Eau Claire Viaduct Closed due to Urgent Structural Issues

Photo by John Marvig


Crack in the Pier is the reason behind the closure with its future in doubt.

EAU CLAIRE, WISCONSIN- A beloved railroad viaduct spanning the Chippewa River has been closed due to advanced structural deterioration. Its future is in doubt as crews are looking into a pier that has deteriorated beyond repair. The Northwestern Viaduct spans the Chippewa River near the Big Pond site and city dam. It was built in 1880 by the Lassig Bridge and Iron Works Company of Chicago and the Leighton Bridge and Iron Works Company of Rochester, New York- the latter of which was responsible for the bridge’s signature Lattice deck truss design. The bridge has a total length of 890 feet, the largest span is 180 feet. The bridge is considered the highest in the state of Wisconsin, at 82 feet tall above river levels. The bridge used to be operated by Chicago and Northwestern Railroad until it was abandoned in 1991. Excel Energy purchased the bridge from Union Pacific in 2007 to save it from being demolished. In 2015 the bridge opened to pedestrians and cyclists.

Crews on Monday closed down the bridge as they discovered a major crack in one of the limestone piers that was also spalling, thus causing the bridge span to sag. In a statement provided by the City’s media relations:  

The High Bridge was initially closed to the public on Monday, June 21, in order to repair a section of railing that was damaged by fallen tree limbs. Meanwhile, a heave had been observed in the bridge deck caused by a crack in one of the piers that supports the bridge. This week an outside Engineer examined the structure and recommended further investigation and repair before re-opening to the public. Since that examination, additional changes in the condition of the bridge have occurred, making this a more urgent situation. Additional fencing and water barriers are being installed to keep boaters, pedestrians, and bicyclists away from the structure for their safety.

The bridge was last inspected in November of last year. City officials and engineers are looking into ways to either repair or replace limestone pier, while at the same time, work to preserve the bridge’s structural integrity. This includes a range of options from making minor repairs, adding additional bracing, encasing the pier or simply removing the affected spans and rebuilding the entire pier from scratch before putting the spans back on. The last option was practiced with the Red Jacket Trail Bridge south of Mankato, Minnesota in 2011 for the exact same reason as the situation being seen with this bridge.  When and how the repairs will be made, how long and the costs involved remain open at the time of this press release. The structure is considered a nationally significant monument not only because of its history but because it is the only bridge of its kind left in the country- a quintangular Lattice truss bridge.

Eau Claire is considered the city of bridges but ist main attraction is the one currently receiving (inter)national attention but for the wrong reasons. It is hoped that there is solution to this problem that will not alter the bridge’s integrity, but at the same time, make the crossing safer for people wishing to enjoy the view oft he city, ist bridges and the areas along the Chippewa.

The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest. Check out the tour guide in the Bridges of Eau Claire, which was created in 2012. Photos and places of recommendation courtesy of fellow pontist, John Marvig. Click here and enjoy the tour.



Eau Claire Bridge to open to pedestrians; National Register listing on the way?

This photo taken by John Marvig

There is a misunderstanding as to determining which truss bridge type is a Whipple and which one is a Quadrangular Warren or even a Lattice truss bridge. Therefore before making the announcement about this bridge, one should look at the differences, beginning with the Warren Truss:

The simple Warren truss bridge was invented by James Warren in 1828 and features a truss span with alternating diagonal bracing, resembling the letter W. The Warren truss bridge can feature vertical posts but there are some that have either alternating vertical posts or none at all. Here are a couple examples to help you:

The Ditzenbach Bottom Bridge over the Turkey River in Fayette County, Iowa: An example of a Warren truss bridge with vertical beams. Photo taken in August 2011.

The Stray Horse Creek Bridge in Hamlin County, South Dakota: An example of a Warren truss bridge without vertical beams. Photo taken in September 2009

A double intersecting Warren truss features two Warren trusses that are reciprocal of each other, thus creating a rhombus-shaped Lattice design. An example of that bridge is featured here:

Buck Creek Bridge northwest of Atlantic in Cass County, Iowa: an example of a double-intersection Warren Lattice truss bridge. Photo taken by Julie Bowers

A Whipple truss bridge features diagonal beams that crosses two panels beginning at the top chord of the truss. For the end panels, two beams start at the top chord with one crossing one panel and the other two panels. An example of a Whipple truss bridge is here:

Wilkerson Park Truss Bridge over the Shell Rock River in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa: An example of a Whipple Truss bridge. Photo taken in October 1998









And finally the Quadrangular Warren truss features Lattice-like design where the diagonal beams cross each other four times. An example is here:

Windom Railroad Bridge over the Des Moines River in Windom, MN: An example of a Quadrangular Warren truss bridge. Photo taken in December 2010

There is one truss bridge that stands out as the lone truss type of its kind in the world, and this bridge is the focus of our news story. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Viaduct, spanning the Chippewa River in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is one of the main icons of the city of bridges (an article about the tour of Eau Claire is found here.) Built in 1880 by the Omaha Railroad, the railroad served traffic connecting Milwaukee and St.Paul, enroute to Sioux City and all points to the south and west. The bridge is 890 feet long with the longest span being 190 feet and the height is 85 feet, which can be seen by many people regardless of where they are situated (at the river side or up the hill). Approach spans were added by Lassig Bridge and Iron Works of Chicago in 1898. The bridge was in service until its abandonment in 2007. Yet by the beginning of 2013, the viaduct may have a new life as a pedestrian bridge.

Photo taken by John Marvig

Work has been underway to convert the bridge into a bike trail. connecting the business district on the west bank and the Dells Pond Area on the eastern side. It is expected that the viaduct will become part of the bike trail network by the beginning of 2013. What is so special about the viaduct is that it is the only Quintangular Warren Lattice bridge in the world. This means that diagonal beams cross each other five times, thus creating a Town Lattice design. To all memory, there is no other bridge in the world that has such a truss design.

Photo by John Marvig


Once the bridge is open to traffic, there will surely be talk about it being nominated for the National Register of Historic Places because of its bridge design and its connection with the history of Eau Claire and the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, which bought the Omaha Railroad before folding into the Union Pacific Railroad conglomerate. It is unknown when and how it will be nominated, but it will be inevitable because of its unique design. It would also not be surprising if it receives the international recognition it deserves, joining the likes of the Bollmann Truss bridge in Maryland or even some of the bridges in Europe. But for now, the city, which owns the viaduct, is working hard to ensure that the bridge receives a new life as a bike and pedestrian bridge. This is something that the city of Eau Claire can take pride in alone.


The Bridges of Dunn County, Wisconsin (USA)

Author’s Note: This is the second article of a three-part series on the bridges of western Wisconsin, based on the journey taken by fellow pontist and guest columnist, John Marvig, which included the counties of Chippewa, Dunn and Eau Claire. To view part I on the bridges of Eau Claire, please click here.

Dunn County has a population of 43, 967 inhabitants and is located northeast of Eau Claire, about 45 kilometers east of the St. Croix River, the river that divides Minnesota and Wisconsin. The county seat, Menonomie, has 16,264 inhabitants and is home to the University of Wisconsin STOUT and has the Mabel Tainter Center of the Arts and the Wilson Place Museum, one of many places to see during one’s stop in the city. One of the largest lakes in the county is Tainter Lake, an artificial lake that was created through the creation of the Cedar Falls Dam by Andrew Tainter, a rich lumber businessman who utilized the area for logging until 1901 through the creation of the mill and dam in the 1880s. While the mill was closed in 1901, two years after Tainter’s death, the dam was later converted into a hydroelectric dam, which still produces electricity to residents of the Cedar River vicinity today. Tainter Lake serves as the confluence point where the Hay and Red Cedar Rivers meet before making its journey to the Chippewa River at Dunnville. Most of the bridges profiled here come from the Red Cedar River.

Overall, Dunn County, like the rest of the state of Wisconsin, has not been too kind to historic bridges.  All but one of the pre-1945 roadway truss bridges have been replaced with modernized structures. Another truss bridge, the Tainter Lake Bridge, was scheduled to be replaced in 2011, even though the Pennsylvania truss span is in excellent condition. However judging the existence of the bridge through Bing and Google View, chances are that the people residing near the Lake are fighting to keep the bridge open to traffic.  As far as railroad bridges are concerned, they are numerous, as you will see in the samples provided by John Marvig. While a couple of them are still serving rail traffic thanks to the Soo Line/ Canadian Pacific Railways, many have been converted to a bike trail, while others have been abandoned but are awaiting to be reused for recreational purposes. Without further ado, here are some bridges that are worth visiting according to the guest columnist:

Wilson Creek Bridge
Built By: Chicago Northwestern Railway Company
Currently Owned By:  City of Menomonie
Total Length: 196 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 150 Feet
Width: 1 Track
Height: 8 Feet (2.4 Meters) Estimated
Main Type:  Quadrangular Through Truss
Approach Type: Deck Plate Girder
Date Built: Unknown
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is abandoned)
The Wilson Creek Bridge is a very small bridge, located in a scenic area of downtown.  It goes very unnoticed.  It was abandoned in 2003 after the dairy plant stopped using rail traffic.  The line, when  it was built was designed to go to downtown off of the Union Pacific mainline through the extreme northern portion of town.  It was also used to connect to the Milwaukee Road line which went south to the Wabasha, Minnesota area.  But the Milwaukee Road line was abandoned in 1975, and after the dairy plant stopped using rail traffic, there was no point to have this line.  So it was taken up.  Portions were turned into a trail.
What really bothers me is how there is trail on this line just north of this bridge, and about 500 feet south of it too.  And building a trail over this bridge would provide a good connection between the north part of town, the Red Cedar State Trail (built on the Milwaukee Road) and UofW Stout.  But for some reason, this has not happened yet.  The bridge has several rotten ties, and one wrong step will make sure you end up in the marshy area below.

This photo is looking from the bridge on Meadow Road.  Note how the bridge is in an urban area, but blends in nicely.

This photo is looking at the approach span.  Note the pier, and the design that would have been used post-1900.

This photo is looking south through the bridge.  Although some of the features seem to demonstrate this bridge is post-1900, the portal seems to show it is pre-1900.
Just south of this bridge lies the Red Cedar River Bridge, on the same line.  This bridge was likely built the same time.  This bridge also directly crossed over the Milwaukee Road.  The south end lies on the campus of UofW Stout.  This bridge is fenced off, and can be accessed from a dam access road, or a UofW parking lot.

This photo is looking from the upstream riverbank.  Some prominent differences between this bridge and the Wilson Creek Bridge is the use of trestle approaches, the huge wood piers and the use of 2 quadrangular spans.

This photo is looking at the approaches over the Milwaukee Road line.  Note the beam span.

This photo is looking on the south side.  Note the large fence, and the half of a date plate.  The plate does not have any date on it.

Located about 12 miles south of Menomonie Wisconsin is the massive bridge.  This thing is located in a very scenic area called the Dunnville Bottoms, which is a very sandy and flat area along the Chippewa and Red Cedar Rivers.  

Dunnville Bottoms Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific (Milwaukee Road)
Currently Owned By: Wisconsin DNR
Total Length: 860 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 230 Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 25 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Whipple Through Truss
Approach Types: Pratt Truss, Deck Plate Girder and Wooden trestle
Date Built: Ca. 1905
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)

Link: http://pegnsean.net/~johnm/WI_COUNTIES.html

This is a really cool bridge over the Chippewa River south of Menomonie.  First, it has four different designs, making it fairly rare. Second, just look at it.  Everything is massive!  The bents on the trestle to the large truss main span. I believe this bridge was built about 1905.  It about the time these types of truss spans became more common.
This bridge was also built by Morse Bridge Company.  There are inscriptions on top of the large main span.  But it could have been built earlier in the 1880’s.
I saw a rattlesnake when I was at this bridge.  But be very careful if you go here.  There are many vantage points, but you do not want to get hurt here.

The most commonly used vantage point is off a trail near the deck plate girder spans.

Another good one is from a massive sandbar in the river.

The main span is nothing short of huge, and contains quite the geometry.

The smaller main span is a lot more common, but is tiny compared to the larger span.

This is the deck plate girder spans.

This is also the deck plate girder spans, at a different angle.

This is looking north along the bridge.  There are more trestle spans behind me.

This is looking north across the bridge.

This is the inscription on the main span.

This is looking with a telephoto south down the length of the bridge.

Author’s Note: The final bridge on the Dunn County Tour is one of the mystery bridges I had posted in May 2012 (click here). Located over the Red Cedar River, the Downsville Bridge was built by the Milwaukee Railroad and was converted into a bike trail when the line was abandoned in the 1970s. There was a speculation that this bridge and another bridge similar to that but located in Fayette County, Iowa were part of a bigger multiple span railroad bridge. Yet according to information from the Milwaukee Railroad Museum, it was all coincidential, as the Downsville Bridge was built at its original location and was never moved at any time. While this solves the mystery with regards to the Downsvulle Bridge, the question still remains open as to whether the Fayette County span was constructed at its original location or if it was relocated from somewhere else, and if so, where. To be continued…….

The last part of the tour consists of the bridges of Chippewa County. Apart from photos and commentary by Mr. Marvig, at least three other pontists and photographers and the author have some bridges to add to make the trip worth it. Stay tuned….


The author would like to thank John Marvig for the use of his photos and for his tour of the bridges in and around Menonomie and the rest of Dunn County.




The Bridges of Eau Claire, Wisconsin (USA)

Photo taken by John Marvig

When you go out and hunt for bridges, it is not rare to find a city that has a pocket full of antique bridges. What I mean for antique bridges in this case are structures built prior to the second World War, which one can find at least a third of them in most cities with a population of 15,000 or more. However it is rare to find a city or metropolitan area with a high number of notable antique railroad bridges.  One of these cities happens to be Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Located about 140 kilometers east of Minneapolis-St. Paul along Interstate 94, the county seat with 65,000 inhabitants is part of a triangular metropolitan area shared with neighbor cities Menomonie and Chippewa Falls and is located at the junction of the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers. It is home to four colleges (two of which being public) and is one of the greenest cities in the state of Wisconsin.  Yet when it comes to historic bridges in the city and its surrounding area, there are quite a few diamonds in the rough, especially with regards to railroad bridges, as John Marvig discovered during his recent visit to the city.  Mr. Marvig is a photographer and writer on railroad bridges in the upper Midwest and Eau Claire was one of the stops on his bridgehunting tour. Yet little did he realize that his trip brought more than what he bargained for and is providing you with a tour of the historic bridges in the greater Eau Claire area. Some of the bridges have been converted to bicycle trails but there are others that have the potential to become part of a recreational trail and it is certain that there are many people interested in restoring them- more so after reading his tour guide here, as a guest columnist. Enjoy!

Hello, I am John Marvig.  You may have heard of my work photographing historic railroad bridges in the upper Midwest.  If you have not, then now you have 🙂 Thanks for looking and enjoy these photos!

When you think of historic railroad bridges in the upper Midwest, you probably think of the massive arches of stone gracing the mighty Mississippi below St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, or perhaps the massive steel arches north of Stillwater.  Or maybe you think of the bridges in places such as Green Bay.  Or what about bridges such as the Kate Shelley Bridge near Boone, Iowa?  But I doubt anyone thinks of Eau Claire, Wisconsin as a place to find large, historic railroad bridges.    After over three months of planning, I finally got to go out here on Mother’s Day weekend.  And I was not disappointed by what it produced.

We start our little tour of Eau Claire on the north part of downtown.  There lays a bridge not really famed, but definitely worthy of it! This bridge is the oldest in Eau Claire.  The four main spans were built 1880, with the current approaches being added 1898.


Northwestern Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago, St. Paul Milwaukee and Omaha Railroad
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire
Total Length: 890 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 180 Feet
Width: 1 Track
Height: 80 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Lattice Deck Truss
Approach Type: Deck Plate Girder
Date Built: 1880, approaches rebuilt 1898
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is abandoned)
Link: http://pegnsean.net/~johnm/Northwestern%20Railroad%20Bridge.html

The bridge consists of four large lattice deck truss spans, a major difference between the warren deck truss bridge that succeeded mainline traffic just north of this bridge.
Crossing the Chippewa River, his bridge served traffic until 2007, when there was no longer a need to access the Nestlé plant.  The bridge was purchased by Eau Claire because of the gas pipeline running on the bridge.  So now in 2012, the bridge is fenced off, but easy to get to.  Several people have fallen off this bridge.  Even though there are fences and people are aware of this information, bicyclists still cross this bridge, and will continue until this bridge is the newest bridge on Eau Claire’s vast trail system.  Hopefully we aren’t too far off from that time!!!
Getting to the riverbank on the east side is easy, as there are stairs leading down from an access road.  The west end is much more challenging.  One must be able to get down limestone bluffs on steep paths and climb and crawl back out.

This photo is looking from the east bank of the river. There are stairs leading to this view.


This is what one of the approach spans looks like. This is the eastern approach.

And this is a typical stone abutment. It was built for the old approaches, which were smaller deck truss spans. This is the east abutment.

The bridge being as high as it is should be fenced off. This is looking west across the bridge.

These are bridges just east of the bridge. They cross Forest Street. They were both built 1918. The tall one served the mainline, while the shorter one served a spur.

The bridge north of here consists of a deck plate girder span, 4 deck truss spans and 3 more deck plate girder spans. This photo is of that bridge from the west end. The new bridge was built 1911 as a giant double track bridge.


This next bridge is located directly south of the last bridge.  This bridge is also over the Chippewa River.  This one is a lot smaller, and is a lot lower lying.  I now introduce, the Phoenix Park Railroad Bridge.

Phoenix Park Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road)
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin DNR
Total Length: 526 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 232 Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Whipple Through Truss
Approach Type: 2 Spans Through Pratt Truss
Date Built: 1903
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)

This bridge is the second bridge over the Chippewa River on the former Milwaukee Road in Eau Claire.  The bridge has a 146’ and 148’ Pratt Through Truss and a 232’ Whipple Through truss.
This bridge was abandoned 1981 after a failed attempt to put traffic back on it after the Milwaukee Road abandoned it.  Then it was turned into the state trail.  Phoenix Park was also built up very well in this area.
The best views are from Phoenix Park.  There are overlooks and grassy areas to look at this bridge.  The west bank is a little more challenging to get down to, but is fairly easy once you find a path.

This photo is also looking from the east bank. But this is the other side of the bridge.

Phoenix Park is also a trailhead. This is looking west across the bridge from Phoenix Park. 50 years ago this was all rail yards.


The date stamp is located on the west abutment.


Snaking across the Eau Claire River in the industrial section of Eau Claire is this bridge.  The famed Soo Line S Bridge.


Soo Line “S” Bridge
Built By: Soo Line Railroad
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire
Total Length: 431 Feet
Length of Largest Span: Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Warren Deck Truss
Approach Type: Deck Plate Girder
Date Built: 1910
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)


Although this bridge is wonderful as a trail, it is hard to get a clear view of the entire structure.  In fact, it is an unfortunate fact that it is near impossible.
But as hard as it is to get to, it is a good bridge.  It was converted to a trail in 2002.  It is very famed around western Wisconsin.  The bridge was built at an S shape so it could cross the river between tracks running parallel to the river.
And as far as the views go, who knows!  You may find the new best view!  Good luck and happy hunting!

This photo is looking across the bridge from the north side.

Looking from the north bank is challenging, but it can be done.

The south bank is also obstructed by trees 😦


Finishing with the major bridges directly in Eau Claire, we come to the Clairemont Ave Railroad Bridge.


Clairemont Ave Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific (Milwaukee Road)
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin DNR
Total Length: 670 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 145 Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Pratt Through Truss
Approach Type: Wooden Trestle/Concrete Slab
Date Built: 1886, rebuilt at a later date
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)
Link: http://pegnsean.net/~johnm/Clairemont%20Ave%20RR%20Bridge.html

This bridge is the first bridge over the Chippewa River on the former Milwaukee Road in Eau Claire.  Has 4 Pratt truss spans ranging from 128’-148’ in length.  There is also trestle approach on the south side and concrete slab on the north.    The original four main spans were built 1886.
This bridge was abandoned 1981 after a failed attempt to put traffic back on it after the Milwaukee Road abandoned it.  Then it was turned into the state trail.
The best views are from atop Clairemont Ave.  Clairemont Ave (US 12) is a large road running at an angle from this bridge.  It is a very busy road.
This bridge also might be the reason the line was abandoned.  It was abandoned because of a very weak bridge in the Eau Claire area.  And this bridge could be that bridge.  It was converted to trail use in 2004.

Looking from Clairemont Avenue will provide the best overview photos.

Looking from the north bank can also provide some interesting photos.

There are trestle approaches on the north side of the bridge.

The Builder’s Plaque. Note: As you can see, this bridge is very old (but not as old as the Northwestern Bridge!) 🙂

Even though I did not include all the bridges in Eau Claire in this column, I would recommend if you ever have the chance, get out to this area.  You will be happy you did!  I hope you enjoyed the photos and thanks for looking!

Author’s Note: Apart from the four gorgeous looking railroad bridges one can see while visiting Eau Claire, there are a couple other notable ones one should keep in mind. One is a railroad bridge and another is an ordinary roadway bridge. More information and photos of the bridge is available by clicking on the title of the bridge.



Union Pacific Chippewa Railroad Crossing:

Type: Warren Deck Truss (main span) with through and deck plate girder approach spans

Location: Chippewa River south of North Crossing Bridge

Built: 1911 by American Bridge Company (New York City) for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad

Status: Still In service

Comment: Mr. Marvig was also at this bridge during this tour and the only way to view this bridge is by boating on the river, as even though the deck view of the bridge is great, finding side views of the bridge from shore are difficult, as can be seen by the pics. However, one is not advised to cross this bridge as it is still in service.



Dewey Street Bridge:

Type: 2-span open spandrel arch bridge

Location: Eau Claire River on Dewey Street

Built: 1931

Status: Still in service

Comment: This is probably one of the most beautiful roadway bridges in the city; especially given its arch design and its aesthetic appearance and conformity to the residential area. This bridge is the third to last structure on the river as it empties into the Chippewa River on the north edge of downtown Eau Claire.

Note: You can visit Mr. Marvig’s website on railroad bridges by clicking on the link here.