres and 9 miles wide. The length of the lake is 17 miles long, starting at Woodward in Boone County and ending north of Des Moines. In the event of flooding, the lake is three times the length, extending as far north as Boone. The size of the lake is over 17,000 acres at flood stage, which was reached twice- in 1993 and 2008. The lake was authorized by the US Army Corps. of Engineers in 1958 as part of the project to control the flooding along the Des Moines River. It took 19 years until the lake was fully operational in September 1977. Yet like the Red Rock Lake project, the lake came at the cost of many homes and even bridges.
Before Saylorville, six bridges once existed over the Des Moines River within the 17 miles that was later inundated. Five of them consisted of multiple spans of steel truss bridges built between 1890 and 1910. The sixth one consisted of a steel and concrete beam bridge built in 1955 carrying a major highway. All of them were removed as part of the project between 1969 and 1975. Yet some information on the bridge’s type and dimensions were recorded prior to their removal for load tests were conducted to determine how much weight a bridge could tolerate under heavy loads before they collapse. Only a few pictures were taken prior to the project, yet information is sketchy, for the pictures did not describe the bridges well enough to determine their aesthetic appearance. Despite one of the bridges carrying a plaque, there was no information on the builder. All but two spans have a construction date which needs to be examined to determine their accuracies. In any case, the bridges have historic potential for each one has a history that is unique to the area it served before the lake was created.
While the bridges no longer exist as they are deep under water in a sea that is only 836 feet above sea level (that is the depth of Saylorville Lake when there is no flooding), it is important to know more about their histories so that they are remembered by the locals, historians, pontists and those interested in the history of the region now covered with beaches, marinas and houses. The bridges in question are the following:
Location: Des Moines River at 145th Lane in Dallas County
Bridge type: Pratt through truss (3 spans total) with Howe Lattice portal bracings (2 spans) and A-frame portal bracing (1 span). Two of the three spans were pinned connected whereas the third span was riveted.
Built: ca. 1900; one of the spans was replaced later.
Location: Des Moines River at 128th Street in Polk County
Bridge type: Pratt through truss with pinned connections. Portal bracing unknown (three spans total)
Removed: ca. 1975
Length: 444 feet total (148 feet per span)
Hwy. 98 Bridge:
Location: Des Moines River between Woodward and Madrid in Boone County
Bridge type: Steel plate girder
Replaced: 1973 with higher span
Length: 360 feet
The highway was later changed to Hwy. 210
What is needed from these bridges are the following:
1. More photos to better describe the structure
2. Information on the construction of the bridge, including the bridge builder and the year the bridge was built
3. Information and photos of the removal of the bridge
4. Stories and memories of the bridge during their existence prior to the creation of Saylorville Lake
If you have any useful information about these bridges, please contact Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles at email@example.com. The information will be useful for the book project but the Chronicles will keep you posted when information comes in on these bridges. The creation of the lakes along the Des Moines River came at the expense of bridges, villages and some livelihoods. Now it’s a question of piecing together the history of the areas affected to find out what the areas looked like, with the goal of the younger generation remembering them for years to come. This includes the bridges that were erased from the map and in some, memory. And while they are physically gone, history surely will not.
Thanks to Luke Harden for digging up some facts about the bridges as they were documented in a report published prior to the bridges’ removal. Please click on the names of the bridges as they serve as links to the bridges found on bridgehunter- also thanks to his contribution so far.
When looking at the picture above, one may see this as a simple single span Pennsylvania Petit through truss bridge spanning a large stream that was built at the turn of the century. However, if you look at the next three pics, you will find that there is more to this bridge than its appearance. Have a look below:
This bridge consists of a total of eight spans: four trestle spans on the east side, the Pennsylvania Petit truss design that is 200 feet (61 meters) long, and three Pratt through truss bridges with two center spans that are taller and 20-30 feet longer than the western most span. The total length of the bridge is 703 feet (214.3 meters), making it one of the longest combination spans to not only cross the Des Moines River but also one of the longest bridges of its kind in the state of Iowa. The history of the bridge is unique as it was built by one of the main local bridge companies in Iowa, the Iowa Bridge Company of Des Moines, Iowa. The company was founded in 1902 by James Carpenter and together with its rival company the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, they became the primary bridge builders in Iowa and the surrounding area for the first three decades of the 20th century. While it is unknown how long this company was in existence, the Iowa Bridge Company was responsible for the construction of this bridge in 1910, although according to local records, the company constructed another larger bridge down stream to serve the Lincoln Highway (US Hwy. 30, now a county road). While that bridge was replaced twice and now a concrete bridge serves that road, the Wagon Wheel Bridge still provides travellers going down 200th Street with a scenic backroad route exiting Boone from the northwest and snaking its way down the Des Moines River Valley. When crossing the bridge, one can see the Kate Shelley Viaduct on the left hand side (both the 2009 modern concrete and the 1912 steel viaducts) and a lot of greenery and hills on the right hand side.
Sadly however, this bridge has been the focus of an intense debate on its future, as it has been closed to traffic since 2007 and has sustained structural damage to the east approach as a result of the Great Flood of 2008. While the bridge has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, its future is being threatened through a referendum that states that Boone County residents would pay $22 per $55,000 worth of owned property to replace the bridge completely with a new structure built 60 feet away. This has been met by stiff opposition by some members of the Boone County board of commission and many residents who cannot afford to have their property taxes raised for this bridge project. Furthermore, should the majority vote for the project on 2 November, it cannot be started until a series of surveys are carried out to determine the environmental impact of the bridge project. It also has to go through the Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act, which was put into law in 1966, to determine the adverse effects of altering or demolishing a bridge protected through its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. These surveys could take 3-5 years to complete and cannot be circumvented.
Contrary to the belief that the bridge would fall into the river as the county board of commissioners have claimed, upon visiting the bridge this past summer, from what I could see with the structure, the truss superstructure appeared to be in decent shape with the exception of some minor repairs done to it. The only recommendations that would have to be made would be to reconstruct the trestle approaches, as two of the spans have been misaligned as the result of the flooding. Furthermore new flooring may be needed in order for it to be a functioning unit again- be it for vehicles or for recreation, the latter of which is being pursued by many people.
Looking at the Wagon Wheel Bridge from a strategic and economical standpoint, going ahead with the referendum to demolish the bridge for a new structure that may serve up to 20 vehicles a day- given the current circumstances with the economy- is not in the best interest for the people of Boone County. Many residents are struggling to keep afloat due to high debts and unemployment, something that will continue to linger for many months and possibly years to come. Furthermore, the nearest crossing is only 3 miles to the south on the former Lincoln Highway, where travelers have been used to taking this route since the bridge’s closure in 2007. In addition, as one resident pointed out, the Wagon Wheel Bridge would make a better fit for recreation purposes, given its approximate location to the Kate Shelley Viaducts and due to the fact that there are not enough bike trails in and around the Boone area. Having a bike trail cross this truss bridge complex would provide tourists with access to not only the beautiful green Des Moines River valley but also to the past as they would learn about how this bridge was constructed and how it played a role in shaping the American infrastructure during that particular time.
To conclude this article, I would like to present you with this photo of the Wagon Wheel Bridge, up close and personal and have you ask yourself, is it really worth the price to replace this bridge, which would represent a bigger tourist attraction if rehabilitated to serve its purpose for recreation, for a bridge that will only accomodate up to only 20 cars a day, at the expense of the tax payers and another piece of American History, just because of the fear that the bridge might fall into the river, something that is more a theoretical than practical?
More photos of the Wagon Wheel Bridge can be seen in the bridgehunter.com website. Click here for more detailed shots taken by the author (mostly) and three others who have visited the bridge since 2009.
Australian Traveller that loves to "Roam" our globe, creator of ENDLESSROAMING.COM sharing the experience through word and photography. Currently residing in my home of Newtown Sydney but hope to be back on the road late 2020. Feedback / questions are more than welcome, happy travels