Mystery Bridge Nr. 88: The Bridges of Davis City, Iowa

Photo provided by Hank Zalatel

The next mystery bridge actually features two structures located only 500-600 feet from each other. One of them was a railroad bridge, the other was a wagon bridge of the bygone era that has now been supplanted by the current structure. Both are located over the Grand River in the small town of Davis City in Decatur County, Iowa. The difference between the two in terms of appearance are the trusses originally built and rebuilt at different times. With the wagon bridge, there were two different truss spans, each one having been built by a different bridge builder. Each crossing had different truss designs and as they were both overhead truss bridges, they had different portal bracings. While both of these bridges are long gone and the railroad crossing has been removed since the early 1980s, a lot of questions about the structures remain open, especially as to the bridges’ dimensions, the builders and the dates of construction, although one needs to be clear that Davis City was established in 1854 with the railroad coming to town in 1879, the time of the arrival of the Chicago-Burlington and Quincy Railroad (known here as the Quincy Line), according to information from local historical resources. Using that date as our starting point, let’s take a look at the profile of each crossing, whose mysteries need to be solved


The 1911 Wagon Bridge. Photo courtesy of the Decatur County Historical Society.

Wagon Bridge:


Spanning the Grand River at present-day North Bridge Street, US Hwy. 69 and River Bank Park, this bridge used to carry the Jefferson  Highway, the first north-south intercontinental highway that was established in 1915, connecting Winnepeg with New Orleans with stops in Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, Memphis and Vicksburg. The current structure was built in 2011, replacing a concrete slab bridge that had existed since 1931. While the 1931 structure was considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places according to research by the late James Hippen and officials at Iowa DOT, its predecessor would surely have been listed had it remained standing. According to local historical resources, including the county historical society and town records, the two-truss span was built in 1911, yet although the spans featured pin-connected Pratt trusses, the portal bracings indicated that they were built by two different bridge builders. One span features a 3-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracing with 45° angled heels, a protocol that had existed since the late 1890s. The older truss had Town lattice portals with heel bracings, BUT with ornamental features on each of the top chord portal entrances plus a builder’s plaque, located on the top of the portal.  Two theories come to mind when looking at this structure: 1. The older truss was one of the original ones of a 2-3 span crossing, and it was subsequentially replaced by the newer truss to replace one of the spans that collapsed or was destroyed in a flood. 2. There was a covered bridge or even an iron structure that had existed prior to 1911 and the town petitioned the county to build a new bridge. The spans came from two different places and replaced the original one built when the town was founded. In order to prove one or the other, one needs to find out when the first crossing was built and by whom. Then we need to find out the events that led to the replacement of one or both spans of the bridge, when the replacement span was built and which bridge builder was responsible. Should the two different spans were put together in 1911 to replace the earlier spans, where did the bridges originate from? And lastly, why did the bridge last for such a short time (only 20 years) and when the concrete bridge was built, what happened to the truss spans? Were they scrapped or relocated? Only by answering these questions will we be sure about the short history of this crossing.

The Quincy Line Whipple truss bridge. Photo courtesy of the Decatur County Historical Society.

Quincy Railroad Bridge:

Located 500-600 east of Wagon Bridge at the site of Mill and Maple Streets, the Quincy Railroad Bridge featured two different truss bridges yet they were single span crossings with trestle approaches. The first crossing was a Whipple through truss bridge with pinned connections and Town Lattice portal bracings. The length of the truss span was between 160 and 180 feet long, about three quarters as long as the length of neighboring Wagon Bridge, yet with the trestle approaches, the total length was between 400 and 450 feet. The bridge was built in 1879 at the time of the railroad coming through Davis City, even though there is no information regarding the bridge builder. The rail line was supposed to connect Leon with Mount Ayr and points to the southwestern part of Iowa. The bridge existed until about the time of the replacement of the Wagon Bridge in 1911 although when exactly this happened is unclear. It is known that the replacement bridge was a Pratt through truss bridge with V-laced portal and strut bracings and riveted connections. The length of the main span appeared to be between 130 and 150 feet with the total length being 300 feet.  Riveted truss bridges were being introduced around 1910 for both railroad and highway crossings because of their sturdiness. Therefore it is logical that the Quincy Line needed a stronger crossing to accomodate the needs of the customers along the way. The question is whether the Whipple truss bridge was replaced at the same time as the Wagon Bridge. If so was it because of a natural disaster that affected Davis City or was it circumstantial? If not, when was the railroad bridge replaced? Judging by the postcards in the geneology page (click on the names of the bridges for more information), the Whipple truss bridge existed well beyond 1905 with the last photo having been taken in 1907. The question is when was it replaced and by whom? While the Quincy became part of the Burlington Northern (and later the BNSF) Consortium, the line through Davis City was abandoned sometime during the 1980s, and the bridge was subsequentially removed. All that is left is a small section of what is used to be a rail line to the north of the town.


Central States Bridge Company of Indianapolis, Indiana

Boyd Bridge at Greensburg City Park in Craig, Indiana- a fine product of CSBC. Photo taken by Tony Dillon

This article is in connection with the creation of the database for the Bridge Builder’s Directory in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ wordpress page, which you can click here to view.

Indiana, together with Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York, were considered the big six in terms of steel construction and bridge building during the heyday of architectural and infrastructural expansion between 1880 and 1920. Steel mills were found between Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, including the metropolises of Chicago, Indianapolis, Canton and Cleveland. Several schools of bridge building existed, which churned out the finest bridge builders and businessmen in the field. This included the Indiana school, which had over a dozen bridge builders, including the longest known bridge builder in the state, The Central States Bridge Company (CSBC). But what do we know about the company and its founder to date?

The company was created in 1895 as the New Castle Steel Sewer Pipe Company by Eugene Runyan and others, with its headquarters in New Castle, IN. It later expanded its services and began building bridges. In 1897,  in response to the changing trends in infrastructural work that included the increasing demand for metal truss bridges, the company changed its name to New Castle Bridge Company and would later receive contracts for bridge building in Iowa, Virginia, and Michigan. In 1905, the company relocated to Indianapolis and was renamed the Central States Bridge Company. Prior to World War I, the bridge company constructed dozens of bridges of its kind in 10 states, including: Indiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Montana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Nebraska and New York.

Lilleberg Bridge
Lilleberg Bridge in Jackson County, MN (1910-1976) Source: Jackson Co. Hwy. Dept.

Many of these bridges have been either documented by the State Historical Societies, HABS/HAER or both and are either listed on the National Register of Historic Places or are considered eligible. Yet many of these CSBC bridges are disappearing fast as they have been either replaced or demolished in the past 20 years. This includes the following bridges:

Lefarge Bridge in Wisconsin: This bridge used to be the Hudson Toll Bridge until it was relocated in 1953 to its final destination. It was documented by HABS/HAER before it was removed in 1983.

Standing Rock Bridge in Montana: This three-span polygonal Warren through truss bridge was one of the key historic sites along the Yellowstone River until its replacement in 1991

Little Flatrock Bridge in Indiana: Decatur County was CSBC’s primary customer as a half dozen of its bridges were built there between 1900 and 1916. This one had a fancy portal bracing, yet efforts to save the bridge from the wrecking ball failed, as the bridge was removed in 2000 after its replacement was built. However, the Applegate Bridge has a similar feature and is in storage, awaiting relocation for reuse.

Lilleberg Bridge in Minnesota: The Lilleberg Bridge was one of the younger bridges built by Central States, for it was constructed in 1911. It was the fourth structure at the location and used to be a centerpiece for the now extant village of Belmont. Sadly, flood damage in 1969 resulted in its replacement in 1976 on a new alignment. One can still see the lally columns from the current structure today.


Structures that are still standing include:

Boyd Bridge in Indiana: This used to span Sand Creek at CR 700 before it was relocated to Greensburg Park in Craig in 2006, nicely restored and now part of a bike path.

Bernadotte Bridge in Illinois: This bridge features a Pratt through truss and a Pratt pony truss. Damaged by the flooding along the Spoon River, the pony truss span was taken out of the river and placed on blocks, while the through truss is still standing. Efforts are being undertaken to save the entire structure.

Locust Street Bridge in New York: Located in the town of Waterloo, this 1914 arch structure was the only known bridge of its kind built by CSBC and is still in service today.

Little is known what happened to the Central States except to say that even though the founder, Mr. Runyan, died in 1913, the business continued building bridges well into the 1970s and 80s, according to the Indiana Historical Society during the author’s correspondance in 2007. Whether the company still exists today, either as an independent entity or as part of a larger steel and/or bridge company remains unknown to date, nor do we have much information on the later structures built by CSBC.

If you know more about the company, especially regarding Euguene Runyan’s life and the company’s existence sice 1919 in terms of bridge examples, advertising or other information, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles, under the following address: Further information will be added to this page pending on the information that is received at that time.

In the meantime, check out the list of bridges built by CSBC by clicking on the following links below:

Historic Central States Bridge Company



Historic Bridge Conference 2012: Indiana

Inside the Triple Whipple Bridge over Laughery Creek Bridge in Dearborn County. Photo courtesy of Nathan Holth of


Author’s Note: This is part III of the series on Indiana’s historic bridges and the Historic Bridge Conference that took place on 21-23 September.

When you see or hear the word historic bridges, what are the first words that come to mind? Do you know of a historic bridge(s) that you grew up with? What were some fond memories? Were there attempts to preserve or destroy that particular structure and why? And if the structure was destroyed, was it because of lack of information on how to preserve it or was it because of lack of interest?

Each of us grew up knowing a rickety old vintage structure that was nearby, where we crossed on our way to our grandma’s house, or went on family walks or gone fishing. We also saw our favorite bridge succumbing to progress without any knowledge of ways to preserve it for uses other than being a road bridge. But there are some people who are of the opinion that times change, concrete is better than metal bridges that rust and corrode and they are not worth saving….

Not in the eyes of the Hoosiers living in Indiana. The state has one of the highest number of historic bridges in the United States, and one of the highest ratio of those preserved. It was not long ago (15-20 years to be exact) that the number of historic bridges were plummeting, prompting calls from the public and private sectors to take action and preserve what is left of the bridges. Unlike in some states, like North Dakota, Nevada and Pennsylvania where the numbers are either very low or are dropping like a falling meteor, the calls were heeded and today, one can see at least three or four through truss bridges and at least two stone or concrete arch bridges in each county- on average.  How was this done?

The success story of Indiana’s historic bridges became the focal point for this year’s historic bridge conference, which took place in southern and central Indiana. A large turnout gathered in Indianapolis on the evening of the 21st of September to listen to Julie Bowers, Nathan Holth, Marsh Davis, and Dr. James Cooper speak about historic bridges. Ms. Bowers provided the public with a presentation and documentary on historic bridge preservation (the summary on the DVD can be found here), using the Piano Bridge in Texas and the McIntyre Bridge in Iowa as examples. It was followed by Nathan Holth, who recently released a book on the moving bridges in Chicago (vertical lift, swing and bascule), providing some details on the movement to make the City by Wind not only modern in its time (with skyscrapers made of steel) but also movable, with bridges opening to shipping traffic. While Marsh Davis talked about historic bridges and the role of Indiana Landmark, the keynote speaker for the event was Dr. James Cooper, professor emeritus of history at DePauw University at Greencastle (located southwest of Indianapolis). Mr. Cooper spent 40 years writing about historic bridges and presenting to thousands of historians and interested citizens about this unique topic, the history and connection with the development of the state’s infrastructure over the past 150 years, and ways to preserve them through policies and practice. And for over an hour, he spoke about the successes of historic bridge preservation on the Hoosier state. A Q&A session with Mr. Cooper is found in the next article in the Chronicles.

The number of bridges visited is very high; some dealt with bridges that were on the itinerary, like the Cedar Grove, the Madison-Milton and Triple Whipple Bridges, but there were some that were not on the itinerary, but were beautiful enough to stop for a few minutes of photo opportunities, as many pontists and those interested traveled from west to east to see them.  Nathan Holth of Historic provided me with some classic examples of historic bridges that were visited while on tour and a gallery is provided below, with links to the historic bridge pages that were profiled. Have fun viewing them. More to come….

Photo gallery:


Guiford Red Bridge in Dearborn County
Vernon Fork Bridge in Decatur County
Lost Bridge in Dearborn and Ohio Counties
George Street Bridge in Aurora (Decatur County)














Galbraith Bridge in Bartholomew County. Previously closed for repairs, it was reopened in time for the Historic Bridge Conference.
Flat Rock Creek Arch Bridge in Jennings County: one of a few in the state where two historic bridges are located next to each other. This 1900 structure is next to a 1920s concrete slab bridge.
Cave Hill Road Bridge in Ripley County
Champs Ford Bridge in Decatur County
Furnas Mill Bridge in Johnson County
Flat Rock Creek Stringer Bridge in Jennings County: located next to its successor, the Flat Rock Arch Bridge

Author’s Note: The interview with James Cooper can be found in the next article. Special thanks to Nathan Holth for the use of the photos for this and other articles pertaining to this topic. Very special thanks to Tony Dillon who coordinated the three-day event and brought in a huge crowd to the event.

The next Historic Bridge Conference (2013) will take place in Iowa. More details will come as the planning progresses.