Belle Plaine, Iowa- Tama County: one of many Iowa counties that has more than two dozen pre-1945 bridges left in the state. This includes the steel truss Black Bridge spanning the Iowa River and the Lincoln Highway Bridge near Toledo, whose railings bear the highway’s name and which was replicated in the form of a butter sculpture seen at the Iowa State Fair last year. Yet it is one of many counties with many structurally deficient bridges, many of them being closed to traffic in the past three years.
The Chambers Ford Bridge is one of them. Located over the Iowa River at 380th Avenue, 3 miles west of Belle Plaine, this two-span bridge features steel Pratt through trusses, but each of them are different because of the their portal bracings, as well as the date of construction.
The older and longer of the spans was one of the first ones built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton. It was constructed in 1890 and had a span of 155 feet with wooden trestle approaches. 13 years later, with the wooden approaches deteriorating beyond repair, the county hired another Iowa bridge builder, George E. King to construct a replacement approach span in a form of a Pratt through truss bridge, totaling 140 feet long and costing $3,987. The total length of the bridge is 345 feet long.
Since 2007 the bridge has been closed to traffic and has been the target of vandalism, as parts of the wooden decking was set ablaze by arsonists, causing damage to the bridge, albeit not as severe as the incident at Bunker Mill Bridge near Kalona, last August. Missing bolts and other bridge parts have also been reported. Yet times are changing, and the county engineer plans to replace this bridge with a pre-cast concrete bridge. However, as the truss bridge is a national historic landmark- having been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998- the Tama County Engineer is offering the bridge to any takers willing to relocate it for reuse, regardless of whether it is only one of the two truss spans or both. The reason for this is to garner interest from parties interested in finding a new home for the structure.
At the same time, the bridge’s history will be documented, thanks in part to an agreement made between the county, the cultural resources office of the Iowa Department of Transportation in Ames, and Wapsi Valley Archeology, Inc. in Anamosa, where all stories, photos and postcards are being collected and will be used in a booklet to be published for libraries in Tama County and beyond, as well as IaDOT.
If you are interested in purchasing the bridge, please contact the Tama County Engineer, using the contact details here. If you wish to contribute to the booklet, the contact details for Wapsi Valley Archeology and Kristy Medanic (who is in charge of this project) is found here. The preservation and relocation of the Chambers Ford Bridge will make up for losing a pair of key historic bridges in 2007 at Toledo and Chelsea as well as another last year at Traer, yet it could also serve as a motive to preserving the remaining bridges of their kind in the county, for there are plenty of them- closed to traffic because of age and deficiencies- to go around and enough interest from other groups to take them for reuse. The Chronicles will follow-up on the developments of the bridge project set to begin soon.
102-year old truss bridge scheduled for replacement; lumberjacks provide county with head start.
Over 80 historic bridges will be the focus of the upcoming Historic Bridge Weekend in Iowa during the weekend of August 9-12. Sadly, this bridge will be gone well before the event. The Traer Bridge, spanning Wolf Creek carrying Mill Street on the outskirts of the small community of 1700 inhabitants in Tama County is scheduled to be replaced beginning in July. Yet work on the 1911 riveted Pratt through truss bridge, built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, has already started. As you can see in the most recent photos taken by J.R. Manning, loggers have started to cut down trees at and near the bridge, signalling the plan to build the structure on a new alignment. This makes sense given the fact that the bridge can be reached through a pair of sharp curves, one on each end of the structure. Yet if there was a plan to keep the structure for recreational purposes, that was destroyed due to a tree falling onto the truss bridge itself, causing severe damage to the southern half of the entire structure. As parts of the tree is still hanging on the overhead bracing of the bridge, the structure is in danger of collapse.
Whether this was done on purpose to accelerate the process or if was done by carelessness remains unclear, but given its poor track record on saving the remaining historic bridges that exist, Tama County seems to be getting rid of them at the quickest possible convenience. Several key historic bridges, including the Toledo Bridge (another Clinton Bridge structure), two LincolnHighway bridges in and around Chelsea and several pony truss bridges have been replaced since 2000. The LeGrande Bridge over the Iowa River was lost to flooding in 2008 and has long since been removed. In addition, a half dozen bridges, including another Wolf Creek structure at W-Avenue have been closed to through traffic due to issues of their own. A couple of them, including the Chambers Ford Bridge over the Iowa River have sustained damage thanks to vandals. The future of these bridges remain questionable. And this despite the fact that the county has numerous historic bridges still in use, including the famous Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, whose railings resemble the name of the 100-year old highway.
The damage to this bridge combined with its neglect since its closure should serve as a signal to the county and the community that more proper care is needed to ensure that the historic bridges in that county (and elsewhere) remain in use, even long after the Historic Bridge Weekend has ended in August. Otherwise, there will no longer be any examples of American history left for younger generations to see, and the number of people born after 1980 who are interested in these bridges have increased exponentially since 2000, which should give people in places like Tama County an incentive to save structures like this bridge, which unfortunately will not be one of the fortunate ones.
Note: The replacement bridge will not be made of wood, as many may wish. The replacement structure will be a 130 foot long concrete slab structure.
After some delays because of non-bridge related commitments on the part of the author as well as the webmaster of the Historic Bridges of the US website (James Baughn), the winners of the 2012 TRUSS Awards as well as the honorably mentioned have been announced. It is very difficult to pinpoint which bridge is the most targeted for preservation before they become a pile of broken stones and twisted metal as there were many MANY nominations that were submitted and the painstaking task to narrow them down based on appearance and urgency. Many bridges nominated for the 2012 TRUSS Awards were either winners or honorably mentioned last year and were omitted from the list. Yet there is a link to the 2011 Award winners here:
In either case 15 historic bridges were awarded the prestigious prize, five of which will be mentioned here together with five of the 16 honorably mentioned bridges. In either case, the full list of winners and nominated structured can be found here:
1. Meadows Road Bridge (Northhampton County, Pennsylvania). This stone arch bridge over Saucon Creek was built in 1858 and is one of the oldest bridges in the state. Yet patchwork and alterations on the bridge make it less appealing to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, who wants to see this bridge replaced. This bridge is a classic example of a wrong attempt to give the bridge a face lift while keeping its unique appearance intact. Already, historic bridge preservationists including Nathan Holth are leading an attempt to convince PennDOT to change their minds and leave the bridge in its place while allowing a new structure to be built on a new alignment.
2. Cedar Grove Bridge (Franklin County, Indiana). Indiana has had an excellent reputation of preserving, restoring and reusing pre-1930s metal truss bridges for recreational use, for an average of six of these bridges have been spared annually, thanks to efforts on the part of Indiana DOT, the governor Mitch Daniels, and other actors from the private and public sectors. This leads to my question of why INDOT wants to demolish this 1914 Parker through truss bridge that was built by an in-state bridge company. According to Ed Hollowell, they and Franklin County have been at odds over the ownership of the bridge and the former highway it carried across the Whitewater River, Hwy. 1. With INDOT’s request to demolish the bridge submitted to the state historic preservation office, another party is now involved and there is hope that this request will be denied and that the ownership issue be settled; especially as many locals would like to see this bridge reused again, even if it is for recreational purposes.
3. Meridian Street Bridge (Pierce County, Washington). After the fall of the Liberty Memorial Bridge in 2008, this bridge in Puyallup is perhaps the last of the Turner Truss bridges ever constructed in the United States. Turner trusses have a polygonal upper chord with Warren trusses resembling an A-frame shape, as seen at the beginning of this article. Washington DOT plans to accelerate the construction schedule and remove the bridge before 2013, yet attempts to halt the progress because of its National Register eligibility may delay these plans by a couple years. More on the fate of this bridge will come as the story unfolds……
4. Black Bridge (Albany County, New York). This bridge is one of two TRUSS Award winners where the public is taking a prudent stance in their attempts to save the bridge. A railroad bridge in Eau Claire, Wisconsin is the other candidate. Both are abandoned railroad bridges, yet this bridge (located in Cohoes) presents the good, the bad and the ugly with regards to good intentions and tragedy. On New Year’s Eve a man ventured onto the abandoned bridge, only to slip and fall into icy the Mohawk River. His body was found a day later. Despite a petition and demand by many citizens demanding that the bridge be torn down, the mayor took a stance opposing the demolition. This was hailed as a success by many in the pontist community and plans are still in place to repair the bridge and convert it into a pedestrian trail this year. With this staunch support for revitalizing the bridge, there is hope that instead of leaving a huge void in the cityscape (as it would have been the case with the bridge removal), that the bridge will make the city more attractive. As popular as the fallen person was, it would not be surprising if the newly converted pedestrian bridge would be named in his memory.
Note: Additional links to the Black Bridge can be found under a summary written about the structure when it was announced the winner of the TRUSS Awards.
5. Hulton Bridge near Pittsburgh (Allegheny County, Pennsylvania) I visited this bridge during a tour of the region in 2010 and was awed by its impressive design: five Pennsylvania petit truss spans with the main span being over 500 feet long! This far outspans most of the bridges of this type west of the Mississippi and is second behind its cousin bridge the Donora-Webster Bridge in terms of its length of the main span in the greater Pittsburgh area. Todd Wilson of bridgemapper.com has been working together with students of his alma mater (Carnegie Mellon University and other actors in finding ways to preserve the bridge intact even though some difficulties in terms of its geographical location may make any attempts to stop the replacement process futile; especially if Pennsylvania wants to modernize its landscape and improve its infrastructure at the expense of the numerous historic bridges that exist.
WILD CARD: Murray Bridge (Humboldt County, Iowa): While most of the historic bridges in the upper Midwest have disappeared to progress, one can see a couple pieces of silver lining nearby. The Murray Bridge over the Des Moines River between Bradgate and Humboldt is unique because of its association with a local bridge builder who left its signature in a form of ornate design on its portal bracing. Yet it had been the most neglected bridge as it was not considered historic to state and national standards and is still on the county engineer’s list of bridges in dire need of replacement. After being given the TRUSS Award for 2012 and after providing an article to the local newspaper on the part of yours truly (who has visited the bridge twice already and even nominated the bridge for this year’s prize), maybe some minds will be changed on the part of Humboldt County. We will have to see.
2. Arkadelphia Bridge (Clark County, Arkansas): Slated for replacement, this bridge is up for the taking, and would be considered a “nomadic bridge” as it would be relocated for a second time, a feat rarely seen for a historic bridge.
3. Ellsworth Ranch Bridge (Emmet County, Iowa): One of only two King Bridge Company structures carrying the Thacher truss design left in the country, this bridge has been closed since 2010 and the question of its future is unclear.
4. Champ Clark Bridge (Pike County, Missouri). Now that the Missouri River has been “cleansed” of all the “hideous, ugly, and scary” truss bridges, the Mississippi River is now the next target of progress. This speaking as a devil’s advocate who frowns in the name of progress that is to be had on this bridge, a five-span Pennsylvania peiti truss bridge.
5. Chambers Ford Bridge (Tama County, Iowa). If there is a way to bring down a historic bridge the “civilian” way, try torching this two-span Pratt through truss over the Iowa River, as it happened recently. Fortunately the bridge is still intact but there is hope to beautify and reuse the structure before arsonists strike again.
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