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.
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.
If you have any information, stories and photos that you care to share in the book project, please contact me via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
text Author’s Note: This is Part II of the series on the two Skunk River Bridges in Jasper County, Iowa that are threatened with their own demise after being abandoned for some time. Part I dealt with the Red Bridge and can be seen here. This parts looks at the bridge’s southern neighbor, the Monroe Bridge at the county border.
After being turned away at the Red Bridge, our next stop was the Monroe Bridge, located downstream at 126th Avenue at the county borders of Jasper and Marion Counties. Here, we got lucky and not so lucky with this bridge, built in 1899 by the local contractors, Burchinal and Hertzog. Lucky because the bridge was noticeable in view and we could park near the structure. Unlucky because we could not cross it. After being closed to traffic in 2012, workers made sure that no one crossed the bridge by digging a hole 30 feet long and 15 feet deep behind the abutments, exposing the wooden wingwalls to the extremities. Unless you are an experienced pontist, like Nathan Holth, you don’t want to attempt to jump from the ledge to the bridge in order to photograph it.
That it unless you have a reliable camera, like the Pentax 300, where you can get some long-distance photos, like I took during our stop there. The bridge features a 150-foot long steel through truss bridge with Howe Lattice portal bracings, I-beam strut bracings with 45° heel supports, and pinned connections. With the wooden approach spans the total length is 230 feet and the width, 17 feet. Yet looking at the portal bracings more closely, there are ornamental designs in the center of the bracings, where the two diagonal portions meet forming an X.
This is common among bridges built by George E. King, son of Zenas King who ran the King Bridge Company in Cleveland, Ohio. King established his bridge building business in Des Moines in the 1890s and was responsible for bridges throughout Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, built between 1890 and 1910. This includes the Green Bridge in Des Moines and the Straight River crossing at Clinton Falls, north of Owatonna in Minnesota. It is possible that the Monroe Bridge consisted of a bridge previously located somewhere else, but the local contractors brought it here to be erected at its current site. Yet judging by the design pattern on the portal bracing of the Monroe Bridge, it is possible that the local contractors may have ordered the bridge fabricated by the steel companies in the Rust Belt region, and the ornament was at their discretion. More information would be needed to support one claim or another.
The situation looks grim for the Monroe Bridge. Already a replacement bridge located 300 feet south of the structure is in the works, and it is unknown whether the bridge will be torn down after the new bridge is opened or left in its place. As mentioned in the previous article on the Red Bridge, ideally would be to restore the bridge as a bike trail crossing connecting that with neighboring Red Bridge as well as the communities of Colfax, Monroe and Pella. The other option would be to relocate it to a park in one of the nearby communities within 100 miles of the crossing. This includes the Red Rock Lake area, where some historic bridges are residing, including the Wabash, Harvey and Horn’s Ferry Bridges. The third option is to give it to the nearby landowners, where they could use it as a private path. As this concept is well received in Iowa, this could be an option to take to compensate for the land lost to the new bridge and road alignment. In either case, as aesthetically beautiful and historically significant as the Monroe Bridge is, it would be a shame to watch the bridge be reduced to a pile of rubble, when there is a chance to find out more about its history, let alone save it. Since last year, The Friends of the Red Bridge group has been looking at some ideas as to what to do with the neighbor to the north. Perhaps they have some space for the Monroe Bridge as well. Saving both may take hard work and lots of resources, yet in the end, it will save money and a piece of history for others to enjoy. And that is something Jasper County could take pride in.
The author has some more photos taken of the Monroe Bridge, to be seen in the Historic Bridges of the US website, available by clicking here.
Our 24th Mystery Bridge profile (as I counted the unusual bridge type in a salty German city as nr. 23) features not only one bridge, but as many as five, all going back to Marion County, Iowa, which houses another landmark we’ll get to in a short bit. And all of this happened by chance, thanks to a local librarian who responded to an inquiry about this bridge:
The structure featured two-spans of an identical design: Camelback Pennsylvania petit with pinned connections and Howe lattice portal bracings, located NW of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge. This bridge used to serve traffic connecting two villages along the Des Moines River: Red Rock and Runnells- that was until they were both inudated by the Red Rock Dam and through the creation of the Reservoir, a project that was completed in 1969 after nine excrutiating years of construction. How excrutiating was it?
The project required the relocation of hundreds of miles worth of highways and roadways, 80 miles of rail lines, plus uncountable amount of miles of utility and telephone lines. And it also required the construction of three vehicular crossings and a new railroad bridge: Hwy. 14 over the reservoir near Cordova Park, still holding the title as the longest and tallest bridge built in Iowa, but was built replacing an earlier bridge built in the early 1940s. Alongside that bridge was the Swan Railroad Bridge, a three-span Warren through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings that is owned by BNSF Railways, built parallel to the Hwy. 316 Bridge built at the same time. And lastly, there is the Hwy. T-15 crossing above the Red Rock Dam, connecting Knoxville with Pella, which has been the lone link since the closing of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge in 1982. However, a half dozen communities were either partially relocated or completely innundated along the way, including Red Rock, Runnels, Whitebreast, Cordova and parts of Swan. And with that, went the bridges along the way. But why?
One has to look at the motive behind the construction of the Red Rock Dam and Reservoir, for the Des Moines River prior to 1960 was a wild river that flooded frequently. Six different major floods had occurred along the river, including the ones in 1851, 1859, 1903, 1944, 1947, and 1954. The last four floods wreaked havoc on the bridges that existed, including the Horn’s Ferry Bridge (the first bridge built over the river), this crossing (whose construction date goes back to either 1897 or 1899), the Rosseau Bridge (built in 1908), the Bennington Bridge, and the Hwy. 14 bridge (built in the early 1940s). After the floods of 1944 and 47, plans were underway to control the flow of the Des Moines River, which included the Red Rock Project, but to the dismay of residents who used these crossings frequently because of their convenience from point A to point B. Many residents wanted the bridges affected by the project- namely the Red Rock, Rosseau and Bennington Bridges opened to traffic despite sustaining substantial damage because of flooding. For the Red Rock Bridge, the north span was destroyed in the 1944 flood. The Rosseau Bridge sustained heavy damage to the approach spans despite having them rebuilt on two separate occasions. Other smaller river crossings that were affected by the flooding were also in the way of the project and needed to be dismantled.
Sadly these bridges were eventually removed as the project went forward, while some crossings affected by the project became low-water crossings, meaning they did not become part of the Red Rock Reservoir per se, but as the streams flowing into the lake become flooded, the road and bridge were simply impassable. The questions involving the bridges lost to the Red Rock Reservoir and Dam were what they looked like and when were they built. This applies to the Red Rock Bridge, whose construction date is either 1897 or 1899. Therefore, here are some questions to solve this mystery:
Which bridges in the Red Rock Lake region were built in 1897, 1899, 1908 and 1912, and where were they located?
What are some facts involving the crossings at Cordova, Swan (Hwy. 14), Red Rock, Rosseau and Bennington? This includes the railroad crossing, which was also relocated?
What about the other bridges that did not cross the Des Moines River but were affected by the project?
What did the Red Rock Lake Bridges look like before they were lost to flooding and the Red Rock Dam and Reservoir Project? Any photos to support it?
Were any of the bridges in the Red Rock Region relocated at the time of the project?
Any information about these bridges and the facts about the villages inundated by Red Rock Lake can be submitted via e-mail. Yet, you can also provide some information in person at the Historic Bridge Weekend, which takes place August 9-12, which includes a meeting at the Red Rock Information Center at 2:30pm on August 11. A bridge tour and dinner at Bos Landen Golf Course will follow.
Photo courtesy of Luke Harden from the historic collections
Update on Horn’s Ferry Bridge Mystery:
It appears that the story of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge, the first bridge to cross the Des Moines River in Marion County may be solved after all. According to information from the local library in Pella, the eastern two spans of the bridge (as seen in the picture above) were lost to an ice jam in 1929, cutting off the link between Pella and Knoxville. A contract was let out to Wickes Construction of Des Moines to construct the replacement spans, and reinforce the remaining seven spans including the Camelback through truss main span. These two 1929 spans still remain today, serving as the primary observation point overlooking Ivan’s Campground. The question remains of whether the two eastern spans wiped out in 1929 were original spans or if they were built after 1881. The hunch is that they may have been replaced after the 1903 floods, but more evidence is needed to support this argument. Stay tuned!
Also: Another potential Mystery Bridge in Marion County gone by floods.
With plans wrapped up for the Historic Bridge Weekend and the events to take place in Marion County, combined with the plan to pay a loving ode to another historic bridge in Germany, a couple people brought the Horn’s Ferry Bridge up to my attention. Fellow pontist Luke Harden found an old postcard of the bridge when the entire structure was open to traffic. However, have a look at the photo above with the photos below. What differences can you see there?
The difference on the through truss span is obvious: the first photo showed a pin-connected truss bridge with M-frame portal bracings. The second and third photos showed the same bridge but with riveted connections. Yet even more obvious was with the northernmost span, the pony truss. There, the top photo showed a Pratt or Howe pony truss span with pinned connections whereas the second photo showed a riveted Warren pony truss bridge.
Looking at the facts so far, the present northernmost spans were erected in 1929 by Wickes Construction Company of Des Moines. The extension of the bridge was necessary for flooding was undermining the northern abutment causing the potential for the Camelback through truss span to collapse. Yet this concern was raised as far back as 1915 by the county, which had advocated two additional spans to alleviate the problem. The river was channeled but reports indicated that the two additional spans were added in 1929. The question is:
Did the older spans exist before 1915 or between 1915 and 1929? By answering this question, we will have a better idea when the present spans, now serving as an observation deck were built. If the spans existed in 1929, the next question is:
When were the present spans built if the older spans were built in 1929? This is important because it would undermine the argument that standardized truss bridges were introduced in 1913, which phased out pin-connected truss bridges in favor of riveted truss bridges.
Any information? Please send it to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at email@example.com and the information will be revealed then.
Sadly, one of Marion County’s bridges disappeared as it was wiped away. Why?
Mystery Bridge over White Breast Creek gone due to flooding.
Located over White Breast Creek at 92nd Avenue, the bridge’s aesthetical features made it a treat to see, as seen in a pic taken by a person travelling by bike. Records show that the bridge was located here in 1947 and was built ca. 1899. Yet more information is needed to determine where the bridge originated from and who built it. Sadly, according to locals, floodwaters took the structure out last week. More on the bridge will come, but if you have any information on this bridge, you know where to find the source for information. 😉
Each year since 2009, the Historic Bridge Weekend Conference has taken place in August or September, and each year, it has drawn in more people who are experts in historic bridges, preservation or history, as well as those who are either bridge enthusiasts or have a keen interest in how these vintage structures were built and how they played a role in American History.
This year’s Historic Bridge Weekend is coming to America’s heartland, the state of Iowa, where the history of transportation and infrastructure and the development of America as a whole go together like bread and butter. The Lincoln and Jefferson Highways meet in the state. Iowa was the first state to introduce the No Passing Zone signs. Kate Shelley made her heroic deed by stopping a passenger train from falling through a bridge washed away by flood waters.
And the bridges? Iowa takes pride in its bridge building. The first bridge designs, like the Marsh arch, the aluminum girder and the Thacher truss originated from Iowa. Numerous bowstring arches were built throughout the state. Many big-name bridge builders from Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania made their mark in Iowa, while the state had its own bridge building companies located in Clinton, Ottumwa and Des Moines, which dominated the American landscape during the first half of the 20th Century.
This year’s Historic Bridge Weekend will take place August 9th through the 12th and will focus on the eastern half of Iowa, where many historic bridges dating as far back as 1870 still exist today. Please refer to the detailed agenda at the end of this message for more information.
For those who are interested in participating in the dinner and presentations, please RSPV Jason D. Smith at the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles at: firstname.lastname@example.org or JDSmith77@gmx.net by no later than 15 July. Information on the bridge tours and the dinner and presentations will be provided through e-mail. Lodging and camping possibilities are available upon request.
Agenda: Day 1 – 9th August, 2013
The journey starts on 9th of August at the Old Barn Resort in Preston, Minnesota beginning at 10:00am, and after touring Fillmore County, we’ll focus on the northeast corner of Iowa, which includes the bridges in Winneshiek, Fayette, Dubuque and Jones Counties and features the bowstring arch bridges in the region as well as the Black Hawk Bridge, the Red Bridge, and the remaining spans of the original Dubuque bridge, built in 1868 over the Mississippi and is one of the last remaining historic bridges made of cast iron in the country.
Dinner and presentations will take place at the Stone City General Store in Stone City (near Anamosa) at 6:30pm. This event will be dedicated to James Hippen, who spearheaded efforts to save historic bridges in Iowa for over 40 years until his unexpected passing in 2010. People who worked with Mr. Hippen will speak at this event in his honor.
Day 2 – 10th August, 2013 August 10th will feature a tour of the historic bridges in the east-central portion of the state. This will include a guided tour of the bridges of Linn and Johnson Counties by Quinn Phelan, which starts at 8:30am at Palisades-Kepler State Park at Mt. Vernon and last throughout the morning. This includes a trip to F.W. Kent Park near Tifflin (west of Iowa City), where one can see nine fully-restored historic bridges, including a roof-top bowstring arch bridge, built using steel trusses from a building that was demolished in the 1980s.
Afternoon tours include visiting bridges along the Lincoln Highway, as well as the Quad Cities and can be done individually or in groups, pending on preferences.
Saturday evening’s dinner and presentations will take place at 7:00pm at Baxa’s Tavern and Grill, located at Sutliff Bridge, south of Mt. Vernon. Sutliff Bridge features two original Parker through truss spans and a replica of the easternmost span that was destroyed in the flooding in 2008. Members of the Sutliff Bridge Authority will talk about the restoration of the bridge and answer any questions the people have about the project. In addition, a pair of presentations by two important figures in historic bridges and preservation will also be provided. Day 3 – 11th August, 2013
Tour of the bridges in the southeastern part of Iowa including the bridges in and around Burlington, Fort Madison and Keokuk, as well as the bridges along the Des Moines River between Keokuk and Des Moines. Afternoon:
Meeting to talk about the Horn’s Ferry Bridge at the Red Rock Informational Center located near the site beginning at 2:30pm, followed a tour of Marion County‘s bridges and finally the last of the presentations and dinner at Bos Landen Golf Course south of Pella at 5:30pm. A silent auction will accompany the evening event. The Weekend will conclude with a night tour of the bridges of Des Moines. Day 4 – 12th August, 2013
For those wanting to see the Kate Shelley Viaduct, there will be a tour of Kate Shelley, her life and the bridge named in her honor beginning at 10:00am at the Boone County Historical Center in Boone. The 2-3 hour tour will include a tour of the Kate Shelley exhibit, a trip to the train depot at Moingona and the remains of the bridge that was washed away by flooding (the same bridge which Kate Shelley crossed before informing the tenant of a nearby bridge being washed out), and a tour of the bridges, including the two viaducts (the 1912 steel viaduct and the 2008 replacement viaduct), the (freshly remodeled) Wagon Wheel Bridge north of the viaducts (which is opened to pedestrians), the Bass Creek Viaduct, and the Madrid Viaduct.
One More Note:
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is also accepting donations for the following projects: The restoration of the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Poweshiek County The restoration of the Sutliff Bridge in Johnson County.
A donation box will be made available on each of the evening dinner events for you to make a contribution.
Note: We will have a silent auction on Sunday 11 August at Bos Landen Golf Course near Pella at 5:30pm, the same time as the dinner and presentations. All proceeds will go to the two aforementioned projects.
Donations of Info and Photos for Bridge Book also being taken:
In addition, donations in the form of pictures, postcards, information, money for research, etc. are currently being accepted for the book project “The History of Truss Bridges in Iowa” which is being written by the author of the Chronicles. An information box will be available during the Historic Bridge Weekend, but you can also contact Jason Smith in person at the event or via e-mail of you have any information about any of Iowa’s bridges that is worth entering in the book.
As the month of November comes to an end, so will be the month where all kinds of crazy events that has happened, which has to do with historic bridges and ways to preserve or destroy them. Apart from the most heinous decision not to consider a bowstring arch bridge in Nebraska a historic structure- which effectively cleared the last hurdle to tear down the pedestrian bridge which has been sitting abandoned, there are some other notables that are worth putting down here in the Chronicles’ News Flyer, along with a pair of good news and some mystery bridge items which have come to light.
Without further ado, let us start off with the fishy part:
Spanning Cypress Creek in Lauderdale County, Alabama this bridge is one of the most haunted historic bridges in the country as it was the scene of four murders and several lynchings in the past, and people can still see apparitions and strange lights when crossing the structure. Yet the 1912 Pratt through truss bridge and its history is scheduled to come down soon, as vandals have used the bridge for gatherings, leaving garbage at the scene and using the bridge decking for firewood. Despite it being considered historic by the state historical society, the county commission may have the final say in this matter because of liability issues……
Enochs Knob Bridge to come down in December
Like the Ghost Bridge in Alabama, the Franklin County, Missouri structure, featuring a Parker through truss bridge and built in 1908 was the scene of two murders, but several ghostly encounters, such as green dogs, trolls, ghosts of people killing themselves and others, and other abnormalities. While the Ghost Bridge received attention because of its dire state thanks to the vandals, this bridge was the struggle of many attempts to save as a historical marker, but unfortunately to no avail. Construction commenced on its replacement this summer, and the bridge will be removed as soon as the new bridge opens next month. However, as the bridge is still available for purchase through the local contractor, according to recent correspondence, there is a chance that the truss bridge may get a new lease on life, if one is willing to handle its history. More information about this opportunity can be found through this contact detail:
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles wrote a piece on this bridge, which can be viewed here.
Des Moines Railroad Bridge coming down in pieces
In connection with the most recent article on the collapse of two bridges and the removal of one, here is some unfortunate news on one of the bridges profiled in the article, the Chicago and Great Western Bridge over the Des Moines River in Des Moines. Due to flooding issues that has plagued the capital of Iowa in recent years (including the 2008 floods), the city decided to take action to raise the dikes along the river in down town, but at the expense of the four-span through truss bridge. This is perhaps the most logical decision given the dire state the bridge was in. According to a recent visit by John Marvig, parts of the flooring was missing due to vandalism and flooding. Bridge parts rusted and corroded to a point where new parts would be needed. And even worse, the piers on the western side of the river were crumbling at an alarming rate, setting up the stage of parts of the bridge to collapse under its own weight. Since its abandonment in 2001, there had been plans to convert it into a bike trail, but was scrapped because of its condition and flooding issues. Demolition, consisting of removing the flooring and bringing down the truss spans individually using tow cables, commenced at the beginning of the month, and the removal should be completed by June 2013. Another through truss bridge, the Red Bridge, which was recently converted into a bike trail, will be raised four feet with new approaches being added. The fate of the other five bridges in the business district is unknown at the moment.
Mulberry Creek Bridge in Kansas considered historic and should be saved; county engineer and commissioners cowing over the results
The Mulberry Creek Bridge in Ford County, Kansas features two of the original six spans of pin-connected Pratt through trusses that had originally spanned the Arkansas River in Dodge City from the time of its original construction in 1906 until its relocation in 1959. It had served a private road until a broken pin was discovered in May 2012, closing the bridge indefinitely. A month later, the county voted unanimously to tear the bridge down and replace it with a culvert. Two months later, the bridge came to the Chronicles’ attention and that of Workin Bridges and the Kansas State Historical Society. Three days ago, the Kansas Historical Society considered the bridge historic and recommended that the bridge be repaired and reopened to traffic, based on historical findings and the thorough investigation by Julie Bowers and crew at Workin Bridges. A clear victory for a potential owner, Wayne Keller, who lives next to the bridge and uses it regularly. Yet the county commissioners are not backing down on their plan as they have ordered a full inspection of the bridge to determine what other issues the structure has that could justify its demise. Many have considered them to be spoiled sports, not willing to give the bridge to Keller to own. A tiny repair before changing ownership can save thousands of tax payer dollars. Yet the ability to do the math seems to be nonexistent. More information to follow.
The bridge is up for nomination for the Ammann Award for best photo. More will come soon. The Chronicles has an article on the bridge, which can be found here.
Cascade Bridge’s Future in Limbo
Located in Burlington, Iowa and built in 1896 to commemorate the state’s 50th anniversary of its statehood, the Cascade Bridge is the only bridge in Iowa that features the Baltimore deck truss span with no steel approaches- that honor goes to the Kate Shelley Bridge in Boone County. It was closed in 2008 due to structural concerns, but despite being listed on the National Register, an engineering report by a consulting firm in September revealed that the bridge is not safe and should be torn down. Yet the bidding process still continues as some parties are begging to differ, given the fact that the firm only visited the bridge once during its inspection and used photos provided by the city. The bridge’s fate now lies in the hands of the SHPO in Ames and up until now, no decision on its future has been made. A blessing or a curse?
Despite the ugly sides of the historic bridge preservation story, we do have some bright sides for a couple of bridges that are worth noting:
Gilliece Bridge on the move?
Located over the Upper Iowa River on Cattle Creek Road in Winneshiek County, Iowa, the Gilliece Bridge (which also goes by the names of Murtha and Daley) is one of only two bowstring through arches left in the county, and one of only three left that was constructed by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company, if one counts the queenpost portion of the Upper Bluffton Bridge that was spared demolition earlier this year. This is despite the fact that Wrought Iron Bridge constructed over two dozen bridges in the county between 1870 and 1890. The 1874 bridge sustained damage to its overhead bracing over the years, yet despite the plans to replace the bridge next year, it seems that this bridge is destined for a golf course in Mitchell County. If all repairs are made and the agreement is made, it will be placed over water at Sunny Brae in the next year or so, to be made available for golfers and visitors alike. More information will follow. The Chronicles is working on a piece on Winneshiek County’s bridges and will have it available very soon.
Waterford Iron Bridge gets a check-up; restoration on the horizon
A contract was let to Workin Bridges to look at options for restoring the bridge. Built in 1909 by the Hennepin Bridge Company in Minneapolis, this 140 foot long Camelback through truss bridge is scheduled to be restored and incorporated into a bike trail network along the Canon River, with work expected to start next year. The question that is on the minds of many involved is how to restore it. New foundations, removal of pack rust, fixing truss beams and repainting are needed, but the total cost is unclear. The investigation has started and more will be revealed once the check-up is finished. The fortunate part is the Waterford Bridge is coming off two victories in the funding part, winning the American Express Prize and the Bronze Medal (and $95,000) in the Partner’s for Preservation Award last year, in connection with additional support from public and private sectors, something that is rare in the world of historic bridge preservation. But once the restoration is completed, it will be worth more in its own value than money can ever offer.
More information on the bridge can be found here. Please note, the photos taken by the author can be found here. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.
And lastly, we have some news out on a pair of mystery bridges that are worth noting:
Pearson and US 101 Bridges related?
As mentioned earlier this year in many bridge articles, Harrison County, Iowa is one of a few counties in the state that imported many bridges from outside the state, including some high quality aesthetic bridges, such as the (now extant) Orr Bridge, the US 101 Bridges from California, and the Pearson Bridge, all of which can be seen here:
Some information about two of the mystery bridges came to light thanks to information from one of the locals. The Pearson Bridge, which spanned Soldier River on 170th Trail near Loess Hills, was originally constructed at the site of the East Kelley Lane Bridge near Mondamin, according to Craig Guttau. The Pearson Bridge was relocated to the present site in the 1950s, when one of the spans of the US 101 Bridge replaced it for reasons of structural soundness, especially when heavier farm equipment needed to cross the bridge. Even more interesting is the fact that a weight limit was imposed on the East Kelley Lane Bridge right from the beginning due to a missing beam from the US 101 span, which was replaced with a makeshift beam that was not as durable as the original one. The East Kelley Lane Bridge is set to be replaced next year, unless the fiscal cliff issue in Washington delays the project indefinitely. The Pearson Bridge has long since been removed after a heavy vehicle tried crossing the bridge, and fell through the deck. While it has been a few years since the mishap, the county and state made haste in condemning the structure and tearing it down, while at the same time, posted even stricter sanctions on the rest of the bridges to ensure that the mishap never repeats itself. Hence the phrase “Obey the weight limit or this bridge will be closed!”
This leads to the request for more information on the origin of the Pearson Bridge- whether it was built in Harrison County or imported from outside even earlier than 1950. The other question is when and how did the accident on the bridge happened, which led to the bridge’s unfortunate downfall…..
The Harrison County bridges are being considered for the Ammann Awards in the category of Mystery Bridge, although it is unknown whether they will be nominated individually or as a group of bridges.
Horn’s Ferry Bridge revealed (at least partially):
In the last few months, some readers and locals have been contributing information and photos pertaining to the Horn’s Ferry Bridge in Marion County, Iowa and its unfortunate collapse 20 years ago. Here are some points to consider: The bridge was built twice: First time in 1881 and when erosion was undermining the east end of the bridge, two additional spans were built in 1929. Both by local contractors based in Des Moines. The original 1881 spans were built on stone piers supported by walnut pilings. According to many residents, the walnut pilings rotted away, causing the stone piers to crack and spall, contributing to the bridge’s closing in 1982 and its eventual collapse in 1991. The Camelback main span resembles a span that was located upstream, west of Red Rock Dam. Yet that bridge was removed when the Red Rock Dam was built in the 1960s. Here is a pic that Daryl Van Zee sent to the Chronicles a few months ago, taken by an unknown photographer and depicting the bridge as it was before its collapse.
1. Voting will begin for the Ammann Awards beginning 3 December. A number of entries have come in within the last few days. If you still want to submit, you have until 3 December to do so.
2. There will be some catching up with regards to the Book of the Month in December, as three books will be profiled, two for the months of October and November and one for December. Stay tuned.
Going back to the eastern end of Iowa, we are back in Marion County, where the next bridge profiles features not only one bridge, but as many as four! One mystery bridge, one extremely haunted one carrying a dead end low maintenance road, 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, 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.
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 last year, I took a trek through the region to photograph the bridges in the region. There were five historic truss bridges that I found and spent some time on taking some pictures: The Horn’s Ferry, Wabash Railroad, Harvey Railroad, Belle Fountain, and Eveland Bridges. However the focus is on the last three bridges as they are relevant to the topic. 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.
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:
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 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.
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.
Eveland Bridge: The last 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.
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 town of Harvey, 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.
Author’s Note: The Wabash Railroad Bridge will be featured in a separate article for a different reason.
When it comes to mystery bridges, there are two types of mysteries that exist with regards to historic bridges: 1. A historic bridge that existed in the past but there is no information on its location, let alone when it was built (or rewording it, information from oral sources probably existed, but they have long since moved on), and 2. The bridge existed but in pieces that are visible today but with little or no information as to why it was reduced to a fragment of what it once looked like when in service. The Horn’s Ferry Bridge in Marion County belongs to both categories as this article will explain further.
According to information found on the bridge via information plaque, the Horn’s Ferry Bridge was the first bridge to cross the Des Moines River in Marion County when it opened to traffic in 1881, replacing a ferry which had previously crossed the river since 1865. The structure featured the following bridge types going from west to east: six-Pratt pony truss spans (each being 100 feet), a 200-foot Camelback through truss span, a 140-foot riveted Pratt through truss span and lastly before reaching shore, a 90-foot Warren pony truss span. The bridge was closed to traffic in 1982 when a new crossing at the Red Rock Dam (located 700 feet upstream) was built, but remained open to pedestrians until the night of 31 August 1992, when one of the stone piers collapsed, sending 300 feet of the bridge into the river in a slow, agonizing motion. For safety reasons, that section, plus three additional Pratt pony truss spans were removed, while at the same time, to assure there is a connection for cyclists and pedestrians, a mail-order Pratt pony truss bridge was constructed by the Continental Bridge Company of Alexandria, Minnesota, approximately 300 feet north of the original crossing. Today, the remaining four spans of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge- two 100-foot Pratt pony truss spans on the west side at Ivan’s Campground and the Pratt through truss and Warren pony truss spans on the east end at Howell Station Campground remain in tact and function as observation decks overlook the opposite banks.
The bridge was first spotted via Google Map as I was planning my US trip in the spring of last year, but from the Red Rock Dam, where county highway T-17 crosses the Des Moines River, it is easy to see the crossing, let alone access it from the two campgrounds. Yet taking a closer look at the bridge, one can see there are some questions that are left open to be answered. Some of which can be seen in the photos below. First and foremost, the bridge was one of the longest wagon bridges to cross the Des Moines River in Iowa at 1000 feet. (some other bridges, like the Wagon Wheel Bridge near Boone and the crossings in Van Buren County are either close to the bridge’s length or even longer). A wagon bridge means that the bridge was originally built for horse and buggy and later modified to accommodate cars and trucks. Yet the information is lacking with regards to the bridge builder, let alone what the bridge originally looked like before the structure collapsed in 1992. Therefore the bridge was not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, nor did it appear on the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Historic Bridges website, which has been unavailable for some time. In the minds of many, the bridge was put to the backburner until my visit in August last year, when I photographed and posted photos of the bridge on James Baughn’s Bridgehunter website. Since then, calls have gotten louder from those interested to pursue the inquiry. But…
Perhaps one can also help solve the clue to another mystery located next to the bridge. At the two ends of the now converted observation deck are wood pilings sticking up vertically from the river to make it look like piers used for another bridge crossing. Both of them appeared to have aged greatly as wood splits have appeared in the piers and are spalling. Could it be that a temporary bridge was built to assist construction crews in removing the wreckage from the 1992 disaster, or are these remnants of an even older span? It is possible that the pilings were also used to guide ferries across the river prior to the bridge being built. In either case, the quest to solve these two burning questions remains open and will be the case until someone steps up to assist in the information.
Questions about the Mystery Bridge:
1. Who was the builder of the Horn’s Ferry Bridge and what did the bridge look like before 1992
2. What do the pilings next to the bridge tell us in regards to its history: Was there a bridge built beforehand and if so, what did it look like? Was it part of the ferry service that had existed before the bridge was built in 1881?
3. What was the cause of the bridge collapse on 31 August 1992?
Please send the answers directly via e-mail or to the The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles page on facebook and as soon as the respondents provide the clues, the answer will be posted. Photos (esp. of the bridge prior to 1992) are strongly encouraged as long as you provide the source so that I can note this when posting them. Thanks!
Photos of the bridge can be seen via Bridgehunter.com, which you can click onhere.