Mystery Bridge Nr. 159: The Stone Arch Bridge in Nineveh, Indiana:

Photo by Mike Daffron


Following up on Sunday’s article on the Stone Arch Road Bridge is the mystery bridge located only 700 feet from the truss bridge. It’s a single span stone arch bridge spanning a branch of Nineveh Creek at the T-junction with County Highway 775 near the Atterbury Nature Preserves in Nineveh in Johnson County, Indiana. The bridge is no more than 40 feet and it had been rehabilitated just a few years ago.

The question behind this structure is when it was built and whether it was the same stone mason who built the stone abutments for the truss bridge. According to Satolli Glassmeyer, the stone abutments were constructed by James H. Pudney in 1885, Massilon Bridge Company later added the truss span in 1886. 

It is logical that Pudney may have also built the arch span at the same time, yet no records indicate this is true. This leads to the question of whether he built this stone arch bridge at the same time as the truss span or if someone else had the stone masonary experience to build the arch span and if so, when?

And with that, the question to the forum……..  Happy bridgehunting, folks!



Stone Arch Road Bridge near Nineveh, Indiana

Photo taken by Tony Dillon in 2012


There are thousands of metal truss bridges in Indiana that were discovered and documented in the 50 years James Cooper was in the field of historic bridge preservation and one could make a list of bridges that would not have existed as long as they did, had it not been for his contribution to his work. Part of the reason has to do with the fact that only a handful of truss bridges were used primarily for building purposes between 1880 and 1920, such as the Pratt, Whipple, Warren, Warren, Pennsylvania, Baltimore and Parker designs. Then we have the question of bridge builders who not only competed with each other for bridge-building contracts, but they also merged with each other and consolidated the businesses. Classic example was the creation of the American Bridge Company in 1900, which featured 28 bridge builders including Wrought Iron Bridge, Lassig Bridge and Iron Works and even Masillon Bridge Company.

Little do we pay attention to are the details of the truss bridge, such as connections, portal and strut bracings, types of beams used for the trusses, railings and most importantly, plaques and other ornaments. Most of these “decorations” indicated that the bridge builder wanted to leave their mark and make it fancier for the passers-by. In short, the more “decorations” the more likely it will be appreciated by the locals, and in terms of historic bridge preservation, the more likely it will be documented and preserved in the present for future generations to see.

In this film documentary, courtesy of Mike Daffron and Satolli Glassmeyer, we have one truss bridge that represented a classic example of a typical Pratt through truss bridge, yet its unique portal bracings and the stone abutments used for construction made it a unique structure that needed to be saved. The Stone Arch Road Bridge is located on a road where a stone arch bridge does exist nearby (will write more later), but is the more beautiful of the two bridges. The bridge spans Nineveh Creek near the community but in the Attebury Fish and Wildlife Preserves and was open to traffic in 1886. The bridge was fully restored in 2011 and has been serving vehicular traffic ever since. How the bridge was built and all the other details about it, you will find in the videos below.

Enjoy! 🙂


History in Your Own Backyard:


Mike Daffron:


Mystery Bridge Nr. 62: Paoli’s Bowstring Arch Bridges

Gospel Street Pedestrian Bridge. Photo taken by Tony Dillon in 2010

Paoli, Indiana has a few notable historic bridges, both past and present, each of which have a unique story. Apart from the now destroyed by two careless driving women carrying tons of water Gospel Street Bridge, built in 1880 by the Cleveland Bridge and Iron Company, the town had one of the longest wooden trestle railroad bridges, which was later replaced by a steel structure. Then it has these two bowstring arch bridges, both spanning Lick Creek.  Each one has welded and riveted connections with the top chord being a T-beam. Each one has a main span of 40 feet with approach spans of 30 feet each. While not confirmed, sources pinpoint the date of construction to the 1930s, although it is not clear who built the bridge and how. Given the fact that light steel was used for both crossings, it is possible that they were built using recycled steel that had been used for a historic building or bridge. This concept was used in Iowa during the 1940s in Crawford County (when many crossings that were wiped out were replaced by these bowstring arch spans) and in the 1980s when two trusses from an old building were assembled to create a crossing at F.W. Kent Park near Iowa City.

The difference  between the two crossings- at Gospel Street and at Cherry Street is the truss type. While Gospel Street has a Howe lattice truss type, the one at Cherry Street has a Warren truss type. But even that difference is overshadowed by the fact that there is not much information on the history of the two crossings otherwise- neither the exact date nor the bridge builder.

Or is there? If so, please feel free to comment or contact the Chronicles, using the contact info in the page About the BHC. Any leads will help contribute to knowing more about the bridges and why they are used as pedestrian crossings, let alone preserve what is left of Paoli’s bridge history. With two major HBs down, it is the responsibility of the city to save what is left of the town’s history, and this by knowing more about the crossings that still exist.

Cherry Street Bowstring Arch Bridge. Photo taken by Tony Dillon on 2012


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Mystery Bridge Nr. 60: Unusual Howe Lattice Truss Bridges

Photos taken by MnDOT
Photos taken by MnDOT

Our 60th mystery bridge ironically runs parallel to a highway bearing the same number running through another Minnesota county- Blue Earth! The exceptions though are the following:

  • These are two unusual bridges that have long since been recycled for reuse- at least three times over the course of 35+ years, and
  • They are located in the southern part of the county, whereas the major expressway is in the northern half, where Mankato, Lake Crystal and Janesville are located.

The bridges are similar in length and width, but the designs are rather strange. They both feature a Howe truss design but resembling a Howe Lattice portal bracing of a through truss bridge, like these bridges:

Kelly Lane Bridge  This and the following photos courtesy of Craig Guttau, used with permission
Kelly Lane Bridge in Harrison County, Iowa. Photo  courtesy of Craig Guttau, used with permission

Salisbury Bridge in Meeker County. Photo taken in December 2010
Salisbury Bridge in Meeker County. Photo taken in December 2010

The engineer behind the construction of the bridges- each being built in 1911 shortly before the standardized truss designs were implemented- used light steel, supported by thick gusset plates as seen in the pictures below:



Also noticeable were the diagonal outer beams supporting the trusses  to ensure that the trusses remained stable when the cars crossed them. This unusual contraption leads the historian to believe that despite the building date being 1911, that the truss bridges consisted of parts from an even bigger truss bridge or larger building that had existed. It was not rare to have truss bridges constructed using steel parts from old buildings, as is seen today with the bowstring arch bridges at Kent Park in Johnson County as well as the ones built in 1945-6 in Crawford County– both in Iowa. All of them are still in service serving light weight traffic. This is even more noticeable as the connections seemed to be welded together instead of pin-connected or even riveted.

Sadly, both bridges are long gone. As you can see in the links, one bridge over the slough portion of the Maple River south of Mapleton was replaced in 1978, the other east of Amboy spanning Rice Creekwas replaced in 1980. Still a lot of mysteries are left over from the bridges- namely who built the bridges and how were they built. Even more curious is whether the construction date of 1911 for both bridges were given by the bridge inventory or if they were relocated or reassembled at an unknown time.

Any ideas? Put them here in the contact form and we’ll add them to the database in the website, where the bridges are posted. More Blue Earth County bridges will come later on, as the numbers are huge and many bridges have a history of their own.

Happy Bridgehunting and researching! 🙂

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Answers to the Park Complex Questions

Photo taken in August 2011

After a brief absence due to other column items to cover and to allow people to be curious about the park, here are the answers to the Quiz provided in a post a couple weeks ago on the FW Kent Park in Tiffin (west of Iowa City) and the rooftop truss bridge. Before mentioning about the bridges and F.W. Kent Park in the quiz, some interesting facts you need to know include the fact that the park was named after two well-known people. The first was Frederick Kent, a photographer who took pictures of life on and off the campus of the University of Iowa, located in Iowa City, for over 4 decades, including his role as the college’s professional photographer between 1915 and his retirement in 1962. He was an avid birdwatcher and published a book on this topic in 1975. Plus he was a walking encyclopedia on Johnson County, which earned him many local and state accolades. He died in 1984 at the age of 90.  The other person was Ron Dunlap, who was a member of the Johnson County Conservation Board from 1970 until his unexpected death in 2010, and spearheaded efforts to restore the bridge brought into FW Kent Park during the 1980s and 90s, with the last bridge being imported in 2003. The Dunlap trail, which crosses all seven restored historic bridges, was named in his honor.

Keeping these facts in mind, here are the answers to the bridge quiz, however, there are many questions that are left open which will be answered through interviews with people who worked with these two gentlemen and posted later in the Chronicles. But in the meantime, here are some facts that will make you curious to know more about the park and the bridges….. 🙂

1. The FW Kent Park is younger than the Historic Bridge Park near Kalmazoo, Michigan. True or False? 

False. The FW Kent Park has been in existence since the 1960s with the name being carried since 1967, honoring Frederick Kent, who was a locally renowned photographer for the Iowa City region. The bridges did not come until the 1990s, with the last one being installed in 2003. The bridges at the park in Michigan were in place between 1996 and 2006, with more scheduled to be imported. Note: The Historic Bridge Park in Michigan is located just southwest of Battle Creek, home of the Kellogg’s cereal company.

2. Which of the following truss bridge types can NOT be found at FW Kent Park?

a. Pratt        b. Warren        c. Whipple     d. Queenpost

Whipple truss bridges are nowhere to be seen at the park.


3. The origin of the Rooftop truss bridge was a building that was demolished in Iowa City. Can you name the building and when it existed?

The trusses came from a car dealership in Iowa City that had existed from the 1930s until the building was dismantled. Yet the name of the dealership is unknown.

4. How many bridges can be found at FW Kent Park?

a. 8   b. 10   c. 11  d. 13  e. 15

Eight bridges can be found in the park. Of which, seven are historic bridges that were restored, while the eighth one, a Warren pony truss, is a new bridge built of wood, connected with steel plates. In terms of truss designs, apart from the new Warren pony truss span, the park features two Pratts (one through and one half-hip pony), one V-shaped Pratt pony truss, two Queenpost pony trusses, one bowstring arch and the rooftop truss span.

5. At least one bridge was airlifted to the Park. True or False?

True. One bridge, a through truss span, was airlifted by helicopter to the park in 2003 and placed on new abutments, but not before retrofitting the bridge’s width.

6. All of the bridges brought in were the ones that served traffic in Johnson County.  True or False?

True. All seven historic bridges were crossings over small creeks, including Old Man’s, Deer, Dirty Face and Eagle. Sadly no bridges came from the Iowa River, which slices the county into two, let alone the Cedar River, where the Sutliff Bridge east of Solon is located.

7. How was the Rooftop truss bridge assembled?

After finding the trusses in a road ditch outside Iowa City, workers tried successfully to refit the trusses so that they support the roadway as railings. Additional exterior truss bracings were added to keep the bridge intact. In other words, the roadway is a bridge supported by trusses.


8. What activities can you do at the park, apart from photographing bridges?

a. swimming   b. hiking   c. fishing   d. biking   e. all of the above

In addition, you can do some bird and insect watching as many species of birds as well as butterflies and dragonflies can be found in the park. Also one can find some turtles and other wild animals at the park, but beware! Hunting is not allowed.


Here is the guide to the bridges you can see at the park (click onto the names to go to the website)

Maier Road Bridge (Through Truss Bridge)

Rooftop Truss Bridge

Otter Creek Queenpost

1920 Queenpost

Bowstring arch bridge

Bayertown Road V-shape Bridge

Buck Creek Pratt Half-hip bridge

Wooden Warren Truss Bridge

Don’t forget to read more about F.W. Kent and the park’s history to understand how the park came into being. You can click here for more details.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 29 Roof truss in a park complex

Photo taken in August 2011

This next mystery bridge article takes us back to Iowa again- this time to a park complex west of Iowa City. There are some unique features that make the F.W. Kent Park in Tiffin special to the region. One of them is the number of historic bridges that were brought here and preserved. They all span various tributaries, lining up along the lake they empty into, the same lake that was created and is used for fishing and swimming. Each span has a different bridge type and a history of its own, including how it was moved here and preserved.

Like the one in the picture above. This bridge is touted as a roof-top truss bridge. Located at the very north tip of the lake, this bridge is different from all the other bridges, for it was homemade, originating from the trusses that were salvaged from an important building that was demolished in Iowa City prior to the creation of the park. It’s markings are similar to a series of bowstring arch bridges that were built in Crawford County, Iowa in 1945-6 including the Nishnabotna River crossing near Manila as seen below.
Manila Bridge in Crawford County. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

The difference is the fact that the Manila Bridge is the actual truss bridge itself with the lower chord (featuring lateral and diagonal bracing) supporting the roadway, whereas the the one at F.W. Kent Park features the trusses, used as decoration (or at least it appears to be used as that) and tacked onto the actual beam bridge itself.  Furthermore, there are alternating vertical beams in the Tiffin Bridge, while the Manila Bridge has all verticals subdividing the rhombus, thus having an X-frame for each panel.

Despite the difference between the two, the roof-top truss bridge’s uniqueness is one of the reasons why it is a sin to not visit the park if you are a pontist driving through. It is even a bigger sin if one doesn’t know about its history, let alone how the park came into being in the first place. Henceforth, before explaining about the park further, the Chronicles has created a short quiz for you to answer, integrating this mystery bridge in with the questions pertaining to the park itself. So without further ado, here are the questions, created in a hybrid fashion:

1. The FW Kent Park is younger than the Historic Bridge Park near Kalmazoo, Michigan. True or False? 


2. Which of the following truss bridge types can NOT be found at FW Kent Park?

a. Pratt        b. Warren        c. Whipple     d. Queenpost


3. The origin of the Rooftop truss bridge was a building that was demolished in Iowa City. Can you name the building and when it existed?


4. How many bridges can be found at FW Kent Park?

a. 8   b. 10   c. 11  d. 13  e. 15


5. At least one bridge was airlifted to the Park. True or False?


6. All of the bridges brought in were the ones that served traffic in Johnson County.  True or False?


7. How was the Rooftop truss bridge assembled?


8. What activities can you do at the park, apart from photographing bridges?

a. swimming   b. hiking   c. fishing   d. biking   e. all of the above


The answers will be revealed in another link which you can access here. They will be eye-openers for there are some facts that were claimed to be correct, but the truth begs to differ. Plus there will be some interesting facts about who created the park and how the rooftop truss bridge was built. So stay tuned, take some guesses and allow yourself to learn some new things about historic bridges and how they found a new home in FW Kent Park. Good luck with the quiz! 🙂

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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




Historic Bridge Conference 2012: Indiana

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo gallery:


Guiford Red Bridge in Dearborn County

Vernon Fork Bridge in Decatur County

Lost Bridge in Dearborn and Ohio Counties

George Street Bridge in Aurora (Decatur County)














Galbraith Bridge in Bartholomew County. Previously closed for repairs, it was reopened in time for the Historic Bridge Conference.

Flat Rock Creek Arch Bridge in Jennings County: one of a few in the state where two historic bridges are located next to each other. This 1900 structure is next to a 1920s concrete slab bridge.

Cave Hill Road Bridge in Ripley County

Champs Ford Bridge in Decatur County

Furnas Mill Bridge in Johnson County

Flat Rock Creek Stringer Bridge in Jennings County: located next to its successor, the Flat Rock Arch Bridge

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

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

The Bridge to Nowhere? The Sutliff Bridge Story

View from the tavern- a lonesome blick since 2008 Photo taken in September, 2010

Travelling through the rolling hills of southeastern Iowa with another pontist living in the region during the late summer of this year, we came up to this bridge and were taken by surprise at the artwork mother nature did to it. On the one hand, the great flood of 2008 amputated the eastern most span towards the nearby tavern, breaking the hearts of many who grew up at the bridge and saw how the raging waters of the Cedar River, slowly and in a torturous way, removed a piece of history during the morning hours of the 13th of June, 2008. The wreckage was later found over 500 feet down stream and removed from the river. On the other hand, the river, which eventually engulfed Cedar Rapids and took out another historic bridge in there, converted the bridge into a gift for Sarah Palin, as what was left of the three span truss bridge with a long wooden trestle approach,  were  only two truss spans and that was it. Apart from the eastern span, the entire western approach to the remaining truss spans was also wiped out, making the bridge look like that “Bridge to Nowhere” the former Alaska governor and 2008 Vice Presidential candidate had been touting- before killing it in an attempt to support John McCain and his campaign to eliminate “pork barrel” politics. If Ms. Palin wanted a “Bridge to Nowhere,” this would be the place to go- at least as long as it will remain like that.

Yes, the bridge that got indirectly received the name “Bridge to Nowhere” is the Sutliff Bridge, located in northeastern Johnson County in eastern Iowa. Going beyond the name, the three-span Parker through truss bridge with a 3-rhombus Lattice portal bracings (with subdivided 45° heel bracings) and a long trestle approach on the western end, has received a lot of national (and now international) attention, as despite the arguments being presented intensively on both sides, the dream of rebuilding the bridge has now come true. To break down this story, the article will describe the history of the bridge beginning with when it was built, how the community of Sutliff joined forces to save the bridge twice and what the plan is now for rebuilding the 825 foot long structure.

First and foremost, the name Sutliff Bridge is derived not only from the village of Sutliff, which was a ferry town at the time of its construction, but it was named after the founder of the village, Allen Sutliff. Mr. Sutliff had established a ferry service in 1838 but after almost 60 years, sandbars formed after years of transporting people and horses across the wide Cedar River making the function of this service obsolete. Henceforth, the citizens of Sutliff successfully petitioned to the Johnson County supervisors for a permanent structure across the river, which was granted in December 1896. The contract was awarded to J.R. Sheely and Co. of Des Moines and a local engineer G.W. Wynn of Iowa City for $12,000 to construct the collosial structure. When it was completed in April 1898, the bridge, whose Parker through truss spans were 214 feet each, was the longest of its kind in the state of Iowa.  86 years later, citizens rallied behind the bridge by creating the Sutliff Bridge Authority and buying the bridge from Johnson County, which had planned to demolish the truss structure as soon as its replacement bridge was open to traffic. The bridge was converted to pedestrian use and was an icon to the small village, let alone to the region. Weddings were performed on the bridge, cookouts and other events brought families and friends to this unique structure. This was until that tragic day on 13 June 2008.

Now the community, Johnson County, the state historical society and people associated with the Sutliff Bridge are coming together once again to relive the experience of walking across this unique collosial structure- by rebuilding the bridge and opening it to pedestrian traffic again. Already, despite the opposition by many who claimed that the bridge was lost and spending the money to rebuild “the Bridge to Nowhere” would be a waste compared to Palin’s campaign to build that bridge to the airport on the island during her tenure as Alaska governor, two major hurdles were made. First the engineering surveys done on the two structures standing revealed that they were structurally sound for reuse. Secondly, the majority of voters as well as the county commissioners in April 2010 voted to spend approximately $2 million to rebuild the bridge. The reconstruction plan consist of rebuilding the eastern span exactly the way it looked like before it ended up in the Cedar, except pin-connections will be replaced with riveted connections using gusset plates. Furthermore, the trestle approach and the flooring system on the two standing structures will also be reconstructed. Construction is set to begin in the spring of 2011 and is expected to be completed in 2013.  The contractor responsible for the job is another Iowa City company, VJ Construction, which has been working with other agencies in reconstructing and repairing infrastructures and buildings affected by the 2008 Flood.

At the same time, fund raising drives and events will still continue as it has garnered support from over the country. There are many ways to donate to the Sutliff Bridge Authority to help with the rebuilding and maintenance of the bridge. First and foremost merchandise on the bridge can be bought at the Sutliff Bridge (Baxa’s) Tavern, which is located just east of the bridge. One can also purchase a plank for the bridge with your name on it, if you donate more than $60. One can also give to an endowment with the Community Foundation of Johnson County, which has been working together with the Bridge Authority regarding finding financial resources to realize the reconstruction plan. Other ways to donate can be done through contacting the Sutliff Bridge Authority directly. The link is enclosed.

After photographing the bridge, we decided to grab some food at the tavern and I found yet another alternative to donating: decorating the ceiling with a dollar bill to help with the cause. Realizing I was short-changed in terms of cash in possession, I added my mark in hopes that the tiniest contribution will help the cause. However, this donation was for my little daughter as I hope someday when the bridge is rebuilt and reopened to pedestrians that we can walk across it together and perhaps have a picnic on one of the spans, overlooking the Cedar River and the village of Sutliff, and under a blue sky with a cool breeze. This would be my unique father-daughter gathering. But others probably have the same idea as I do and are waiting just as anxiously as I am for the bridge to open so that we can do it. It’s just a question of taking out our wallets and making a difference for the right cause. I know this will not be my last time visiting the bridge and to those at the Sutliff Authority, it will not be the last time you receive my support for the project, as you made all this happen because we want it to happen. And we plan to contribute further so that the reopening of the bridge will be realized soon.

Photos of the Sutliff Bridge can be seen by clicking here.

Useful links:

Photos of the Sutliff Bridge collapse can be found here:

Information on the bridge and more pictures by Jason D. Smith can be found here: