The 75th mystery bridge in the Chronicles takes us to a small but empty town of Beloit, in northwestern Iowa. Located on the Big Sioux River just east of Canton, Beloit was founded in the 1880s and was once a bustling community of almost 2,000 inhabitants. It used to be famous for its state children’s orphanage. Founded in 1890, the orphanage owned over 400 acres of farm land and had cared for over 1000 boys and girls ages 12 and under before closing down in 1944 and relocating to Ames in 1949. Augustana College was also located in Beloit for awhile before moving first to Canton and eventually to its current location in Sioux Falls, 30 miles up the river. Beloit was also a railroad hub, having served passengers coming in from Sioux Falls, Sioux City and even Rock Rapids. With all of them now gone, the community that used to have over 2,500 inhabitants (counting the orphans and college students) has now become a ghost town with not more than 20 residents living there and a lot of empty and dilapidated buildings and places that used to hold fond memories of what Beloit used to be like back in days of horse and buggy as well as the railroad.
Many people connected with Beloit in one way or another may be familiar with the Beloit Bridge, our mystery bridge. Located over the Big Sioux River, this bridge was the lone crossing serving Beloit for almost 80 years, yet little is known of who built it, how long it was and whether there was a predecessor- either a wooden/iron bridge or a ferry. We do know that the bridge was a Pennsylvania through truss with M-frame portals thickened with V-laced bracings, and pinned connections. It was built in 1897 and for 74 years, served traffic in the community. It is unknown how long the bridge was but estimates point to somewhere between 200 and 300 feet for the main span plus the approach spans. Records show that anyone going across the bridge faster than a walk was fined $10, which is equivalent to $300 in today’s standards. A plaque used to exist on the portal bracings, as seen in the picture below, and its design matches that of a handful of bridge builders that had once populated the state with through truss bridges. This includes A.H. Austin, Clinton Bridge and Iron Works, and King Bridge Company. Given the high number of Pennsylvania truss bridges built in the state, all money is being bet on Clinton, but research and a lot of luck is needed to confirm this. The plaques were removed in the 1940s and have not been seen ever since. Perhaps with the closure of the orphanage, they were simply taken off the portals and given to someone as a keepsake ornament.
But what else do we know about the bridge? The dates of its existence and its connection with Beloit is clear. But who built the structure and was there one before that? If you have pictures and information that will be of some help, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles and share some stories. The Beloit Bridge has a key role in the existence of a once thriving farm community and one that brought children, college students and even visitors together during its rather short existence. While we know a lot about Augustana College and the children’s home, plus many historic buildings that served customers, this bridge is definitely part of the community’s heritage and through your help, we can solve the mystery of the bridge that connected Beloit with the outside.
Bridges severely damaged in the fire- future in doubt
STURGIS, SOUTH DAKOTA- A key icon symbolizing the great American bike trip is gone, and with it, most likely two symbols of America’s architectural past. The Full Throttle Saloon, the world’s largest biker bar and one of the key meeting points of the annual Motorcycle Rally that takes place every summer in August, was lost by a great fire early this morning (September 8th). Fire crews were called to the site at 12:30am (Mountain Standard Time) or 8:30am Berlin Time this morning when smoke was coming out of the building. Despite attempts by the firemen to put out the smoke and flames inside the building, they were forced to battle the fire from outside, when the heat and smoke became too unbearable. Thanks to high winds and a possible gas line leak, the building complex was engulfed in flames at 2:30am and collapsed a half hour later, according to reports from the fire department and local news. No one was injured in the fire, nor was there anyone in the locked building at the time of the fire. The building complex and all its relics and symbols were considered a total loss. The Rapid City Journal has a gallery of photos taken after the fire, which can be viewed here. Many videos were posted of the fire, but this one below shows the damage to one of the bridges and its decking:
As far as the two bridges are concerned, their futures are in doubt, as fire burned away the wood decking of both spans, leaving a truss superstructure standing. This is the first time since 2013 that a fire did considerable damage to a historic steel truss bridge. The Bunker Mill Bridge southeast of Kalona, Iowa was set ablaze during the Historic Bridge Weekend in August 2013, causing significant damage to the bridge decking and bridge parts. That bridge has since been repaired and is being used as a venue for summer open-air concerts. The two bridges damaged by the Full Throttle Saloon fire were each built in 1912 and had spanned the Belle Fourche River before being relocated to the Saloon in 2008, to be used as an observatory deck for concerts and other events. Both bridges were built by the Canton Bridge Company in Ohio and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The difference between the two is the length and bridge type. The shorter span, measured at 79 feet, is a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings, decorated with X-lattice at the top- typical of the Canton bridges. The longer span is a Pennsylvania Petit with A-frame portal bracings and V-laced vertical posts. The bridge is approximately 200 feet long.
While the cause of the fire is being investigated by the state fire marshal, scores of letters of support are being poured in on the Saloon’s website and facebook pages in hopes that the place will be rebuilt. Whether and how this will happen, let alone whether these two bridges will be reconstructed or converted to scrap metal will depend on a series of inspections to be conducted by engineers and other architectural experts. These will be conducted in the coming months. But for now, tourists, bikers and bridge enthusiasts are mourning the loss of one of the most popular gatherings in the country, littered with vintage signs and other items that had once provided a nostalgia of a now bygone era, where the biker can pack little but travel cross country to see the wild west, stopping at places like this one for a good beer and good company. For many, Full Throttle will be missed, but another better one will take its place. And hopefully, the bridges and the salvageable can be used as part of a bigger meeting point for bikers.
Note: The Full Throttle Saloon won the Amman Awards for the Best Example of Historic Bridge Reuse in 2011. It was also the site of the 75th annual Motorcycle Rally this year. More on that here. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on the future of Full Throttle after the blaze. You can visit their facebook page to provide them with some support for rebuilding the facility.
Our next mystery bridge goes back to Missouri, and in particular, Christian County. As you all know, the county is home to Riverside Bridge, winner of the 2013 Ammann Awards for Best Historic Bridge Preservation. Yet the county residents cannot get enough of the historic bridges, as many locals have been digging up old photos and interesting facts about the historic bridges in the region.
This bridge is one of them. Wayne Glenn, a local historian, received this old picture of the bridge from a person with a collection of photos from Ozark, and brought it to the attention of others, including Kris Dyer and other pontists. It’s a through truss bridge, built using a Pratt design and featuring A-frame portal bracings. Judging by the design of the plaques on each portal, there is a debate as to whether it was built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company or the Canton Bridge Company, both of which are located in Canton, Ohio. Most of the bridges in Christian County were built by CBC between 1904 and 1915, including the Riverside Bridge (which was built in 1909), with only a couple more truss bridges built by the Pioneer Bridge Company of Kansas City, according to James Baughn in an e-mail correspondance with other pontists. Yet, as he added, there is a possibility that the bridge may have been built in Greene County, as a structure similar to the picture above was built by WIBCo in 1896 but was rehabilitated by CBC in 1904, as the former became part of American Bridge Company in 1901. That bridge spanned Clear Creek northwest of Springfield but was replaced in 1991.
But looking at the old photo by Glenn, it appeared that it was taken on a Sunday afternoon, when everyone was in their Sunday dress, yet it is unknown when the photo was taken, let alone how the two gentlemen in the photo managed to climb up to the top of the truss structure, as a ladder seemed to be absent. One has to assume that the bridge existed between 1890 and 1910, during the time of the existence of the two Canton Bridge builders. Reason for that was the early usage of steel and the letter-style portal bracings that replaced the ornamental Town lattice type, yet pin-connected trusses were still in extensive use. It would not be until 1910-15 that riveted connections were introduced for truss bridges.
This leads to the following questions:
1. If the photo was taken in or around Ozark, where was this bridge located? Who built the bridge- the Canton companies or Pioneer? It is doubtful that the bridge was a predecessor to the current structures that existed, like the Red, Green or even the Reed Road Bridges, just to name a few. Furthermore, as the characteristics of a CBC Bridge features the X-frame ornaments, as seen on the Riverside Bridge, the old photo featured none of that, leading to the question of whether WIBCo built the bridge but was modified with the replacement of the portal bracings. This leads us to the second question.
2. If the bridge did not come from Ozark, where was it originally built? Was the structure the one at Clear Creek in Greene County, or did it originate elsewhere?
Any information on the part of Glenn and Co. would be very useful. You can provide that at the Chronicles at email@example.com or Kris Dyer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christian County prides itself on its history and ways to preserve its heritage. After seeing Riverside Bridge be saved, history is being taken seriously. This includes finding artifacts which serve as pieces of a puzzle that is being put together by the many people who take pride in the county, its history and its heritage.