Mystery Bridge Nr. 128: The Disappearing Thacher Truss Bridge in Castlewood, SD

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This Mystery Bridge entry takes us to the town of Castlewood in Hamlin County, The town is located east of the Big Sioux River, which snakes its way through the field in its infancy before it widens near Watertown. While Castlewood may be a typical rural American town, it does hold a treasure that is historically significant and one where we’re looking for.

The Castlewood Truss Bridge was a Thacher through truss bridge that had spanned the Big Sioux River southeast of town. It carries 184th street. The structure is 100 feet long with the main span having been 80 feet. The bridge was built by the King Bridge Company in 1894 under the direction of agent Milo Adams, and was the second of two bridges that was discovered and researched by the National Park Service in 1989. The second was at Yellow Bank Church Bridge in Laq Qui Parle County in neighboring Minnesota, built one year earlier. . Together with the Ellworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County, Iowa, the Castlewood Bridge represented an example of the hybrid form of the Thacher Truss Bridge, which was patented by Edwin Thacher in 1881.

The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 9th, 1993, yet the bridge was replaced on a new alignment by a low-water crossing in the summer of 1990. According to recent satellite view, the Thacher Truss structure is no-more. All that is left are the wing-walls and the lally columns on the west bank of the river.

This leads us to the main question: What happened to the bridge?

Research in newspaper articles and correspondences have thus far come up with nothing concrete. The exception was the plan to replace the bridge in 1989 after reports revealed that the structure was rusting and no longer able to carry traffic, which ran parallel to the research into the bridge’s historic significance. Bridgehunter.com had pinpointed the replacement date as sometime after June 1990, even though the article mentioned August 1990 as its planned replacement date.

This leads us to why the Castlewood Bridge was listed before the end of 1993. According to the National Register of Historic Places, any historic structure can be listed on the register if they comply to the requirements of historic significance. Once it’s listed, then grants and funding are made available for restoring and protecting the place, and it is next to impossible to demolish the historic place unless plausible arguments are made justifying it, which includes understanding the consequences of destroying it, which is its delisting. If the Castlewood Bridge was demolished for any reason, the bridge would be delisted from the National Register, and all records pertaining to its nomination, history and the like would be archived and made unavailable for researchers. If the bridge was replaced before its nomination in 1993, why list the structure to begin with? And if it was destroyed after its listing in 1993, why is it still listed?

This leads us to the question of what happened to the Castlewood Bridge. One has to assume that the bridge was dismantled and put into storage to be reused elsewhere. This was what happened to the Yellow Bank Church Bridge, and the truss bridge now has a new home at the historic village park south of Hastings in Minnesota. Its role is mimicking the Famous Hastings Spiral Bridge, the first bridge in the world with a loop approach. With regards to the Castlewood Bridge, the question is: Where’s the bridge? And will it be reused somewhere, if it has not been re-erected already? If the bridge no longer exist, then the question is 1. Why justify its existence on the National Register, and 2. Were any bridge parts been preserved as a historical marker?

The research about the bridge’s fate has not born any fruit to date. Therefore, the question goes straight to the locals of Hamlin County, South Dakota and the residents of Castlewood with this in mind:

“Where’s the Bridge?”

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 65: The Thacher Truss Crossing at Everly, Iowa

Ebay photo: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Iowa-postcard-Everly-First-iron-bridge-built-in-Clay-County-Ocheydan-River-1907-/141940149268?hash=item210c4acc14%3Ag%3Au7IAAOSwwpdW9ZR9

When Edwin Thacher patented his truss design in 1884, his intention was for it to compete with the likes of already well-established truss designs, like the Pratt, Warren, Parker, Pennsylvania and Baltimore, but also the more unknown types, like the Kellogg, Fink and Post, just to name a few. While there are now four Thacher truss bridges left in the United States (in Iowa (2x), Minnesota, Virginia and Colorado), we’re still figuring out how many more of these bridges were actually built since the first one was constructed at Independence, Iowa, three years before the design was patented.

 

While we’re looking for information of the one in Waverly (see article here), two fellow pontists brought this one up to the author’s attention.  Spanning the Ocheydan River west of Everly in Clay County, Iowa, this Thacher bridge was the first crossing built in Clay County, according to records. Even though Clay County was organized in 1851, Everly was founded in 1884, originally known as Clark (the name changed to it current one in 1902). Keeping the two in mind, the construction date for the Thacher was probably between 1885 and 1895, as this hybrid version was built during that time at places such as Ellsworth Ranch (Iowa), Yellow Bank Church (Minnesota), Okoboji Swing Bridge (Iowa) and the now demolished Castlewood (South Dakota).

 

The question is when exactly and whether the builder for this bridge was the same one for the aforementioned ones- the King Bridge and Iron Company? The Wrought Iron Bridge Company built the longer span versions of the Thacher truss, the ones known to bridge historians today as the real form of the truss design.  The Thacher truss crossing was eventually replaced by a pony truss bridge in 1911, a riveted Pratt type, only to be replaced by a concrete bridge in 2008.

The 1911 Everly Bridge. Photo taken by Jeff Wieland

So what more do we know about this bridge? If you have more information on the Everly Thacher truss bridge, please use the contact forms and inform Jason Smith at the Chronicles. You can also place your comments and photos in the Chronicles’ facebook pages. In either case, we have more we need to know about this unique but rare truss bridge, where despite its handful of numbers existing today, there were more built towards the turn of the Century than we thought.

Happy Bridgehunting! 🙂

Thanks to Luke Harden and Jeff Wieland for their help with this bridge. Not to worry, this mystery will be solved and Clay County will have another bridge history to the county’s name and history.

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Mystery Bridge 31: Thacher Truss Railroad Bridge in Waverly, Iowa

Thacher Truss Bridge in background. Photo courtesy of Luke Harden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few months ago, the Chronicles did a special on the Thacher truss bridges, designed and patented by Edwin Thacher and first used in 1884 in the state of Iowa. To refresh the reader’s memory, the Thacher truss is a combination of Warren, Kellogg and Pratt truss with an A-frame in the center panel of each truss span. While the Wrought Iron Bridge was reported to have built these trusses, using the exact design prescribed by Thacher, the King Bridge Company built the hybrid version of the design that resembled a Warren truss bridge with a center panel that is half the length of the outer panels.  If you count in the Phillips Mill Crossing in Rockford, the pony truss variant located west of Milford and the three hybrid Thachers in Emmet County, Hamlin County (South Dakota) and near Hastings, Minnesota, a total of ten Thachers were reported to have been built.

With this mystery bridge, as seen in the picture, let’s make it eleven Thachers.

Fellow pontist Luke Harden came across this picture of a Cedar River crossing in Waverly. According to the information, the bridge (which is in the background behind the wagon bridge) served the Chicago and Great Western Railroad and featured at least three spans of the Thacher truss. The bridge was about 400-500 feet long, looking at the picture more closely, with each truss span being about 120 feet long. The bridge served traffic until a train derailment brought down the entire structure in 1914.

Collapse of the bridge in 1914. Photo courtesy of Hank Zaletel

This means that the structure was in place for no longer than 30 years. Even more curious is the fact that the trusses were built using a combination of wood and steel, making the railroad bridge look rather unusual for the materials used for bridge construction. While bridge builders used iron and wood for construction in the 1860s and 1870s, it is even rarer to see a wooden truss bridge built using steel truss support, although one is reported to exist in Allamakee County in the Red Bridge (abandoned for over four decades).

While the bridge no longer exists- a replacement was built but only existed for another 30 years before the railroad abandoned the line and removed the bridge- piers from the structure can be seen from Adams Parkway Bridge, located next to it in the northeast end of the city. Yet more information about the bridge is needed. For instance: when exactly was the bridge built? What were the exact dimensions? Who built this bridge? And lastly what was the cause of the mishap. Any information on the bridge can be submitted using various channels including the comment section of the Chronicles.

Furthermore, information is needed for the Adams Parkway Bridge, for the two-span truss bridge existed before its replacement in 1968, yet its markings is similar to a bridge built by the Clinton Bridge Company at the turn of the century, including the portal bracings. Both bridges will be included in the Iowa Truss Bridge book, which is being compiled by the author even as this article is being posted. Any information would be much appreciated.

With this latest discovery, it leads to the question of how many other Thacher truss bridges were built in Iowa, let alone in other parts of the US. We’ll find out more as other pontists and people finding old photos will bring bridges like this one to the attention of the readers and other interested people alike.

 

Iowa Transportation Heritage Quiz II: The answers to the historic bridge questions

After providing the answers and some interesting facts about Iowa’s transportation heritage, part II features the answers to the questions dealing with the history of Iowa’s bridges, the state’s bridge builders and the engineers who left their mark in the state.Without commenting any further, here they are!

 

Which bridge is in the picture above?

Green Bridge in Waverly

Ft. Atkinson Bridge near Decorah

Red Bridge in Des Moines

Rusty Bridge near Spencer

The Kate Shelley Viaduct, located in Boone was named after a girl who was famous for this heroic deed?
She stopped a train from falling into a flooded creek
She rescued the brakeman and engineer from the train that had fallen into a flooded creek
Both a & b -> both deeds occurred on the same night in 1881. She later became station agent for the train station in Moingona, the site west of where Kate crawled across the Des Moines River bridge and where the bridge was washed away and the train fell into the creek.
She became president of the Chicago and Northwestern Railways.

Photo by John Marvig

Where was the first railroad bridge built over the Mississippi River located?
Dubuque
Keokuk
Quad Cities -> The wooden Howe through truss bridge was completed in 1856 and was located in Moline, at the site of the present-day Arsenal Bridge
Burlington

Which of the following Iowa communities did NOT have a bridge building company
Okoboji -> Okoboji was a tourist community and never had a bridge builder
Ottumwa
Oskaloosa
Des Moines

The Melan Arch Bridge, located in Rock Rapids, was the first of its kind to be built using reinforced steel rods. Its designer and inventor Josef Melan originated from which European country?

Austria -> Melan originated and spent his life in Vienna. His student, Frederik von Emperger, who built the bridge in 1894 originated from Bohemia.
Bohemia (now Czechia)
Prussia (now part of Germany)
France

Zenas King, who built many bridges in Iowa under the name King Bridge Company in the 1880s and 90s had a nephew (not son), George, who started his own bridge building business in which Iowa community?
Council Bluffs
Corning
Des Moines -> George E. King established this business in 1889 and ran it until ca. the 1930s
Davenport

Note: Zenas King did have a son who took over his business after his death in 1892. James A. King was president of the company from 1894 until his death in 1922. The company ceased operations within a year after his death and with that a 50+ year family-owned business where many of Zenas’ children and extended family members were all part of the business. More information can be found here.

Which bridge type was not developed and experimented in Iowa?
Kellogg Truss
Thacher Truss
Marsh Arch
Pratt truss  -> First patented in 1844 two years before Iowa was established as a state.

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Source: Library of Congress

Iowa was the first state in the country and the first in the world to invent and construct this bridge type?
Bowstring arch bridge made of steel
Steel girder bridge made of aluminum -> It was built in 1958 over I-35/80 at 86th Street in Urbandale. Served traffic until its replacement in 1994.
Parker truss bridge made of metal
Marsh arch bridge using recycled concrete

Close-up of Thacher Truss

Edwin Thacher patented the first Thacher truss bridge, a bridge with an A-frame in the center panel, in 1884, and the first bridge of its kind was built where?
Independence -> Built in 1884 to serve rail traffic over the Wapsipinicon River.
Rockford
Estherville
Lake Park

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Which Iowa river has the most number of steel railroad viaducts in the state
Big Sioux River
Little Sioux River
Skunk River
Des Moines River -> as many as 10 railroad viaducts still cross the river today, including the Kate Shelley, Ft. Dodge, Armstrong and Madrid Viaducts. The Kate Shelley and Ft. Dodge Viaducts are the longest and second longest along the river, respectively.

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

 Which Iowa bridge builder later made a career as a school board president?
A.H. Austin  -> He was active in the Webster City school council including his tenure as president.
Lawrence Johnson
George E. King
James Marsh

 

Author’s note: Another Iowa bridge quiz is in the making and will come soon. The state has the third highest number of (historic) bridges in the country. With that comes several categories one could write about. This is just an introduction. 

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Name that bridge type: The answer to question 1

 

 

 

 

 

And now the answer to the question of naming the bridge type. As you will recall, in a posting from last Thursday, there was a post card of a bridge that spanned the Wapsipinicon River near Independence in Buchanan County, located in the northeastern part of Iowa.  While some people may have found the answer through James Baughn’s website, there are some who are not familiar with that, nor the picture, as it was posted most recently and readers have not yet had a look at the picture until now.

I can tell you that I had written about this bridge type a few years ago as part of an essay for a history class at the university here in Germany, and there are some examples of this bridge type that still exist today, even though there are two different types of this truss type that three bridge builders had used during their days.

The answer: The Thacher Truss. In 1881, Edwin Thacher (1840-1920), an engineering graduate of Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute,  invented and patented this unusual truss type. It is a mixture of four truss types: the Warren, Pratt, Whipple and Kellogg. While the Kellogg is a Pratt truss design featuring a subdivided panel supporting the original diagonal beams that connect the vertical beams, the Thacher features two sets of diagonal beams starting at each end of the truss bridge at the upper chord- one creates a panel similar to the Pratt truss, while the other crosses two or three panels before meeting the center panel, which forms an elusive A-frame. The bridge at Independence was the very first bridge that was built using this truss design. It was built in 1881 and was in service for over 40 years. Yet after having the design patented in 1885, Thacher went on to build numerous bridges of this type, most of which were built between 1885 and 1910. He later invented other bridge designs, some of which will be mentioned here later on.

Philips Mill and Crossing in Floyd County. Photo courtesy of the Floyd County Historical Society

While it was unknown how many of these types were actually built between 1881 and 1920, sources have indicated that Iowa may have been the breeding ground for experimenting with this truss type. Apart from the railroad bridge at Independence, the very first structure that was built using the Thacher, as many as four Thacher truss bridges were reported to have been built in the state. Among them include the longest single span truss bridge ever built in the state, the Philips Mill Bridge, spanning the Winnebago River outside Rockford, in Floyd County. Built in 1891, this 250 foot long bridge, dubbed as one of the most unusual truss bridges built in the country, was the successor to a two-span bowstring through arch bridge and served traffic until it was replaced in 1958. Other Thacher truss bridges built included one over the Shell Rock River north of Northwood (in Worth County), the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge over the Des Moines River in Emmet County and the Okoboji Bridge over the Little Sioux River in Dickinson County. Of which only the Ellsworth Ranch and Okoboji Bridges still exist today.

Ellsworth
Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County. One of many Thacher trusses built in Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

On a national scale, if one counts the two remaining Iowa bridges, there are five bridges of this kind left, which include the Costilla Bridge in Colorado, Linville Creek Bridge in Virginia, and the Yellow Bank Creek Bridge in Minnesota. Two additional bridges, the Parshallburg Bridge (2009) and the Big Sioux River bridge in Hamlin County (2009) have long since disappeared due to flooding/ice jams and structural instability, respectively.  While the majority of the bridges mentioned here were constructed by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio, the King Bridge Company in Cleveland constructed the Ellsworth Ranch, Yellow Bank and Hamlin County bridges, using a different hybrid of Thacher truss that was modified during James King’s reign as president of the bridge company (1892-1922).  The Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton, Iowa built the only Thacher pony truss bridge in the Okoboji Bridge, the bridge that is featured in the next article.  While the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge remains closed to traffic and seems to be abandoned, the Yellow Bank Bridge was relocated to Hastings, Minnesota in 2007 to serve as a replica of the Hastings Spiral Bridge at the Little Log Cabin Historic Village.

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Okoboji Bridge over the Little Sioux River in Dickinson County- washed out after flooding. Photo taken in August 2011

And that is the answer to the pop quiz, even though for some experts in the field, the answer was obvious. Yet perhaps the next bridge type quiz may be even more challenging than the first one. As for the ones who didn’t know, this one should get you acquainted to the questions that are yet to come that will require some research. So let’s go to the next question, shall we?

Author’s Note: If you know of other Thacher Truss Bridges that existed in Iowa or any part of the US and would like to bring it to his attention (and that of the readers), you know where to reach him: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com or via facebook under The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. He’ll be happy to add it in any future columns, and for his project on Iowa’s Truss Bridges, it will make an excellent addition.

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