A.H. Austin of Webster City, Iowa

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During the summer of 1998, I embarked on a bridgehunting tour along six rivers in northern Iowa, among them the Des Moines River. Before splitting into the East and West Forks, the river literally cut the state and its capital Des Moines into two up until Frank Gotch Park south of Humboldt. Then before entering Minnesota, the East branch snakes its way through Humboldt, Kossuth and Emmet Counties, whereas the West Fork stays in Humboldt County, nicking a corner of Pocahontas before halving Emmet County and its county seat Estherville. It was along the West Branch I saw the bridge in the photo above: the Murray Bridge. Located two river miles southeast of Bradgate, this Pratt through truss bridge with pinned connections had a very unique feature on its portal bracing: star-shaped heel bracings welded right through. That, plus the plaque indicating its builder’s date of 1905 all belonged to a local Iowa bridge builder, A.H. Austin.  Little did I realize at that time was that although Mr. Austin may have been a local bridge builder, he left a legacy in northern Iowa that is still talked about to this day. And while three bridges were officially credited to his name in a state-wide survey conducted by the late James E. Hippen in the early 1990s, he built more than any of the historians knew about. And henceforth, we will look at his legacy and the bridges that he built up until now, plus the ones that still exist today.

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Born Alva Hiram Austin in Colchester, Vermont on 7 September, 1848, he grew to manhood, having graduated at the University of Vermont. After many of his friends decided to heed to the advice of Horace Greeley, the young man of 27 years emigrated west to Webster City in 1875. After having worked for the county auditor and a local church, Alva became interested in bridge building, and in 1877, did an apprenticeship for a bridge builder in Cedar Falls, who was building bridges in Hamilton County, where Webster City is located. Shortly afterwards, he became a contractor, having established his bridge building business in Webster City at 737 Bank Street. For over 40 years, Mr. Austin built dozens of bridges in Hamilton County, as well as surrounding counties, although records have indicated him constructing bridges mainly in Humboldt and Kossuth Counties. It is possible that he built bridges in other counties but more research is needed to confirm these claims. Mr. Austin was known for his athleticism as a civil engineer, having walked 10 miles between his workplace and the bridge building site daily, and thus having known every village and field in the county and its surrounding neighbors.

 

Mr. Austin was also a committed civic leader, having served as a mayor of Webster City from 1898-1900 as well as the head of the school board from 1899 to 1901, having successfully spearheaded efforts in building the Webster City High School. He later worked as a city inspector, having overseen the construction of the public swimming pool to ensure the design suited the builder’s expectations.

 

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Bancroft Bridge in Kossuth County. Photo taken by Kossuth County Hwy. Dept.

When Alva died on 8 July, 1944 at the age of 96 years, he was survived by his three children, Roy, Jesse and Fred- all of whom had attended college at Iowa State University, yet his daughter Jesse became professor of economics at Cornell University in New York. Especially in his later years before his death, she became his caretaker. Alva’s wife, Chloe Rachel (née: Scullin) died in 1896 after having been married to Alva for 18 years. Another daughter, Grace, had preceded in death 18 years before his ultimate passing.

 

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Riverdale Bridge near Irvington. Photo taken by Kossuth County Hwy. Dept.

As far as bridges are concerned, at least 20+ bridges had been built by Austin in five counties, including Hamilton County, yet Kossuth County seemed to have been his primary customer for at least six bridges were built during his career as a bridge builder. One of them was later relocated to Emmet County. Three were reportedly built in Humboldt County, including the now extant Lewis Street Bridge in Humboldt and the aforementioned Murray Bridge near Bradgate. It is still unknown if and where Austin has built other bridges. However, here is the databank of the bridges that he had built. Information on its dimensions and other photos are available by clicking on the name of the bridge, which will take you to the bridge:

 

Murray Bridge- This 1905 bridge spans the West Fork Des Moines River southeast of Bradgate, in Humboldt County. The bridge is still open to traffic and considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It’s still open to traffic but plans for possible reuse for bikes and pedestrians are being considered.

 

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Close-up sniper photo of the Armstrong Gravel Pit Bridge. Photo taken in 2011.

Armstrong Gravel Pit Bridge- This bridge spans the East Fork of the Des Moines River north of Armstrong in Emmet County. It can be seen from 160th Street but is privately owned. The bridge was built in 1899 by Austin, but its original location was in Kossuth County. Emmet County’s engineer bought the bridge in 1940 for relocation to the gravel pit, where it served traffic until its closure in the 1970s. The bridge then sat abandoned for three decades until a new owner restored it for private use. The markings on the portals are typical of Austin’s design which could be seen with most of the structures built.

 

Albright Bridge- Spanning the Boone River at Inkpaduta Avenue south of Webster City, this 1907 bridge represents the common form of the Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings and is one of the latest examples of Austin’s work. At 156 feet, this bridge is still one of the longest of its kind in Iowa.

 

Second Street Bridge- Spanning the Boone River in Webster City, this two-span Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracings with curved heel bracings was one of the first bridges built by Austin in 1878-9. It served US Hwy. 20 when it was designated in 1926. Sadly, a truck crashed into the bridge in 1949 and it was subsequentially replaced in 1950.

 

Blackford Bridge- Spanning the East Fork Des Moines River west of Algona, this bridge was one of the earliest structures built by Austin. It was one of the first with its star-formed heel bracings but one of the last using the Town Lattice portal bracing. The bridge was replaced in 1942 for unknown reasons except that the steel was probably reused for the war efforts.

 

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Albright Bridge south of Webster City.

Lewis Street Bridge- Located in Humboldt, this two-span Pratt through truss with Town Lattice portal and heel bracings used to carry this thoroughfare until the late 1960s, when it was bypassed by the Hwy. 169 bridge to the west. The bridge closed to traffic in 1970, yet attempts were made to convert it to first pedestrian then afterwards a pipeline crossing. Heeding to the demands of the county engineer to have the structure removed with haste, the bridge was removed in 1981. Today, only the center pier and the abutments can be seen.

 

Riverdale Bridge- Located over the East Fork Des Moines River at 150th Street, south of Algona and west of Hwy. 169, the Riverdale Bridge was a late example of a bridge built by A.H. Austin. He was awarded a contract to build the bridge in October, having completed it in 1900. The 142-foot Pratt through truss bridge with M-frame portal bracings functioned in place until its replacement in 1991.

 

Bancroft Bridge- Spanning the East Branch Des Moines River west of Bancroft, this Pratt through truss bridge is similar to the bridge at Armstrong in Emmet County. It was built in 1899 yet it was replaced before 1990, when the statewide Iowa historic bridge survey was carried out.

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Second Street Bridge in Webster City. Photo courtesy of Hank Zalatel/ IaDOT

(Blue highlighted bridges denotes link to bridgehunter.com website; yellow denotes no info outside this page to date)

According to the surveys carried out by Hippen and Clayton Fraser, several other bridges may have been credited to Austin’s name, yet there has not been any full confirmation. Therefore, there is a plea from you. Do you know of other bridges that Austin built? If so, when was it built, where was it located and most importantly, what did it look like prior to its replacement?

 

All of these bridges will be added to this page on A.H. Austin in the Chronicles’ Bridge Directory. Stories are also welcomed.

Special thanks to Martin Nass of Webster City for the information on A.H. Austin and Doug Miller at the Kossuth County Highway Department for the photos and information on the bridges in the county.

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The Bridges of Harvey/Tracy, Iowa

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Never travel alone in the dark, as you are being watched. Photo of a farmstead taken at dusk by the author in August 2011

This tour guide takes us to southeastern Iowa, where we have not only one but six bridges in the area where Harvey and Tracy are located. One mystery bridge, one extremely haunted one carrying a dead end low maintenance road, one railroad bridge that had a tragic end, another railroad bridge that was located next to a sunken ferry and two abandoned ones that are being considered for a bike trail. All of them span(-ned) the Des Moines River within a 10-mile radius of a small town of Harvey. Located approximately seven miles east of the county seat of Knoxville in Marion County, Harvey has a population of roughly 250 inhabitants. Judging by the appearance of the houses and even the two churches, the town had seen its better days, as the majority of them live at or below the poverty line and most of the buildings are run down, the yards littered with junk needed to be removed if the assistance is available. It doesn’t look any better for the town of Tracy, located three miles down river in Mahaska County. The town of 150 inhabitants had once seen better days with the railroad in business, connecting it with Oskaloosa, which is 10 miles to the east and the county seat.

But looking at Harvey, these characteristics are only scratching the surface, as the town, and the surrounding area, and the crossings along the Des Moines River are all haunted in one way or another. Photographing the bridges, there is a sense of eeriness that makes a person stay close to the car and not wander off, fearing that he will not return. The region used to be bustling with railway and commercial traffic in the 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, Harvey was plotted in 1876 by the railroad with a line passing through later that year, connecting Knoxville and points east through the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.  But the line that passed through Harvey was abandoned, and one by one, commerce moved away to nearby towns, but leaving traces of the past in the forms of ghosts and other paranormal activity that makes the region haunted, but researchers curious about its history. If there is a word of advice I have for the passers-by it is this: Never travel alone in the dark, for you are being watched. Travel in groups and in the day time to ensure that you are safe and sound. Make sure you do not wander off away from the cars, and never ever get lost when photographing in the area!

On one of the evenings in August of 2011, I took a tour of the region and its bridges. There were five historic truss bridges that I found and spent some time photographing them: The Horn’s Ferry, Wabash Railroad, Harvey Railroad, Belle Fountain, and Eveland Bridges. While the Horn’s Ferry Bridge has a topic of its own (click here), the primary focus of this tour is on the other four bridges.  In addition to that, there is an abandoned highway that used to pass through Harvey in a form of Iowa Highway 92, the same highway that used to crisscross Madison County, and its numerous covered bridges that existed (now there’s only six fully restored structures). It snaked its way towards the Des Moines River before crossing north of Tracy.  The highway was straightened and bypassed in 1978 but numerous questions remain about the highway. And lastly, east of Tracy is the remains of a railroad bridge which has a history of its own, including that of its tragic end 60 years ago.

This article provides you with a tour of the area and its bridges with some insight from the author on the structure and its significance. It will also include some stories of his encounters with some rather strange things that happened while on tour. We’ll start off with our first bridge:

Wabash Railroad Bridge:

The first bridge on the tour is one of two that used to be a railroad crossing but was repurposed to serve cars. The Wabash Railroad Bridge can be found spanning the Des Moines River just south of the present crossing at Keokuk Drive (CSAH T-17). It was built in 1881 by the Oliver Iron and Steel Company, even though it is unclear whether it was the company that had been operated by Henry Oliver in Pittsburgh or James Oliver in the state of Indiana. It consists of three Pratt through truss spans with pinned connections and Lattice portal bracings. The overhead bracings are V-laced with 45° heel supports. The center span was replaced in 1905. The total length is 545 feet long, meaning three 150-foot long spans plus an approach constructed in 1951 when it was converted to vehicular traffic. The Wabash Railroad was created in 1837 but started using the name out of the creation of several small railroads in 1865. The company served the Midwestern states which included an area between Kansas City and St. Louis to Chicago, Detroit, parts of Ontario and ending in Buffalo. This included the line going through Harvey and Tracy enroute to the Quad Cities (E) and Omaha (W). After its receivership in 1931 and purchase by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1933, several tracks were sold off, including this line and the bridge, which Marion County purchased in 1946. The bridge was eventually converted to a vehicular crossing by 1951 and the line was turned into a gravel road connecting Harvey and Oskaloosa. The bridge was bypassed by a newer crossing in the late 1980s but remained a crossing as a gravel road until its closure a few years ago. Today, it is a pedestrian crossing with each ends being barricaded and steel fencing having been installed. Plans are in the making to include the crossing into the bike trail network connecting Pella and Van Buren County.  In 2013, the remains of an antique ferry boat were found 500 feet south of the crossing. It is possible that a ferry used to serve locals during the time the Wabash Railroad was in service, but more information is needed to prove these claims. The Wabash folded into Norfolk and Southern in 1991, ending its storied 153 year run.

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Harvey Railroad Bridge:

Built in 1878 by the American Bridge Company, this four-span Pratt through truss bridge was one of the first bridges that featured the bridge company’s signature portal bracings (as you can see in the pictures below). They were used often for railroad crossings with most of them built after the consolidation of 26 bridge companies in 1901. The bridge served rail traffic until it was abandoned in 1938 and purchased by the county, which then converted it into a roadway bridge. At some time later, the Des Moines River was re-channeled making the road expendable. Yet it still serves this dead end road to nearby farms along the river today. The railroad that used the bridge was the Rock Island, which started its decline at the time the bridge and the line were sold off and was eventually liquidated in 1980.

The bridge is surrounded by thick trees, which covers the structure and makes the tall and narrow structure a haunted place to visit. During my visit to the bridge, the first impression after looking at the entrance was that of walking through a dark black hole filled with bats, owls, and creepy insects. Crickets were already out in full force chirping away. Everything else was deathly still as I was crossing the structure, taking pictures of it. Yet as I was at the easternmost portal entrance to the bridge, I heard gunshots ringing out from the opposite end of the bridge. The first shot did not stir me but it did scare off the birds that had been dining in the nests. The second shot however made me rethink my stay on the bridge as there was speculation that someone was shooting at me (or trying to). There was no one approaching me on the bridge and no other people in the vicinity of the structure. The third gunshot was the final signal for me to make my exit as I rush towards the car, hearing more gunshots along the way, got in and took off. As I was leaving, a party of two people on an ATV rushed onto the bridge.  If this was a way of shooing someone from the bridge just so they could have it, then they could have done better than that. Yet even if no guns were being used, the bridge is probably one of the most haunted structures you can ever cross, ranking up there with the Enoch’s Knob Bridge in Missouri. The best time to visit the bridge is in the daylight, where you can get the best pics and are most likely not be frightened by spooky creatures and guns going off without knowing where it came from.213048-L

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Old Highway 92 Bridge:

Among the four being profiled here is another mystery bridge- the first in Mahaska County, Marion’s neighbor to the east. The first time this crossing came to my attention was on a GoogleMap, where there are two crossings bearing the name Hwy. 92- the present one in Marion County and what is left of the previous crossing on the Mahaska side, approximately 1.5 miles south of the present crossing. The road approaching the previous crossing is still in its original form- concrete from the 1930s and really narrow. Yet when arriving at the crossing, it is barricaded with signs and broken down excavators on each end, with the road turning to the south and becoming gravel.  Another piece of evidence to be presented was the fact that a US geological survey map of the 1930s indicated that the crossing consisted of four spans and a truss design, similar to a Parker design. And lastly, National Bridge Inventory records indicated that the present Hwy. 92 bridge on the Marion side was built in 1978. Given the fact that the Belle Fountain Bridge is located a half mile downstream, it is possible that the Old 92 Bridge was removed as it was deemed expendable and obsolete. Yet we do not know whether it is true or not.

What we do know is there are many questions that need to be answered about this bridge, such as: 1. What did the old bridge look like? Was it a Parker truss bridge or another truss type?  2. When was the bridge built? Who built the structure? and 3. When was the bridge removed? Was it in 1978 or afterwards? And why was it removed?

 

Belle Fountain Bridge:

This bridge is located in a small unincorporated village of Belle Fountain, located 1.5 miles south of Hwy. 92 on the west bank of the Des Moines River. It is one of the earliest bridges built by a prominent bridge builder in Iowa, the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, which built the structure at a cost of $9750 in 1898. The four-span Pratt through truss super-structure features A-frame portal and strut bracing and pin connections, the former of which was recently introduced to replace the Lattice portal bracing. The bridge is 595 feet long with each span being 145 feet. The bridge has been a subject of neglect, especially after the Old 92 Bridge was built in 1930 and located 0.5 miles upstream. The lack of maintenance of the structure for unknown reasons prompted its closure. Since then the truss bridge has been allowed to remain in place with the flooring rotting away to expose the bottom chord. However, given the awareness of the bridge and its historic significance and connection with Belle Fountain, interest is being garnered in restoring the bridge and reincorporating it into a bike trail. When and if that will happen remains to be seen. One of the factors to keep in mind is to rid the bridge of the overgrowth, which has been ruling the eastern truss bridge for some time, as you can see in the photos. Given the fact that the bridge has been sitting abandoned for a long time, it is possible that the bridge may have to be disassembled, with the parts being sandblasted and replaced, and the foundations being rebuilt, before reassembling it back into place. The cost for the whole work would be a fraction of the cost for replacing the bridge outright.  Having a restored bridge like this one would be a blessing for the community and the county, which seems to have embraced preservation given the importance of this bridge.

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Eveland Bridge:

The next bridge on the tour is the Eveland Bridge. Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, this bridge replaced a ferry that was used to cross the river. It is perhaps the only bridge originally built by a bridge company in Indiana, the Fort Wayne Bridge Works, which built the foundations in 1876 and erected the three-span truss bridge in the spring of the following year. It featured three spans of the Whipple through truss with the portal bracing representing the exact truss design. The structure was made of iron and featured pin-connections. Flooding wiped out the center span in 1903 and was subsequentially replaced with a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge made of steel. Since its closure in the early 1990s, it has sat in its place waiting to be reused, but not before replacing the decking (which has rotted away substantially) and possibly reconstructing the trusses. Photographing the bridge is really difficult as both sides of the river are heavily forested with the southern bank being littered with trailer homes and small houses. It also does not present a welcoming feeling when driving past the structure, especially as there are many dogs roaming around, waiting to chase the next person away from the area. With a lack of lighting in the area, it is especially creepy at night when driving, let alone walking. But nevertheless, I took advantage of the little daylight that was left and got a pair of pics before anything unusual happened, and then drove back to the hotel in Des Moines, which was a good hour’s drive away.  Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, the Eveland may be getting a new lease on life, as plans are in the preliminary stages to convert the bridge into a bike trail.  Given its remote location, the whole area surrounding the bridge may benefit from having a bike trail pass through, as business and other services could be established to serve the bikers and tourists. It will also mean more lighting in the evening for those going on an evening stroll, something that this area and the bridge itself need very badly. It all depends on the costs, the interest and the question of what can be realized and what can be scrapped.

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Tracy Railroad Bridge:

The last bridge on the tour is one with a long history- and one that ended in tragedy. The Tracy Railroad Bridge consisted of two Whipple through truss spans with an X-frame portal bracing, all being pin connected. The bridge was originally built in 1882 by George S. Morrison for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (later became part of the BNSF Railways), spanning the Missouri River near Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Three bridge builders were behind the construction of the bridge, one of which- Keystone Bridge Company in Pittsburgh- had a hand in relocating and rebuilding the bridge at Tracy in 1903 for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. This was part of the plan to build a sturdier three-span Pennsylvania truss bridge at Plattsmouth while the 1882 bridge was needed for the line at Tracy. From 1903 to its removal in 1950, the bridge was located over the Des Moines River near the site of present-day Cedar Bluffs Natural Area, while the line connected Eddyville with Knoxville. After many years of disuse, workers in 1950 dismantled the structure and sold the parts for scrap. But it came at a price of one life, for one person was crushed to death as the eastern span fell thirty feet into the river. Another person was on that bridge and jumped into the river as it fell. He suffered only minor injuries. The accident happened after the western half of the bridge was removed. The rest of the eastern half was pulled out of the water and hauled away by another demolition company, months after the incident. The Tracy Bridge was a work of art of one prominent bridge builder, yet its life ended on a sour note, even though had the preservation movement started after World War II, there might have been a chance for this bridge, just like its neighbors to the north.

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It will be interesting to see what the future brings for the bridges in the greater Harvey area. Plans are in the making for a bike trail network going from its terminus at the Horn’s Ferry Bridge to Eddyville, possibly using the crossings for cyclists to pass through. This will bring a new lease in life for the ones that have been unused for a long time but whose history can be contributed to the development of the infrastructure in the state of Iowa over the past 150 years. And while it will take up to seven years to finalize the plans and actually build the network, when it is completed, people will take advantage of the trail and learn about the history of each village and bridge they pass by. And even if some of the bridges are haunted, it is unlikely that anyone will actually be taking the trail at night, unless they are as gutsy as I was when visiting the bridges last year. But it is a sure bet that safety features, including lighting, will be considered to accommodate those who dare to encounter the paranormal at night. As for the towns of Harvey and Tracy, the coming of the bike trail may help turn things around for a community that had seen its better days. Having the trail will boost commerce, like it did during the days of the railroad. And with that will bring good fortunes for the community, something that the people surely have been waiting for that for a long time and owe themselves to that share of the pie of prosperity.

A map of the bridges can be seen here. Should you be interested in helping out with the bike trail project in one way or another, please contact the county conservation board, historical societies and other groups involved and see what you can do for them.

 

 

 

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Ice Jam Seals Fate of Popular Historic Bridge

Ice Jam Seals Fate of Popular Historic Bridge

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.

Wagon Wheel Bridge in Boone. Photo taken in September 2010 when the bridge was closed to all traffic. Recently it was rehabilitated and reopened to pedestrians only.
Wagon Wheel Bridge in Boone. Photo taken in September 2010 when the bridge was closed to all traffic. Recently it was rehabilitated and reopened to pedestrians only.

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:

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More pictures of the damage can be viewed here.

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.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 51: The Bridges of Saylorville Lake in Iowa

The Des Moines River at the Woodward Viaduct in Boone County. This is the starting point of Saylorville Lake, which extends to north of Des Moines. Photo taken in August 2013

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:

Hubby Bridge

Location: Des Moines River at Opal Lane in Boone County

Bridge type: Pennsylvania through truss with A-frame portal bracings and pinned connections (four spans)

Built: 1909

Removed: 1975

Length: 660 feet (160 feet per span)

 

Chestnut Ford Bridge:

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.

Removed: 1975?

Length: 480 feet (180 feet per span)

 

Hanley Bridge:

Location: Des Moines River near Jester Park in Polk County

Bridge type: Pratt through truss (one span); two additional spans existed but type is difficult to recognize.

Built: ca. 1900; two newer spans replaced the original spans damaged in 1953

Removed: 1975

Length: 360 feet total (largest span: 150 feet)

 

Corydon Bridge:

Location: Des Moines River south of Polk City in Polk County

Bridge type: Pratt through truss with X-frame portal bracings and pinned connections (two spans)

Built: 1889

Removed: 1975 but not before it collapsed under the weight of US Army tanks in 1972

Length: 312 feet total (156 feet per span)

 

Snyder Bridge:

Location: Des Moines River at 128th Street in Polk County

Bridge type: Pratt through truss with pinned connections. Portal bracing unknown (three spans total)

Built: 1898

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

Built: 1955

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 flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.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.

 

 

Mystery Bridge Nr. 48: Disappearing Des Moines River Bridge in Murray County

Overview with view of the trusses. All photos courtesy of MnDOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This mystery bridge article is in connection with the book project on the bridges along the Des Moines River, which actually starts here in Murray County, Minnesota. For more information on the project and how you can help contribute to the project, please click here for more details.

Bridge Facts:

Bridge Type: Pratt half hip pony truss with riveted connections

Location: Des Moines River at Jeep Trail, 0.3 miles east of County Highway 42 at Sec. 21/28 Des Moines River Township

Construction Date: 1929

Located over the Des Moines River seven miles south of the village of Dovray and only 0.3 miles east of County Highway 42, this Jeep Trail bridge (known to Minnesota DOT as Bridge L-1602) may represent a typical truss bridge with little or no history on it, except from those living near it. Yet its uniqueness and the mystery makes it something worth researching and talking about. For instance, the bridge is a half-hip Pratt pony truss bridge, with a span of 49 feet. The bridge type itself was the only one used for the Des Moines River crossing as a single span, both in Minnesota as well as in Iowa. More unique is the fact that the connections are riveted. One can detect this by finding the gusset plates at the bottom chord at the second panel as well as the top chord at the outer panels, where the diagonal beams and end post meet. Normally one would find half hips with pinned connections, but as the bridge was built here in 1929, the riveted truss design represents a break from the state standardized truss designs that were introduced 15 years earlier, and the half hips were supposed to be phased out in favor of heavier pony trusses featuring (polygonal) Pratt and Warren designs.

But the question is did this bridge break this standard with its construction at Jeep Trail in 1929 or was this bridge built earlier- before the standardized trusses were introduced- and was relocated here? If the latter is true, then the next question is where this bridge originated from.  The unfortunate part with this bridge was the fact that it was removed from service after 1990 with the road being vacated between County Hwy. 42 and County Hwy. 67. While returning home to Jackson from Marshall during my days in high school, my father and I crossed the bridge at 42 and the Jeep Trail Bridge was seen from a distance because of the flatness of the landscape and lack of trees. Yet when trying to find and photograph the bridge during my time in college in 1998, the bridge was not to be found. Furthermore, the road was fenced off. It is possible that because of the sparse usage of the road, and bridge that it was rendered useless by the county and was given to a local farmer for use. Had that bridge remained opened, there would have been a chance to inspect the bridge to see which of the two arguments would stand out as true: being brought in in 1929 or being originally built in 1929. Lastly, regardless of which one was true, the last question is who was responsible for the construction of the bridge.

Now it’s the local’s turn. What do you know about the bridge and its history? Any information? Send it over to Jason Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact details here. The bridge will be included in the book on the bridges along the Des Moines River and therefore, any information on its history will be useful for the reader. Any stories and facts about it will be much appreciated. In the meantime, enjoy the photos of the bridge in hopes that some memories will be kindled and people with some facts will step forward to talk about it. 🙂

All photos are courtesy of Minnesota DOT, whom the author thanks for the usage for the article and the book project.

Quick Note: The bridge is located 11 miles east of Slayton, the county seat of Murray County, and 9 miles east of Avoca. It is located approximately 13 river miles southeast of Lake Shetek, the source of the river.

Photos:

Mystery Bridge Nr. 47: The Twin Bridges over the Des Moines River in Minnesota

Sherman Bridge northwest of Windom. Photos taken in 1962 by MnDOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next mystery bridge features two bridges and is part of the book project on the bridges along the Des Moines River (for more, click here). This one takes us to Cottonwood County, Minnesota, located north of Jackson County, where the author grew up, and a main throughfare that crosses the river three times in the same county, County Road 15. The road enters the county from neighboring Murray County at Talcot Lake and after crossing the third Des Moines River bridge, terminates at US Hwy. 71 north of the county seat Windom.

Two of the Des Moines River crossings are featured here because they are literally identical. Both bridges feature Pratt half-hip through truss designs, with M-frame portal bracings and V-lace endposts. They are both approximately 80 feet long, despite the fact that the difference in total length between the two are only 40 feet apart. Both were built before or around 1900 but the information is very sketchy- sometimes “suspect” because of questionable data. The only difference is the location of the two- one is next to a golf course just outside of Windom, the other is only four miles to the west after the river bends to flow southeasterly.  To be specific as far as what bridges the author is talking about, here is what we know about the two bridges:

Side view of the Sherman Bridge. Photo courtesy of MnDOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sherman Bridge :

Location: Des Moines River at the Golf Course, 0.3 miles west of County Road 13  at Sec. 21 Great Bend Twp.

Length: 141 feet total (main span: 80 feet)

Replaced: 1960? with a concrete slab bridge

Thompson Bridge Photo taken in 1962 by MnDOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thompson Bridge

Location: Des Moines River, 0.4 miles north of County Road 40 at Sec. 14/15 Springfield Township.

Length: 95 feet total (77 feet main span)

Replaced: 1963 with a wooden trestle bridge

Questions remain open regarding the history of the two bridges. First and foremost is the question of the date of construction and the bridge builder. Judging by the features of the two spans, they were most likely built by the same company at about the same time. Some possible bridge builders that did business in Cottonwood County include Raymond and Campbell of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Hennepin Bridge Company of Minneapolis and Joliet Bridge Company of Joliet, Illinois. Judging by the markings of three bridges built in neighboring Jackson County during the time frame between 1880 and 1905, they appear to be the work of Raymond and Campbell, for its agent, George C. Wise had conducted business in the region between 1880 and 1910, both under the auspices of R & C as well as an independent contractor. He had built at least a dozen bridges in Jackson County and most likely did business in Cottonwood County. Yet more evidence in the form of newspaper articles and other information would be needed to confirm this. Joliet Bridge most likely built the Dempsey Bridge, located five miles northwest of Windom over the Des Moines River, but more information is needed to determine if it built other bridges at that time. The same applies to Hennepin Bridge Company, one of many bridge companies operated by members of the Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders which featured the Hewett family, Commodore Jones and Alexander Bayne.

The other question deals with the replacement date for the two bridges- in particular, the Sherman Bridge. National Bridge Inventory database and even the history books have the bridge being replaced in 1960, yet according to records and photos provided by Minnesota Dept. of Transportation, the bridge was still standing as of 1962. This leads to the question of whether the Sherman and the Thompson were replaced at the same time and if so, when. While working on a book on the bridges in neighboring Jackson County, an error was found in the NBI and state historical society records indicating a through truss bridge in Jackson being built in 1930, when city records pin-pointed its construction date of 1907, built by Joliet. This means that in the case of the two bridges, further information will need to be found as to when they were constructed and when they were replaced, in order to update all records to reflect on their history.

This is where you come in. If you have any information on the history of the Sherman and Thompson Bridges including photos of their existence and even replacement, the author would be much greatful if he could use them for the book project. Please send them to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.  Any information on the two bridges will be useful to complete their history. It is very rare to have twin bridges sharing the same road with little knowledge. Yet through your help, you can solve their mystery.  Looking forward to the information that is forthcoming.

Thompson Bridge. Photo taken in the 1940s by MnDOT

 

Historic Bridges along the Des Moines River- book project

Murray Bridge spanning the Des Moines River in Humboldt County. Built in 1905 by A.H. Austin. Photo taken in September 2010

Growing up in Jackson County, Minnesota, I was acquainted with historic bridges that had once crossed the Des Moines River, remembering the thousands times I had crossed the Petersburg Rd. Bridge, located just north of my grandma’s place when I visited her, or paying homage to those in the northern part of the county. They were unique because of their individual character and history. They were also part of our past, which the future generations have little to no knowledge about.

Despite almost all of them disappearing to progress, I wrote a book about Jackson County’s historic bridges in 2007 and again in 2012, featuring the bridges along the Des Moines River, where over a dozen bridges had once crossed the major river, now there are only 9 left in use.  Realizing the popularity of the books on “disappearing” historic bridges on book shelves in the libraries and book stores, it is time to take this subject to the next level- which is scrolling down the Des Moines River, digging up interesting bridge facts for readers to look at.

Petersburg Road Bridge in Jackson, Minnesota. Built in 1907, the bridge was torn down in 1995. Photo taken in 1992.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m looking for any information and old photos of bridges (as well as photos of old bridges before they disappeared) along the Des Moines River for use in a book bearing the above-mentioned title.

One has to keep in mind that the Des Moines River started in two different places. The west branch starts at Lake Shetek in Murray County and snakes its way through Cottonwood and Jackson Counties before making a straight shot going southeast. The east branch starts in Jackson County east of Alpha, and after meandering through Martin, Emmet and Kossuth Counties, joins the west branch south of Humboldt before slicing Iowa in half, passing through Des Moines, Red Rock Lake, and Ottumwa before emptying into the Mississippi River south of Keokuk. The total length of the river is 525 miles (845 km). Like the border it temporarily forms between Iowa and Missouri before its confluence at Keokuk, the river in Iowa also represents the border between the bridges builders from the east coast that built various iron bridges in the eastern half of the state and the bridges built by those who were based in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and all points to the west. Examples of bridges built by both sides of the spectrum are found in some history books, and some can be visited today by tourists and passers-by alike. This includes the Kilbourn, Bentonsport, Eveland, Bellefont and Horn’s Ferry Bridges, as well as bridges in Des Moines, Ottumwa, and Fort Dodge. Also a bonus is the number of railroad trestles that were built along the river, one of which was named after Kate Shelly, the girl who informed the station tenant of the bridge being washed out in a storm and stopped an incoming passenger train before it fell into the river.

Kilen Woods State Park Bridge in Jackson County, Minnesota. Built in 1913, replaced in 2004. Photo taken in 1994

If you have any information, stories and photos that you care to share in the book project, please contact me via e-mail at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. For photos, please let me know the source so that it is cited in the book accordingly. Some mystery bridge articles in connection with some bridges along the river will be posted in the Chronicles and will be listed in the page entitled Forums and Inquiries under the title: Mystery Bridges. If you have any questions about the project or have anything that will contribute to the project, let me know and I’ll be happy to take them on. The Chronicles will keep you up to date as to how the book project is going and when it will be completed and ready for publishing. It is hoped that it will be finished in 2-3 years but it depends on the information found and how book will be created.

There is the Mississippi River bridge book set. Two other river books are in the works by a couple other pontists. Many cities have their own books on the history of bridges. It is hoped that the Des Moines River bridge book will be another one for readers to look at and cherish for years to come.