Green Bridge in Waverly, Iowa: The Bridge That Is the Face of the City


City Council pursuing Replacement Options in the Face of Opposition after a Reversal Voting


WAVERLY, IOWA- This story opens up with a comment mentioned by one of the residents living near the Green Bridge in Waverly: “River Cities work when bridges work.” This was during the time when the Waverly City Council voted to overturn a decision to repair the three-span truss bridge. Little do people realize that even modern bridges have the potential of failing during floods, and most modern bridges lack the aesthetic character as the crossing we are talking about here.


Spanning the Cedar River at 3rd Street SE, this century year old structure was built by the Illinois Steel Company, using standardized bridge designs approved by the Iowa Department of Transportation a couple years earlier. In this case, the structure features three spans of Pratt through trusses with A-frame portal bracings, V-laced overhead strut lacings with 45° heel supports and riveted connections. The total length of the bridge is 363 feet; each span is 121 feet. The width is 17 feet and the vertical clearance is 12 feet. It is unknown when the bridge was painted green, nor do we know of its predecessor, but for 100 years, this bridge provided a link between the Park districts to the south and the rest of Waverly, including the city center. Prior to its closing in 2015, the bridge was restricted to one lane of traffic, controlled by a traffic light, and the decking was steel gridded.

According to information by the local newspapers, the bridge had to be closed due to deterioration of the lower chord of the trusses, combined with cracks in the concrete piers. Much of which was caused by too much salt, combined with damages due to flooding and weather extremities. Still, the bridge retained its structural integrity and its character until most recently.


The Green Bridge has been a subject of controversy lately because of developments by the Waverly City Council. After its closure in February 2015, the city council voted unanimously in favor of rehabilitating the bridge exactly a year later, by a vote of 5-2. The original plan was to replace the decking of the bridge as well as the bearings and floor beams. The bids were later solicited with the lowest one having the cost of $2.3 million for the work. This was well under the city’s budget by about $300,000, according to the facebook page supporting restoring the Green Bridge.  Just as the bid was to be signed and contract let out, the vote for repairing the bridge was reversed- exactly one year later! Thanks to five people speaking for and six against the repairs of the bridge, plus 13 letters for the project in comparison with 9 against, the city council on 22 February this year voted against the plan to repair the Green Bridge, by a vote of 4-3.


Councilman Dave Reznicek’s comment after the vote was best put as follows: “Tonight, we’ve effectively set a precedent that we can go back and undo any vote.”  The factors that led to the reversal decision was obvious:


  1. Costs. At the time of the reversal vote, the city had too many irons in the fire regarding construction projects in the city. This included the reconstruction of several streets, including Cedar Lane and the River Parkway and bridge. While the streets were in dire need of reconstruction, the consensus is the lack of priority as to which streets are a necessity and which ones can wait. Waverly has four Cedar River bridges, but only two that are functioning: The Adams Parkway Bridge to the north and the Hwy. 3 Bridge at downtown. The Green Bridge is closed to traffic and the nearest bridge detour would be through downtown- a waste of gas and money. A fourth bridge is a former railroad crossing that is now a bike trail. A fifth bridge at Cedar River Parkway is being planned and would be the southernmost bridge in the city. The decision to reverse the repair work on the bridge set the precedent for projects that were being undertaken but are now threatened with delays.


  1. Lack of interest. With the costs for several city projects come the lack of interest from residents. The costs for such projects would come at taxpayer’s expense. Letters flooding into the city council and speeches argued that the bridge should be neither repaired nor replaced because of costs. Some argued for replacing the bridge because in the long term, it would be cost effective, even when constructing bridges at grade with the truss structure. However, even modern bridges cannot take high water too well, as seen in a couple video examples below:



Those who support repairing the Green Bridge have two really legitimate excuses: 1. It would retain the historic integrity of the structure and prolong its lifespan by at least 20 years, 2. It would be cost effective in a way that the bridge would still continue to serve traffic in its original state, meaning one-lane with traffic lights to regulate traffic.


  1. Personal interest. Politicking was another key factor in the decision to reverse the decision to repair the bridge. One of the leading opponents of the Green Bridge repair project was Edith Waldstein, who not only voted twice against repairing the bridge but rather replacing it, but also twisted the facts to win influence. In a statement after the 4-3 defeat, when members and residents demanded that the vote to repair the bridge be honored, she replied as follows: “What we approved a year ago was not to repair the bridge, it was to go ahead with the process in seeking bids.” Yet her opposition was not new, for previous projects to restore the Green Bridge also failed because of opposition in the city government. This included a task force to restore the bridge in 2003, where both the city and the State of Iowa were to split the cost. The notion seems to be that modernity is better and there is no place for saving anything antique, this despite pleas from members like Hank Bagelman and Mike Sherer to make it a referendum, despite the latter’s statement that there isn’t a consensus from people living in the district where the bridge is located.



What is next for the bridge?

If the city council has it their way, by February of next year, bid could go out to replace the Green Bridge with a pedestrian bridge, being either a concrete span or a prefabricated truss span similar to the current structure. And by February of 2019,  we will have a new crossing in place. However, despite looking at the possibilities for the new structure, the city council is not paying attention to three key components:


  1. There needs to be a crossing in the south end of Waverly at any cost. Until the Parkway Bridge is built, people are still going to have to detour in order to get to the Park District where the bridge is located.


  1. The Green Bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because of its design corresponding to the standard design introduced a century ago, plus its association with the Illinois Steel Company, one of many steel mills and bridge companies based in the greater Chicago area that contributed to the construction of bridges as part of the expansion of America’s infrastructure between 1880 and 1930. Keeping that in mind, before replacing the bridge, the city council will need to cooperate with the Iowa Historical Society and carry out environmental and cultural impact surveys, the latter in accordance to Section 106 4f of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. These surveys are time consuming and will look at ways of mitigating replacement of the bridge. As one of the members of the group advocating repairing the bridge, Mary Schildroth stated in an interview: “To those who are simply looking at the cost, we want to remind ourselves that history can’t be replaced; once it’s gone, it’s gone.”


  1. Public consensus is definitely needed in the Green Bridge project. While cooperation with state and federal authorities will be needed for the project- be it repair, rehabilitation, restoration or replacement- the input from the public over the bridge is needed at any cost. Therefore, heeding to the demands of those who have been advocating repairing the bridge- including those who had voted in 2016 but changed their minds the second time around, it is imperative that a referendum is carried out in the fall. By having people go to the polls in November, they can decide on two options


  1. Repair the bridge and if so, how?
  2. Replace the bridge and if so with what for a structure?


In addition, should the public favor option A, the question there would be whether the bridge should be reused or recycled.  One will need to keep in mind that surveys in connection with Section 106 4f will need to be undertaken before it is replaced; no circumvention is possible in this case.


Times will be interesting for the City of Waverly, as it is struggling to maintain its checks and balances, while at the same time please residents, especially in the Park District and places to the south. But one thing is for sure, the Green Bridge still remains as the key link between the south and the city’s business district, and will be even after the Parkway Bridge opens to traffic in a couple years. This is why it is important that people have a say in what they want for a bridge. And the best way to answer that question is to have a referendum. Only there can the city council plan around who votes for repairing the bridge and who votes for replacing it.  And with this referendum, there is no reversal as it happened earlier this year. Once the people have spoken, the city will have to act to fulfill their wishes and restore their reputation.


The whole story on the Green Bridge can be found by clicking here. There you can find previous articles involving the project. The Save the Green Bridge facebook page can be found here. Like to join and share your thoughts and support for the bridge. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on this bridge.

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The Bridges of Bertram, Iowa

Rosedale Bridge
Rosedale Bridge. Photo taken in September 2010

The collapse of the Ely Street Bridge a few weeks ago was a tragedy for people living in the small village of Bertram. Located east of Cedar Rapids in Linn County, Bertram has over 300 inhabitants and prides itself on it historic bridges located not only directly in the village, but also within a five-mile radius of each other. As many as eight historic bridges are located directly in or in the vicinity of Bertram, many of them are accessible by car.  They include six structures built before 1915 that are made of either iron or steel. Two of them are confirmed to have been built by a local bridge contractor. One of them is a mystery bridge, which can be seen from US Hwy. 151/ IA 13, and will be documented as such in the next article.  These bridges have received their share of visits from photographers, pontists and history junkies alike visiting the area. They were on the Saturday morning tour of the Historic Bridge Weekend last year. This makes it even more important not only to recognize them as important places of interest that contributed to Linn County’s history but also protect them from wear and tear and modernization. Already residents rejected funding from the state and county to replace these bridges last year, a sign that they want to keep their bridges from becoming history. Yet with the Ely Street Bridge down, the challenge will be not only to try and rebuild it, but also strengthen the other bridges so that they do not become the next victims of flooding. With Linn County having one of the strongest track records with regards to historic bridge preservation in the state, many people are taking comfort in the fact that something will be done to ensure these bridges will last for future generations to come.

This tour guide takes you through Bertram and the vicinity, providing you with a glimpse of the bridges you will see when passing through the area. The Ely Street Bridge has already been mentioned in a previous article, yet you can click here if you have any ideas as to how to rebuild the bridge. Blaine’s Crossing will be featured as a Mystery Bridge in the following article, which takes us down to six bridges featured in this guide, starting with:

Rosedale Bridge: Spanning Indian Creek on Rosedale Road, just north of Indian Creek Park, this bridge is one of the shortest through truss bridges in the state, with a span of 89 feet. The markings of the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge- in particular, the Town Lattice portal bracings with knee braces, “fish tail” style floor beams, and sway bracings with riveted angles- are similar to the ones at Ely Street, resulting in the conclusion that the bridge may have been built by J.E. Jayne and Sons of Iowa City. The contractor was the county’s main bridge builder in the 1890s, although only a couple examples remain in use today. 1890 was the date of construction for this bridge, even though it has not been fully confirmed. The bridge was renovated in the early 2000s, which included a paint job shoring up the rip rap and abutments, as well as the replacement of the wood decking and bridge railings (with the typically modern Armco ones), thus continuing its function as a through traffic crossing, albeit only for light vehicles.

Bertram Bridge
Bertram Road Bridge Photo taken in September 2010

Bertram Road Bridge: This through truss bridge at Bertram Road is the second to last vehicular crossing over Indian Creek before it empties into the Cedar River. Yet although the blue-colored bridge has markings typical of a bridge built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio- namely the Town Lattice portal bracings with ornamental features and builder’s plaque in the middle and a plaque with the date of construction found at each end of the portal bracing where the end posts and top chords meet, the 1876 bridge, whose main span is 115 feet long out of the total length of 192 feet, features a rather unique truss design. According to records from the Iowa DOT, the bridge is a double-intersecting Pratt truss bridge, yet one can look at it closer and argue that it is a Whipple truss with features resembling a Pratt truss bridge. The reasons are that the diagonal beams that cross two panels, going directly through the vertical posts, yet there are some that only cover one bridge panel but in a format similar to a Pratt truss.  The design can be discussed similar to the question of a beverage being half-full or half empty.  In either case, the bridge is listed on the National Register, like the Ely Street and Rosedale Bridges, because of its affiliation with one of the largest bridge builders that existed between 1870 and its integration into the American Bridge Company consortium with 27 other bridge builders in 1901, in addition to its unique but debatable design that is perhaps the last of its kind left in Iowa.

Photo by Quinn Phelan

Big Creek Bridge: Spanning Big Creek, the 100-foot long, red-colored Pratt through truss bridge can be seen either from Bertram Street or Holmann’s Road, providing a picturesque view of the structure and its wooden surroundings, year round. The bridge features pinned connections, V-laced bracings supported by riveted-connected angle supports, Town Lattice portal bracings with angle heel supports, and “fish tail” floor beams. Assumptions indicate a work of J.E. Jayne and Sons built in 1890, yet there is no real confirmation of the exact date. Yet records indicate that it was built in 1929, the date that is considered impossible because of the introduction of standardized truss bridges with riveted connections and letter-style portal bracings (such as the A, WV and M-frame style). Henceforth it must be the date of its relocation. Question is where was it originally built?  Like the Rosedale Bridge, the Big Creek Bridge was renovated recently with new paint, new flooring and new Armco railings, yet it functions as a key crossing within the city limits of Bertram.

Photo by Dave King

UP Big Creek Bridge: Northeast of the Ely Street Bridge is the two-span pony truss bridge with riveted connections. Although it can be seen from Bertram Street enroute to the Big Creek Bridge to the north, it is almost impossible to photograph it from a distance, and given the private property surrounding it, one cannot get close to it to find out the building date and detailed features. One can assume that it was built around 1901-2 to accommodate the increase in rail traffic. The two-tracked Union Pacific line, connects Cedar Rapids with Chicago to the east and Omaha to the west. It is the same line that has the Kate Shelley High Bridge, located 150 miles west of this crossing near Boone. This bridge was bypassed and replaced in 2017.

Photo by Dave King

UP Stone Arch Bridge: This bridge is the shortest of the crossings in and around Bertram. Built in 1901 as part of the double-tracking project along the now Union Pacific rail line between Cedar Rapids and Chicago, the stone arch bridge is no more than 45 feet long and 15 feet deep, spanning an unknown tributary that empties into Indian Creek. The bridge can be seen from Bertram Road, two miles west of Highways 151 and 13.


Squaw Creek Bridge: The last bridge on this tour may not be the most spectacular-looking crossing, yet it is one that warrants some more research. The bridge is a concrete slab, measuring between 90 and 120 feet long, 15 feet wide and up to 20 feet deep. Yet given its derelict state, it appears that the structure was built between 1900 and 1920, serving the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line between Cedar Rapids and Central City, 20 miles to the north. It is unknown when the line was abandoned, yet given the amount of overgrowth and the concrete deck deteriorating, it has been out of use for at least 30 years. As there are no plans for a possible rail-to-trail project, it seems most likely that the bridge will give into nature and sit abandoned until it collapses on its own, but not before some research is done on the crossing.

The last bridge on the tour is the Blaine’s Crossing Bridge. Yet this mystery bridge has a story of its own, as you will see in the next article.



Iowa Transportation History Quiz II: The Bridges of Iowa

After answer the questions to part 1 of the transportation heritage quiz,  second part is a multiple choice quiz dealing with Iowa’s historic bridges, the engineers that left their mark in the state and the types that were first experimented for use on the highways.  Answers are here in the Chronicles.  Good luck! 🙂

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 of the above
Neither nor- She became president of the Chicago and Northwestern Railways.

Where was the first railroad bridge built over the Mississippi River located?
Quad Cities

Which of the following Iowa communities did NOT have a bridge building company
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?
Bohemia (now Czech Republic)
Prussia (now part of Germany)

Zenas King, who built many bridges in Iowa under the name King Bridge Company in the 1880s and 90s had a son, George, who started his own bridge building business in which Iowa community?
Council Bluffs
Des Moines

Which bridge type was not developed and experimented in Iowa?
Kellogg Truss
Thacher Truss
Marsh Arch
Pratt truss


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
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?
Lake Park


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

Hint: Look at the picture of the Kate Shelley Viaduct.

Murray Bridge sv

Which Iowa bridge builder later made a career as a school board president?
A.H. Austin
Lawrence Johnson
George E. King
James Marsh


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Moderne ou Historique? The newly rebuilt Sutliff Bridge

Oblique overview of the bridge. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

What is modern and what is historic, when we look at bridges in general? This question is very difficult because it is based on the individual bridge and its appearance. Sometimes we cross a truss bridge that looks as old as the oldest members of the Baby Boomer generation (between 67 and 70 years ofn age) even though it was built in the 1980s. But we have crossed concrete bridges that appear to be modern, but are at least between 70 and 90 years of age. In the eyes of many people, a bridge is historical if and only if they are older than 50 years of age and it has a unique value that can be tied in with the history of architecture and as a whole, the history of the US. Modern bridges are those whose aesthetic value may be next to nill at the present but will increase over time as the bridge ages and the legacy of the bridge designers and contractors are mentioned. Modernization and history never ever mix on one particular bridge.

Or does it?

Looking at the Sutliff Bridge in northeastern Johnson County in Iowa, this debate has certainly been at the fore front recently, as the easternmost span of the bridge was reerected, and the bridge is now open to traffic. One has to take a look at the background information to understand its history. Built in 1898 by J.R. Sheely and Company of Des Moines, the bridge became the centerpiece of the village of Sutliff, consisting of a country store, blacksmith shop, outdoor movie theater, a nearby school and a park and pavilion. The three-span pin-connected Parker through truss bridge served as a main artery to the village until it was replaced in 1983. In 1984, the bridge was given to the Sutliff Bridge Authority (SBA), who converted the structure into a pedestrian bridge. 15 years later on 11 September, 1999, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with Ray Brannaman (founder of the SBA) quoting that “Our hope is that it’s never torn down.”

Unfortunately, on 13 June, 2008 at 12:23pm, the eastern Parker through truss span was knocked off its foundations by the raging waters of the Cedar River, carrying it 100 yards down the river before it became a pile of twisted steel at the bottom of the river. It was the same year that the 500 year flood took place, which inundated two thirds of Iowa and the cities of Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.  For four years, the bridge was nothing more than an island of two Parker truss spans. I was at the bridge twice in 2010 and last year providing my observations which can be seen by clicking here.

Fast forwarding to the present, October 2012, the bridge has been reconnected and is now open to traffic. It is still listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And the people are happy to see their bridge back in service, thanks to the efforts conducted by all parties involved, from the SBA to Johnson County to the state and federal government, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which authorized the use of federal money for the bridge, and the State Historic Preservation Office, which ensured that the rebuilt bridge matches that of the original structure to meet the guidelines of the National Register of Historic Places. Then there is the bridge builder, Iowa Bridge and Culvert, who reconstructed the bridge.

However, there are some features on the new structure that are somewhat different than the original bridge. Looking at the pictures provided by Quinn Phelan, the Historic Engineer’s Record and yours truly, can you identify them and post them in the comment section?

Going back to the topic of modern bridge versus historic bridges, many people have scoffed at the notion that the rebuilding of the Sutliff Bridge was a waste of FEMA money, while some preservationists have claimed that the rebuilt Sutliff Bridge is nothing more than just a modern bridge. What do you think of that notion? Do you think that the bridge was restored as much to its original form as possible, or do you think the truss span is just a plain modern span which is modern in its form? And if that is the case, do you think the newly built Sutliff Bridge represents a case where modern bridge meets historic bridge, and if so, do the rebuilt and original spans conform to each other or are they contrasting to each other?

Look at the pics and I’m looking forward to your thoughts on them. A follow up on the topic with some interview questions with parties involves will follow this article. Stay tuned.


Original eastern span of Sutliff Bridge. Photo taken by HABS/HAER
Underneath the Sutliff Bridge. Photo courtesy of HABS/HAER
The two spans that survived the floods. Photo taken by the author in 2010. More photos of the bridge can be seen here
Side view of the two surviving spans. Photo taken in 2010
Portal view of the rebuilt span. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan
Vertical posts of the original Sutliff Bridge. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan
Vertical post of the new span. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan
View of the rebuilt Sutliff Bridge taken from the porch of Baxa’s Bar and Grill. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan




How to fix an antique metal bridge: DVD on Historic Bridge Restoration by Julie Bowers

Photo taken by the author in December, 2014

Author’s Note: This article serves as a twofold function: 1. It is part of a multiple series on the Historic Bridge Conference, which took place last weekend (21-23 September) in Indiana, where the documentary was shown, and 2. This is the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Book of the Month, but in a form of a DVD and documentary. An interview with Julie Bowers on historic bridge preservation was conducted earlier this year and can be viewed by clicking here.

There seems to be a belief from many people that historic metal truss bridges cannot be restored because the metal used for the structure has outlived its usefulness, and that restoration and/or relocation is either too expensive, outdated, or is not heard of. The last part was in connection with a comment made by a congresswoman in Ohio in May of this year.
Little do these critics realize is that restoration exists for metal truss bridges, and in the case of welding, the profession is making a comeback, as there is an increase in interest in this sort of work. And for the remaining truss bridges that are still standing in the country, this may be a blessing that could buck the trend of eliminating this truss type, especially after the I-35W Bridge Disaster of 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA).
Using the Piano Bridge in Texas and the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Iowa and with the support of songs by The Grateful Dead, Julie Bowers of Workin Bridges, a non-profit organization that deals with historic bridge restoration, produced a documentary on historic bridge restoration, bringing a profession back from the dead and, with step-by-step demonstrations and easy to explain concepts by the professionals, providing educational opportunities for welders, historians, agencies, bridge enthusiasts and people interested on how to restore a historic bridge.

McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Poweshiek County, Iowa before ist destruction due to flooding in 2010. The parts were salvaged and transported to Delaware. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers

The DVD starts with the McIntyre Bridge before and after the flood that destroyed the structure in August 2010 with the question of what to do with the structure. While Workin Bridges was in its infancy when this occurred, the organization’s biggest break came with the request from the people in Fayette County, Texas to restore the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, built in 1885 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Together with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) the restoration process started, first by taking the truss bridge off its original foundations, followed by taking it apart, putting rivets on the bridge, using heat to straighten out the eye bars, and doing other work with the parts, before putting the truss bridge together and placing it back on new foundations. The step-by-step process was filmed and photographed, with experts demonstrating to the viewer how these processes work, thus encouraging people to at least look at how restoration works, but with a long range goal of taking up the profession. Welding is an old technology that was developed in the 1800s, went into hibernation for many decades, but is making a comeback in a new form, which is restoring historic places made of metal. Yet for many people, the profession is new and exciting, but should be taken seriously, as it takes time and effort to form and reform structural parts to make a building or bridge look just like new.

Piano Bridge in Texas: The bridge lift from its foundations. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers

Here are some interesting facts about welding that were in the film and are worth noting:

  1. Rivets are more effective than nuts and bolts in a way that they keep the metals intact and ensure that rust and weather extremities do not cause the metal parts to crack. One of the cracked parts discovered on the Piano Bridge led to the structure’s closing and the quest for someone to come and fix it.
  2. Heat stripping is a process of placing the torch on a section of metal, straightening it out with clamps.
  3. The Piano Bridge is made of wrought iron, which has a low heating temperature. Therefore, one needs to be careful not to have heat on a section of metal for a long time or else the material falls apart like wood. This contributed to many structures failing during the Great Chicago Fire on 3 October, 1871, which destroyed 80% of the entire city.
  4. Steel can be welded to wrought iron to ensure its stability for many years, despite claims that it can be bent to a point where it breaks.
  5. Most interesting fact: rehabilitating historic bridges means adding parts to support the structure. It does not mean restoration, as in taking apart and reassembling the structure.

While the welding process was progressing on the Piano Bridge, there were discussions about historic bridges and their fate, especially in connection with the I-35W Bridge Disaster.  While many agencies have striven to have certain bridge types eliminated, as well as those that are structurally deficient, including those in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, for example, other agencies, like TxDOT have worked to find ways to restore historic bridges and/or relocate them for reuse if deemed necessary. It is part of a two-way approach where the costs are analyzed and engineering thought is put in to determine not whether a historic bridge can be restored but how. John Barton of TxDOT denounces the knee-jerk approach to historic bridge replacement, as it has happened in many places, but claims that engineering is a way to address the variables, both systematically and methodologically and should be taken seriously.

Piano Bridge
Piano Bridge in Texas after its restoration. Photo courtesy of Workin Bridges

The film ends with some example bridges that have either been restored, like the State Street Bridge in Bridgeport, Michigan, or are targets for restoration efforts, like the Long Shoals Bridge in Kansas, the Cascade Bridge in Iowa, and the Enochs Knob Bridge in Missouri, the last two of which are being scheduled for demolition, although Workin Bridges is working to claim the Cascade Bridge to be restored. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have that article for you as soon as the series on the Historic Bridge Conference in Indiana is finished. But it shows how each bridge could be restored thanks to the demonstrations that were presented in the film.

There are many demonstrations on welding techniques that are either available online or through seminars, like the annual welding seminar offered by Vern Mesler in Michigan. The DVD takes you up close to see how historic bridges can be restored through welding techniques that exist. It provides people with a chance to see how the process works and has the dos and don’ts to welding, let alone to restoring a historic bridge. Furthermore it advocates the need to do restoration work instead of rehabilitation, setting the standards very high for reasons of safety and integrity, while at the same time, restoring the bridge is more cost effective than rehabilitation or replacement.

The video is 47 minutes long and from a teacher’s point of view, if you have a class of students of civil engineering, conservation and restoration or even architecture, it is recommended that they see the film to provide them with a glimpse of the work and to spark their interest in possibly joining the profession, which has been growing since 2008. Chances are likely that at least a quarter of the students in the classroom will be interested in the work.  And even if no one is interested in the profession and is only curious about how a bridge is restored, the content of the film is easy to understand and the demonstrations are up front and not too technical. For agencies and politicians who advocate bridge replacement, the DVD provides them with an alternative to demolition, convincing them that restoration is more cost effective and will prolong the life of a bridge for many decades to come.

Historic Paper Mill Bridge in Newcastle, Delaware.

I would like to end this review with a food for thought involving a question that I posed to many of my students: suppose you have a 120 year old truss bridge that is due for replacement and you have the following choices, which one would you take:

Replace the bridge with a concrete structure
Replace the bridge but leave the truss bridge in tact
Rehabilitate the truss bridge and leave it open to traffic?

Keep in mind the cost analysis for each option, the resources that are available, but most importantly, the interest of the people and their association with the structure. Without the interest, the truss bridge is history. Yet if the interest in saving the bridge is high, then one should look at the resources available and in particular, listen to the public and their suggestions. Chances are one of them may have seen this DVD and knows what he/she is talking about.

The DVD can also be viewed on YouTube, which you can watch below:



The Bridges of Ames, Iowa

Photo taken in August 2011

Our next post brings you to Ames, Iowa. Located 30 miles (48 km) north of the capital of Des Moines, the city of 59,000 is perhaps the engineering hub of the state. The Iowa Department of Transportation has its headquarters in the city’s business district.  Iowa State University is filled with engineering students with promising aspects in the future. And even though it is not the county seat of Story County (that honor goes to Nevada, located 8 miles (15 km) east of the city), the city is part of the triangular district, sharing with its neighbor to the east as well as to the west, Boone, Iowa, located 10 miles  (18 km) west of the city and home of the Kate Shelley Viaduct and the Wagon Wheel Bridge.

Now as far as bridges are concerned, the city, like Story County, is loaded with numerous pre-1960  bridges dating as far back as 1875, with numerous bridge types to choose from and regardless of whether they used for rail or vehicular traffic. Some of them used to cross Skunk River (located east of the city) before being taken off the highway system or relocated to a less traveled road. This includes those that served the Lincoln Highway (US Highway 30). But many of them cross Squaw Creek, which snakes its way through the city before emptying into the Skunk River in the southern part of the city.

Luke Harden, a college student at Iowa State University and a regular contributor of the Historic Bridges of the US website, picked out the top five of the bridges that one should visit, even though the selection is rather difficult. He will provide you with a tour of the bridges, with a bonus question on the part of the author: Can you match the picture I posted above to the ones he profiled?

Luke Harden:

These bridge my favorites not because of build dates or because of a specific design, or anything like that. These bridges are my favorites because they aesthetically befit the scenery in which they are located.  These bridges were places that I would visit, sit down, and do nothing but be one with the surroundings.  These bridges are simply aesthetically beautiful in their surroundings.

Bridge #1 Veenker Memorial Golf Course Pony Truss Bridge
This bridge is a footbridge located within the Iowa State University Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames. It spans Squaw Creek and it is part of the cart path and is crossed often with golf carts by users of the course. It is located in the western part of the course.  Now that corner of the course has quite a fair amount of trees. This bridge is a welded truss comprised of angle irons and was built at a presently unknown date by an equally unknown builder. The bridge itself aesthetically befits the scenery in which it was set.  The steel is thin enough that from a distance on a spring or summer day, you could hardly tell there was a bridge there until you got up close.

Bridges #2-3 Squaw Creek Railroad Bridge & 6th Street Bridge
These bridges are not too far from each other in Ames. They are only of few meters apart from each other.  The double tracked railroad bridge was mostly built in 1898 by the Lassig Bridge & Iron Company of Chicago, Illinois with one span bearing a tab/plaque for the Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The bridge replaced an earlier single tracked pony truss bridge. The 6th Street Bridge over Squaw Creek is a girder bridge that was built in 1948.  The bridges are both surrounded by trees and are located adjacent to Brookside Park and the Ames municipal skatepark and bike trail. The 6th Street Bridge was recently replaced by a newer span in 2016.



Bridge #4 Skunk River Bridge
This Warren through truss bridge was originally built in 1876 by the King Bridge Company at Cambridge, Iowa over the (South) Skunk River, where it’s piers faced issues and was eventually replaced in 1919, at which point the span was moved to this location, paired with a generic pony truss provided by the Iowa State Highway Commission (now known as the Department Of Transportation), which is based out of Ames, Iowa.  It served as a crossing of the Skunk River on a small and extremely rarely used gravel road until the bridge, along with the road, were vacated in 1990. The bridge presently sits abandoned, utilized by locals who live in the nearby residential neighborhood to walk their dogs and college students going to the first US land grant college, Iowa State University.  The bridge is located in an area that is quite scenic, and, most importantly for a nature lover of any form, quiet. The only non-natural noise that is frequently heard would be the sound of airplane engines droning as the Ames municipal airport is nearby.


Bridge #5 Squaw Creek Park Bridge
This bridge is part of a rail-to-trail within the city limits of Ames that is presently closed due to flood damage on an approach span (The plate girder itself is in good shape for a railroad bridge.).  The bridge was part of an Ames-Slater line on the Chicago &and Northwestern Railway, which was abandoned in the 1980s. The bridge was presumably built by the American Bridge Company of New York. This assumption is based upon two holes on the side of the bridge. These holes match up with known riveting/bolting patterns for bridge plaques on girder spans built by the American Bridge Company. The assumption is also backed up with knowledge that the American bridge company built extremely similar pony plate girders for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. The bridges (and the trail) are part of Ames’ Squaw Creek Park.  The views from the bridge shows you an upstream view, including the  nearby confluence of Worle Creek with the Squaw as well as well as the surrounded wooded area, and the downstream view will show you the rest of the surrounding woods. It’s a great place in Ames to just stand and watch the creek flow whilst listening to the birds chirp.

Author’s Note: This bridge was replaced in 2012.
Images linked are John Marvig’s, I have been given permission to use them:
So there you have it. My top 5 most aesthetically pleasing bridges of Ames, Iowa.

Author’s note: For more information on the bridges in Ames and Story County, you can click on the link here.  Some of the bridges I visited during my trip through Iowa last year while visiting the Iowa DOT, and I have to agree with Mr. Harden, many of these bridges are highly recommended to visit, but there are many others outside the city that deserve some visitors in one way or another.  In either case, when you are in Story County and happen to stop in Ames, take an hour or two for the bridges. You will not regret it.


BHC logo

Mystery Bridge Update: The US 101 Bridges in California

Nelson (CSAH F-14) Bridge over Willow Creek west of Dunlap, Iowa. Photo taken by Craig Guttau

In the June 7th edition of the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, I profiled the four bridges in Harrison County, Iowa that were part of a larger bridge imported all the way from California. Two of these bridges have been torn down, one is scheduled to be replaced next year, and the last of the bridges (as seen in the picture above) appears to be safe for now. Over a month and a half has passed and a round of inquiries to agencies in California have presented some new light on the history of the structure, even though there are still some questions that have yet to be answered. Some of the answers have brought some dismay on the part of the researchers who documented the four bridges in the 1990s and left many loopholes open, which through further research and dedication, these mistakes would have been avoided. Here is an update on the bridges from California, which will provide people with an insight on the bridge’s history and serve as an incentive to put the final pieces of the mystery puzzle together.

According to information provided by locals at the historical society, the origins of the four Harrison County spans came from a bridge that spanned the Santa Ynez River in the town of Buellton, a community of 4,900 residents located 25 miles west- northwest of Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara County. It is located just north of Gaviota State Park and the Santa Ynez Mountains and is the first town after passing through mountains and forest and leaving the Pacific coast heading north. The report indicated that the bridge was located near Bakersfield, but the community of 200,000 is located 70 miles northeast of Buellton. The four spans were part of a bridge that featured seven identical Pratt through truss spans and concrete beam approach spans. Construction was completed in 1917-18 at the cost of approximately $182,000. It became part of the original US Highway 101 in 1926 as the highway extended from Los Angeles through San Francisco and ending in Washington State. Interesting enough, that bridge and another arch bridge spanning a small creek, were close together and when plans were in the making to build a wider and longer structure in 1948, the creek was re-channeled so that the bridge crossed both streams. The new bridge was built to the east of the truss bridge and upon completion, the original bridge was dismantled with the spans carried away to different locations. Western Steel Cutting Company undertook this task in 1949 but later sold at least four of the spans to Highway Bridge Company in Lincoln Nebraska.

Here are some images of the Buellton US 101 Bridge both when it was being built in 1917 and when it was in use:

The following images are courtesy of Curt Cragg and the Buellton Historical Society, used with permission.


Transversal view of the bridge while under construction.
Oblique view of the bridge during construction.

This is where the story of the bridge stops. However, despite getting some answers to my quest for truth about the bridge, there are some questions out there that are still in need of some answering. We do know that the bridge was built much closer to the Pacific Coast and further away from Bakersfield than stated in the report in the 1990s. Judging by the information and the photos provided by the locals, the bridge was built in 1917 but most likely opened to traffic at the end of that year or the beginning of the next. It is unknown how the errors occurred in the report, but they are not unusual, as some surveys of historic bridges in the US conducted either by state agencies or the private sector have presented assumptions and theories, which after doing an even more thorough investigation, have been proven to be further off than expected. An example of such an error is the historical survey conducted on a bridge over the Des Moines River in Jackson, Minnesota, the Petersburg Road Bridge.  Assumptions were made during the surveys in the 1980s that the bridge, built using the same truss design and similar portal bracings, was built in the 1930s, yet further research indicated that Joliet Bridge Company constructed this bridge in 1907 and there were no further records of bridge construction at that site. The bridge was removed in 1995.

The case of mistaken identity: The Petersburg Road Bridge in Jackson, Minnesota. Photo taken in 1992 after the bridge was condemned to all traffic.









With the advancement of technology and more availability of information, researching bridges, like the US 101 Buellton Bridge has become more transparent and thorough, which serves as a blessing for many who are interested in their history, and in more cases than none, preserving them.

But time is running out for two of the remaining four US 101 spans that exist in Harrison County, and as mentioned earlier, there are still more questions to be answered which will not only round off the story of the original bridge, but in the cases of these two and perhaps the other three that were relocated somewhere else, one can prove the case and take action in listing them onto the National Register of Historic Places and preserving them for future recreational use. There have been some talks of keeping the Nelson Bridge in service while trying to salvage the East Kelley Lane Bridge (or at least parts of them), but these plans lie on the will of the locals in Harrison County, many of whom would like to see some history saved.

So here are some additional questions which might be of interest to not only the pontists and historians, but also to the locals of Harrison County, Iowa and Santa Barbara County, California. Some will require researching through the newspaper articles and records. Others will require some interviews. Here they are:

1. It is mentioned in the sources (from California) that the county either built the state structures or had signed an agreement to build them. How was it with the Buellton Bridge when it was built in 1917? Who oversaw the construction of the bridge and where did the trusses come from (bridge company and steel manufacturer)?

2. While it is confirmed that all seven truss spans were dismantled and four were sent to Iowa, what happened to the remaining seven spans? Were all seven spans sold to Highway Bridge Company, which then dispersed them to different locations, or were the three spans kept in California and erected elsewhere in the state? Who was in charge of dismantling the bridge to begin with?

3. Who were the Western Steel Cutting Company and the Highway Bridge Company and what were their roles in bridge building in the late 1940s and early 1950s?

Any leads can be sent to the author, Jason Smith at the following e-mail address: As soon as some leads show up, a follow-up report will follow.




Mystery Bridge Nr. 3: The Bridges that came from California

Author’s Note: The next two historic bridge entries deal with the bridges in Harrison County, Iowa. While the county has one of the highest number of historic bridges in the state, the uniqueness of it is the fact that a third of them were brought in from out of state in the late 1940s. Why and how are explained below.

Kelly Lane Bridge This and the following photos courtesy of Craig Guttau, used with permission


There are a number of physical and historic features that make Harrison County, Iowa a special place to visit. With the county seat located in Logan (just off US Hwy. 30, the Lincoln Highway), the county presents a day and night feature when it comes to topography. It is one of the hilliest in the state, competing with Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Clayton Counties, thanks to the area near Pisgah known as Loess Hills, which is today a state park. The area used to be a Mormon settlement in the area now known as Preparation Canyon State Park, created by Charles Thompson in 1853. It was short lived and the settlers eventually trekked west to Utah.  Looking to the south and the west of Loess Hills, one can see the flat lands as far as the eye can see. Compared to the altitude of Loess Hills at 430 meters above sea level, the flat plains, at 320 meters above sea level, is one of the flattest areas in Iowa and is part of the Missouri River basin, which starts at Sioux City and flows south towards Kansas City. At least 13 of Iowa’s 91 are located in this deep valley that is rich in farm land, but sadly beset by massive floods. The last time this area was flooded was last year, as the late spring thaw combined with heavy rains turned the Missouri River into the Red Sea, causing billions of dollars in damage and crop loss, and damaging or destroying hundreds of bridges on both sides of the river. It even closed down Interstate 29 from Kansas City to Omaha, forcing a detour through Des Moines along I-35 and I-80, respectively.

Photos courtesy of James MacCray. This one is most recent; taken in 2013 at the time of its closure

Yet the 2011 floods were not the worst of it. According to Michael Finn, who wrote about bowstring arch bridges in Iowa in 2004, the floods of 1946 destroyed almost every single river crossing in the valley in its path, including those along the Soldier, Willow, Nishnabota, Boyer and Little Sioux Rivers. That combined with the scarcity of raw materials, such as steel, and the dire state of the economy as a result of World War II and  President Harry Truman’s attempts of containing Communism in Europe at the expense of money and manpower forced the entire area back into another Great Depression, and  county officials as well as the state had to consider cheap options. While bowstring arch bridges in Crawford County and Bailey truss bridges in Harrison County and other areas were used as they use less steel than other conventional truss bridges, the state also recycled its truss bridges, relocating them to the areas that are needed the most. The reason for this measure is simple: most of the bridges were built at the turn of the century and were still in good condition. They could be dismantled and transported to the new site to be reassembled and reused for vehicular traffic. Most of these bridges were built using steel, which is light weight, durable and flexible. The counterargument to relocating truss bridges was the fact that the information on the bridges was missing or sometimes thrown away, leaving a void to finding out where the structures originated from and who built them. This led to many structures not being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making them prone to demolition.

Nelson (CSAH F-14) Bridge over Willow Creek west of Dunlap, Iowa. Photo taken by Craig Guttau

Harrison County is no stranger to bridge relocation, for at least eight bridges were imported from outside the county between 1946 and 1949. This included the Orr Bridge northeast of Missouri Valley, a Pennsylvania through truss bridge that was built in 1910 but was brought in from Kansas or Missouri. That bridge was removed in 2002. The same applies to the Gochenour Bridge over Willow River, a Pennsylvania through truss bridge that was also built in 1910 before being relocated to its present site, where it still sits to this day. But half of the bridges imported to Harrison County came from a four-span Pratt through truss bridge crossing. This is where the mystery begins.

Oblique view of the bridge during construction.

The four-span bridge features a Pratt through truss design with a three-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracings, whose origins were over the Santa Ynez River near Bakersfield, California. Built in 1918 at a cost of $181,230, the structure was 1369 feet long and was incorporated into US Highway 101, the main artery running along the coastal area, when the US Highway System was introduced in 1926. The Bakersfield Bridge carried the main highway until the increase in traffic because of an influx of people coming to California for work during the Great Depression and the second World War- and with that, the increase in cars- made the structure obsolete.

Transversal view of the bridge while under construction.

Instead of tearing the bridge down, they were simply dismantled and sold to Western Steel Cutting Company, who then sold the bridge to the Highway Bridge Company of Lincoln, Nebraska. They in turn sold the bridge to Harrison County in 1950 and each of the four 162-foot long truss spans were erected replacing earlier spans that fell to the floodwaters. The bridges were located on Jackson Street over Soldier River in Pisgah, on 340th Street over the Harrison-Monona Ditch near Little Sioux, over Willow River (as Nelson Bridge) southwest of Dunlap and the Kelly Lane Bridge over Soldier River near Mondamin. A couple examples of the Kelly Lane Bridge were provided by local Craig Guttau for the column so that one can see what the four bridges look like.

Side view of the Kelly Lane Bridge


Sadly however, the days of the original Bakersfield Bridge may be numbered very soon. The Jackson Street Bridge in Pisgah was replaced in 2004 as structural concerns justified its immediate replacement. The Monoma-Harrison Ditch Bridge collapsed due to flood waters last year and despite the potential to rebuild the structure on new foundations, the counties of Harrison and Monoma decided to remove the bridge in its entirety instead. Since April of this year the road leading to the bridge is a sackgasse.

Monoma-Harrison Ditch Bridge after the 2011 Flood. It was removed in 2013

The Kelly Lane Bridge, according to county engineer Tom Stoner, will be replaced next year, and the future of the Nelson Bridge is in doubt.

(Author’s Note: The bridge was indeed replaced in 2013, after this article was posted)

In the last decade, at least 15 of the county’s bridges have been removed or replaced without considering alternatives, such as reusing them for recreational purposes and further research on their history. Given the dire state of the roads and bridges in the area, the tend is clearly continuing to focus on abandoning roads and removing crossings in place of focusing on main highways that need the most attention. This includes US Hwy. 30, which slices through the county, running parallel to Union Pacific/Amtrak Railroad, which crisscrosses through Iowa connecting San Francisco and New York/Chicago.

This is not good news as some of the remaining bridges have the potential for becoming part of a bike trail for the towns in the county, let alone Loess Hills State Park. Only one Bailey Truss Bridge has been preserved at a county park according to Guttau, yet it does not mean that it can be the only span located there. As there are some historic bridge parks that exist in the US, including the F.W. Kent Park Complex in Iowa City and the Historic Bridge Park in Calhoun County, Michigan, Harrison County could have a park of its own, using the remaining historic bridges that are still in use but slated for replacement. This would allow for researchers to continue finding out more about the bridges imported from elsewhere, for although the records are sketchy, on the bridges imported in the county, there is still potential to find their origins.

This applies to the original Bakersfield Bridge, where two of the four relocated spans are remaining. Some of the questions pertaining to the bridge are the following:

Was there a bridge that was built prior to the Bakersfield Bridge in 1918?
Who built the structure in Bakersfield and where was the steel fabricated from?
What events occurred at the bridge?
What factors led to the replacement of the span?
How was the bridge transported from California to Nebraska before settling in Iowa?
Who was the local contractor for building the four Bakersfield truss spans in Harrison County?
What did the predecessing structures in Harrison County look like before 1945?

While inquiring about the bridge through research may help answer some of the questions, leaving the two remaining spans as they are without demolishing them, for display purposes, may be the only option left open to solving the mystery of the bridge’s trek to America’s heartland.

Source: Clay Fraser of Fraser Design

If you have some answers to these questions or have some stories to share about the Bakersfield Bridge or the four relocated spans in Harrison County, please send them to Jason Smith at  Looking forward to hearing about this interesting bridge story.

The author would like to thank Craig Guttau for the use of his photos for this piece.

Help needed: Photos, postcards and stories about Iowa’s Bridges

Durrow Road Bridge in Linn County, Iowa Photo taken in August 2011

When looking at the Durrow Road Bridge, located east of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is a typical through truss bridge built in the 1920s. Judging by its recent paint job, it has been maintained really well and on a regular basis. But while photographing the bridge, a resident on a farm place located just around the corner takes notice and decides to stop at the bridge to find out what I was doing (in reality, I was with another pontist who resides near Marion, located north of Cedar Rapids). It is from that point on, we have a nice long conversation about the history of the bridge and why it was named. The bridge was relocated here in 1949 from Cedar Rapids to replace a wooden trestle bridge and add a piece to the farmstead that is over a century old.

The main idea is the fact that each bridge has its own history and character that makes preserving it for future generations a must. Yet, bridges like this one are being replaced in favor of progress with the records on its history and its association with the local communities lost forever.  There are many books that have been written about these historic bridges. They include Dennis Gardner’s book on Minnesota’s historic bridges in 2008, using the materials of wood, stone, metal and concrete as the main pillars to the story of how the bridges were developed.  Another book on the bridges bridges in New Jersey, written by Steven Richman, portrays the existing bridges in New Jersey. And there are many books written about the covered bridges in the northeastern corner of the USA from Pennsylvania to Maine, many of them have contributed to the states taking pride on their covered bridges more than the other bridge types.

The truss bridges in Iowa, a project that has been launched, will be a book that will differ from all the books that have been written for two reasons: 1. Iowa’s bridges have been documented in books already but in bridge types only. This includes the Marsh Arch bridges, written by the late James E. Hippen in 1997 and the bowstring arch bridges, written by Michael Finn in 2004. Up until now, there are no sources that deal with truss bridges in the state with the exception of reports conducted by agencies, like the Iowa Department of Transportation, and other interested parties but are only limited in availability.  2. The focus of the book will be on the development of the truss bridges in Iowa beginning with the first crossings along the Mississippi River and in big cities, like Dubuque and Ottumwa and continuing on with the dominance of truss bridges over bowstring arch bridges, experiments with new bridge types, like the Thacher truss bridge, the role of the bridge builders, first from out of state and later from local Iowa bridge builders. It is then followed by the introduction of standardized truss bridges and how they waned in popularity in favor of concrete bridges. And finally the book will focus on the successes of identifying these bridges and preserving them for reuse. The book will feature truss bridges both past and present and their history and how they brought the communities together. This includes stories similar to the one of Durrow Road Bridge.

If you have any old photos and postcards of bridges (esp. those that no longer exist in Iowa), as well as any information and stories pertaining to the truss bridges in Iowa, please send them to Jason D. Smith via e-mail at Mailing address is available upon request.

The book project will take approximately 5-10 years to complete pending on the amount of information that comes in. But quality will outweigh quantity and the goal is to bring the history of truss bridges in Iowa to light (going as deep into the research as possible) so that the readers can understand how they contributed to the development of the state’s infrastructure, let alone to the development of their communities and farmsteads.  So if you have any information that is useful to this book, I would love to hear or see it. Thank you very much for your help.

Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County. This 1895 Thacher through truss bridge is NOT the first one that was built. There is one that was constructed earlier and somewhere in Iowa. Do you know when and where the first Thacher bridge was built? Photo taken in August 2011