This bridge is part of a series dedicated to the works of the late James Cooper and J.R. Manning. All photos here are courtesy of the latter, who visited the bridge in 2013.
Eagle Center, Iowa- All it takes is a quick turn onto a gravel road and it all goes down hill from there. All the way to the end and you will find this hidden gem. You cannot drive your car over it because it is too fragil. Hence the barriers and signs saying road closed. Yet you can walk or even bike across if you are careful. The bridge is a through truss, with typical truss design and portals- Pratt and Lattice with heels. You don’t know about this bridge except for its metalic beauty, yet the construction of the bridge corresponds to the history of bridge building during the Gilded Ages- 1870 to 1910. You wonder what can be done to keep the bridge in tact because the structure appears stable and look into ideas on how to keep it in place, even though the road is less traveled and it is hidden in areas often ignored by motorists passing by.
And this is the story behind the W-Avenue Bridge in Tama County, Iowa. Tama County has a diverse collection of truss bridges like this one, most of which can be found along Wolf Creek. Yet this one sticks out as a bridge that has a potential for reuse, even in its current location. There is not much to talk about the structure. The bridge is a typical Pratt through truss with pinned connections built after the turn of the century. It was built in 1903 by George E. King, son of Zenas King who operated his business in Cleveland, Ohio, yet the younger King had established his business in Des Moines and populated the state with bridges with his own signature portal bracings (Howe lattice with subdivided heels). The bridge had a simple life, serving local residents and farmers………
…….until its closure in 2011.
We don’t know the underlying reason behind the bridge suddenly being closed to traffic except for some inspection reports from bridge firms specialized in modern bridges, like Schuck and Britson with its lopsided report on the Cascade Bridge in Burlington, which led to its closure in 2008. Such biased reports and scare tactics are common but following them like lambs to the slaughter house makes structures like this one be dangerous, when in all reality, the bridge is simply fine. Just a few minor repairs and extra special care and the structure would have remained open today.
Or is it closed?
During his visit in 2013, J.R. Manning took a chance to visit the bridge and saw that even though the bridge was out, according to the sign, it was anything but that with missing boulders, signs knocked over and the like. Some of his observations showed that the bridge was in relatively good shape and one could just have simply put a weight limit on the bridge to keep the trucks off of it. The decking was covered in asphalt and there was no real structural issues that would have justified its closure. In other words, the bridge could have taken a few more years of traffic, assuming that cars cross this location which were rare on this stretch of quiet road
Three years later, new barriers were put into place, but one can walk across it, take some pictures and enjoy the scenery that surrounds the bridge, given the fact that it’s tucked away in the valley. Today, the road to the bridge is all covered in grass but the bridge is safe and sound, hidden away and unused except by the local farm nearby. It makes a person wonder whether the bridge will remain as is given its condition or if it will be reused elsewhere. In any case if it remains where it is, it will make for a good bike trail crossing or park. It’s a matter of sprucing it up and making it safe for use. But given its location, it should not be a problem to spend a few thousand for that.
Whether the people will use it or not depends on the will to spend some time down there. The bridge may be out but it’s still in use for those who want to spend time in the nature, along a quiet creek like Wolf Creek…
Our next bridge tour takes us to the city of Frankfort. With a population of 27,600 inhabitants, it’s the capital of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the county seat of Franklin County. Frankfort is home to Fort Hill, an important post that played a role in the Civil War. It’s now a monument and park complex. The city is situated at the junction oft he Kentucky River and Benson Creek, and contrary to common beliefs, Frankfort was not derived from the name of the German city of Frankfurt but of Frank’s Ford, a crossing and salt mill that were established by settlers out of Bryan Ford (now Lexington) but was abandoned after an attack by the Native Americans in the late 1780s. The plot is across the river from the tract of land purchased by James Wilkinson in 1786 which later became known as Frankfort.
Our focus of the bridge tour is on the remaining truss bridges that span both Benson Creek and Kentucky River. Subtracting our bonus bridge at Devil’s Hollow Road, all but one bridge in Frankfort was built before 1895. The lone bridge built after that period was built in the 1920s and became part of a dual bridge crossing complex. When visiting Frankfort and its bridges, you will be amazed at what you will find there, including these crossings:
Built in 1881, the Taylor Avenue Bridge is the last crossing over Benson Creek before it empties into the Kentucky River. The structure is a pin-connected Whipple through truss bridge with Howe lattice portals and angled knee braces. Unusual for the pin-connected truss span is the square-shaped pin nuts used for connecting the truss beams. The bridge is the third crossing at its original site for the first crossing was a covered bridge built in 1871. Nine years later, it was moved to the Red Bridge site at Devil’s Hollow Road and an iron bridge was built in its place, using the abutments from the covered bridge. It collapsed before it was completed and was subsequentially replaced with the current span, even though it is unknown which bridge building company was contracted to build the structure. The Taylor Avenue Bridge served traffic until its replacement on a new alignment at State Highway 1211. The truss span was rehabilitated in 1996 and has since served pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge survived the 2010 floods, as water levels rose halfway up the truss span- miraculously without a scratch!
The Broadway Avenue Duo Bridges:
When traveling along the Kentucky River on Taylor Avenue, one will be greeted by the Whipple Truss structure. Yet he will be awed by this duo crossing complex at Broadway Avenue. It features two through truss crossings over the Kentucky River, but there have been five crossings at this place over the past 170+ years. The first two crossings featured covered bridge spans. The first crossing was destroyed by the Confederates during the Civil War in 1863. At that time, Frankfort was occupied but the Union troops later successfully liberated the city after it was held captive for over a year. The second covered bridge was washed away by flooding in 1867. It was decided that an iron bridge must take its place. The third crossing featured a multiple-span Fink through truss bridge. Built in 1868, it had served traffic for 30 years until a steel through truss bridge, the Pratt span with Town lattice portals, replaced it in 1898. Rail traffic had started using the Fink truss span until its replacement. It was then shifted onto the 1898 span. In 1928, the American Bridge Company built a massive, multiple-span crossing right next to the Pratt through truss span. It features two truss spans- a Pratt and a Pennsylvania, each with riveted connections. Rail traffic was shifted onto that span in 1929. The Pratt span was then converted to vehicular traffic and raised several feet to avoid flooding. The duo spans have a total length of over 600 feet across the river. Currently, the 1929 span is serving rail traffic, while the future of the 1898 span is up in the air. It has been closed to traffic and fenced off completely, yet given its unique history, especially in connection with the railroad, there is hope that the Pratt through truss span is rehabilitated and put to use in another life form- for recreation.
The tallest and perhaps the longest single span truss bridge in Frankfort is the Singing Bridge. The bridge spans the Kentucky River and carries Us Hwy. 60 into the historic business district of the city. With a span of 405 feet long, it is the longest remaining span of its kind left in the country that was built by the Cleveland-based King Bridge Company. The bridge was built in 1893 and has been rehabilitated twice- the last one was in 2010. It’s a pin-connected Pennsylvania through truss bridge with Town Lattice portals and heel bracings. It’s unknown how tall the bridge is, but estimates point to somewhere between 25 and 40 feet tall. Sans plaque and gothic railings, the bridge still retains its unique feature- a metal grate girder, which makes a humming noise when crossing the structure. Hence the nickname- turned official name, the Singing Bridge. 😉
The last truss bridge featured here is the Red Bridge. It spans Benson Creek and is located seven miles west of Frankfort along State Highway 1005. The single-span, pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, with Town Lattice portals and curved heels, was built in 1896 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, replacing a covered bridge that had been relocated to this site from the Taylor Avenue Bridge spanning the same creek. Interestingly enough, that covered bridge span replaced the first bridge that was also covered, but christened the name Belleport. That structure collapsed on April 30, 1880 due to flooding and was replaced with the second covered bridge from Frankfort. It remained in service until King built this span. In 1980, the replacement span was built alongside the truss bridge. Since then, it has been left standing and has maintained its structural integrity. It’s eligible for the National Register and there is hope that this bridge will be rehabbed and reused for pedestrian purposes.
To sum up the tour, five well-known truss bridges are worth seeing in and around Frankfort. While three of them are seeing some use, there is hope that the other two will follow suit in the near future. Each structure has a unique history that is important for the city of Frankfort, especially because of King and Fink. Yet even with the historical facts, it is up to the people to decide what to do with them. When looking at them, I really hope that people will see the value in these structures as I do, as well as the rest of the bridge community.
There is a facebook site devoted to these bridges which you can click on, visit and contribute. Check it out:
In response to the latest 10-year anniversary campaign on bridges used for music albums, one of the readers sent a request to expand the campaign to bridges being used as a form of advertisement. When we understand bridges and advertisements, we think of print ads from over a century ago where bridge builders placed ads for bridges that are available to be built where people need them. One of the leading bridge builders who aggressively marketed bridges to vast areas in the US was the Wrought Iron Bridge Company before it folded into the American Bridge Consortium in 1901. Another was the King Bridge Company, where after Zenas‘ successful campaign in marketing and building bridges, his son George continued on with the tradition. In both instances, print adverts led to successful contracts and in the end, several examplaries still exist throughout the US
Enter the age of TV and electronic media and we see bridges being used as a backdrop for commercials- namely, non-bridge commercials, mostly dealing with cars. Two examples can be seen here. The first one is a 1960s car commercial where a covered bridge was used as a backdrop for a new car:
The second was a Super Bowl advert by a tire firm, where fallen trees and a beaver played a role in saving the driver’s life, keeping him from being washed away on a truss bridge:
The question is, what other bridge adverts have you seen, regardless of print or electronic? Feel free to share your stories and videos both here in the comment section or on the Chronicles‘ facebook or twitter websites. The stories and the adverts can be enclosed via link and can be explained in any language, be it English, German, French, Japanese, Arabic or any other language. The image of bridges in an advert is everything. It’s your turn now…….
Don’t forget, we’re also collecting stories in the following areas below:
Looks can be deceiving in this week’s Pic of the Week. This photo was taken in August 2011 and showed a car that wanted to cross this historic through truss bridge, only to be stopped by a Road Closed sign and a bunch of weeds. A tunnel view shot with some colorful reactions from the driver, which starts with …………
You finish the sentence. 😉
About the bridge itself, the Pratt through truss structure spanned the East Branch of the Des Moines River just off US Hwy. 169 north of the Humboldt-Kossuth County line. It was built in 1895 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio and was one of only a handful of bridges left in the state of Iowa that was built directly by Zenas King. His son George E. King established his bridge building company in Des Moines and was responsible for dozens more, many of them are still standing today. Closed in 2010, the structure was removed during the Winter 2016/17. More information and photos of the bridge can be found here.
Some additions and expansions of the Chronicles is getting in full gear as we’re receiving a wider selection of the audience. This includes new social network pages and a couple pages on the wordpress menu. This is one of them.
In 1984, Victor Darnell created a directory with a list of American bridge builders and the dates of their existence, based on the data found through research by historians on the local, state and national levels. It was later expanded by James Stewart, who provided not only detail about the builders listed, but also included the names of other smaller bridge builders that may not have contributed much on a regional level, but did do on a local level. A link to the guide can be found via link here.
Yet, thirty-plus years later, we still have more bridge builders that were not listed in the Darnell category, and we still have a lot of questions about the ones listed. Examples include the Continnental Bridge Company and its gap during the bridge building era, the question about the number of bridges built by Raymond and Campbell in Minnesota and Iowa, and even the question of more involvement of bridge builders in the Minnneapolis, Pittsburgh or even Chicago schools, as documented by prominent bridge historians, like Stewart, Fred Quivik, Eric Delony and others. From the author’s perspective, the key questions we need to know about are the following:
Who founded the company and what was his/her profession prior to that?
How long did the company existed? Did it expand or fold under the pressure of competition?
What characteristic features of the bridge company can be found on the structures in terms of design, portal, plaques, keystones, etc.?
Which bridges were built by the company and where are/were they located?
What about the role of bridge builders in other countries? Did they bring their expertise to the United States, like Ralph Mojeski did, or did they remain competitive on their native soil?
While extensive research has been done with the main companies, like King Bridge Company, American Bridge Company, and the Champion Bridge Company, more is needed for the other companies, whose history is full of holes, resembling Swiss cheese. For those wishing to find out more about the bridge company for their research, a library with a detailed list of bridge builders is the starting point.
Henceforth, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has just created a directory of Bridge Builders which can be found on its wordpress page (click here for details). Here, you can find information that has been written about them, categorized in alphabetical order and classified in brackets where they originated. Also included are the dates of their existence. The essays and other facts come not only from the Chronicles itself but also from different websites. All you need to do is click on the bridge builder you are seeking, and the information is right at your finger tips; included are examples of bridges built by the company, even though there were perhaps more than what is presented.
Apart from additional bridge builders that will be provided by the Chronicles, both based on previous research on the US ones as well as those currently being researched in Europe, the Chronicles is also taking articles and essays of bridge companies, engineers and the like that have not been listed yet. If you have a bridge company that you researched and would like to have posted on the Chronicles page, please contact Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles, using the contact details below. Please include examples of bridges built as well as either a couple photos, links to the bridges or both if you have some that are related to the company. They will then be added to the directory.
The list provided at the moment is not complete, but more bridge builders will be added as the weeks go by. Only you can make the library bigger. So if you have a bridge company worth adding, we’re looking forward to reading about it. After all, another researcher, historian, teacher or even enthusiast will be thankful that you contributed on the research.
1870s Whipple through truss bridge found after decades of abandonment
FORT RILEY, KANSAS- Finding bridge relicts is like going on a treasure hunt: You never know what you find until you open the box hidden for many years to see what’s inside and know more about the origins. Bridgehunting has become a popular hobby among historians, photographers and even those who enjoy the great outdoors, for when finding the bridge, you would like to find more information about it.
It can also be a curse, for when more people visit the bridge you find, the more likely the property owners will find ways to keep them off the land where the bridge is located, even if it means tearing it down. This was the case with the discovery of the Spring Hill Bridge in Warren County, Iowa. Within a year after I found the abandoned bridge, it was removed from the scenery for good. This was despite the fact that it was on a minimum maintenance road owned by the county.
With the discovery of the Clarks Creek Bridge near Fort Riley, Kansas recently, which has become of furor for discussion on its historic significance and design, there is hope that the bridge can be listed on the National Register of Historic Places; ideally restored for reuse. The bridge is located on an abandoned portion of Humboldt Road north of I-70. The structure was spotted via Googlemaps back in August, but it took the effort of Nick Schmiedler to get to the bridge to see for itself what it looked like.
And for him, he found a diamond in the rough that is now one of the bridge candidates for this year’s Ammann Awards. Here are some facts about this bridge that are of interest. The bridge is a Whipple through truss, constructed of iron and is between 120 and 170 feet long. The portal bracings are Town Lattice with curved heel bracings. A plaque on the bridge indicates the work of the King Bridge Company of Cleveland with a construction date of the 1870s. When exactly the bridge was built is unknown, yet this bridge could be the oldest Whipple through truss bridge built in the US, as most of King’s bridges up until now have dated back to the 1880s. Furthermore, most of King’s bridges built between 1875 and 1920 have consisted of Pratt through truss, thus making this spana rarity to find. It is unknown when the bridge was abandoned, but overgrowth has dominated the structure, thus making it difficult to photograph it. The bridge is on private property and there is no indication of whether and how the owners wish to preserve the bridge- not yet, that is.
Do you know more about this bridge? Click here to the bridgehunter.com website and post your comments. You can also contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles by using the e-mail address in the Contact Details. The more information needed, the more likely the bridge would warrant being posted to the NRHP, and furthermore, the more owners and other interested parties can take advantage of financial benefits and experts neededto restore the bridge. Some more pics taken by Mr. Schmiedler are below but you can find more on the bridgehunter website.
When Edwin Thacher patented his truss design in 1884, his intention was for it to compete with the likes of already well-established truss designs, like the Pratt, Warren, Parker, Pennsylvania and Baltimore, but also the more unknown types, like the Kellogg, Fink and Post, just to name a few. While there are now four Thacher truss bridges left in the United States (in Iowa (2x), Minnesota, Virginia and Colorado), we’re still figuring out how many more of these bridges were actually built since the first one was constructed at Independence, Iowa, three years before the design was patented.
While we’re looking for information of the one in Waverly (see article here), two fellow pontists brought this one up to the author’s attention. Spanning the Ocheydan River west of Everly in Clay County, Iowa, this Thacher bridge was the first crossing built in Clay County, according to records. Even though Clay County was organized in 1851, Everly was founded in 1884, originally known as Clark (the name changed to it current one in 1902). Keeping the two in mind, the construction date for the Thacher was probably between 1885 and 1895, as this hybrid version was built during that time at places such as Ellsworth Ranch (Iowa), Yellow Bank Church (Minnesota), Okoboji Swing Bridge (Iowa) and the now demolished Castlewood (South Dakota).
The question is when exactly and whether the builder for this bridge was the same one for the aforementioned ones- the King Bridge and Iron Company? The Wrought Iron Bridge Company built the longer span versions of the Thacher truss, the ones known to bridge historians today as the real form of the truss design. The Thacher truss crossing was eventually replaced by a pony truss bridge in 1911, a riveted Pratt type, only to be replaced by a concrete bridge in 2008.
So what more do we know about this bridge? If you have more information on the Everly Thacher truss bridge, please use the contact forms and inform Jason Smith at the Chronicles. You can also place your comments and photos in the Chronicles’ facebook pages. In either case, we have more we need to know about this unique but rare truss bridge, where despite its handful of numbers existing today, there were more built towards the turn of the Century than we thought.
Happy Bridgehunting! 🙂
Thanks to Luke Harden and Jeff Wieland for their help with this bridge. Not to worry, this mystery will be solved and Clay County will have another bridge history to the county’s name and history.
Despite the decking being added, there is still work left to be done with the bridge. A press release by the group shows you the details of the progress, what is next with the project, how much money is needed to complete the last phases and how you can help put the final touches on the project. The press release includes some photos and a cool video provided by Nels Raynor of BACH Steel showing how the new decking is being added. Here’s the release as of 4 April 2016:
In a stunning development, the Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge® newly appointed officers decided on April 1, 2016 to leave the group managed and funded by NSRGA / Workin’ Bridges. Julie Bowers, Executive Director of NSRGA, was informed of their decision on Saturday at Bunker Mill Bridge by Henry Swantz. While we applaud their efforts to start a new non profit company to work with the bridge, under advise of counsel, until they are recognized as such, with the solid financial and insurance backing that they need, their efforts with the bridge ownership are over, and the representatives to our board from FBMB – Doris Park and Scott Allen gave up their rights as board members”, stated Julie Bowers. “I’m not sure they realized what they were doing when they decided to leave but we’ve seen this before when people that are working together get a title. However, the executive director needed more official help and it seemed to be a good time for that change. The new officers appointed were Travis Yeggy, President and Scott Allen, Executive Director, Mike Riddle, VP, Doris Park, Secretary and Irma Altenhofen, Treasurer. With the consent of the core group they decided to go rogue. They didn’t want to stand behind the binding legal agreements and promises held by NSRGA and FBMB. NSRGA / Workin’ Bridges (W’B) is the legal owner and contractor for the project and will continue to work the bridge project as money and scheduling permit.
We are hopeful that the new non profit will work to find collaborators within the county and region to build a bigger and better park for northern Washington County. NSRGA / Workin’ Bridges will donate $1000 to help get them started. We will not use any of the $1680 in donations that recently came in for bridge construction for that. W’B is really geared to be interim owners of bridges, and our insurance is realized because of the experts that we use to engineer and restore our bridges. This bridge was to be the first to become one of our bridge parks. Once the Bunker Mill Project is complete, we hope to have many conversations on it’s future. We’ve found, especially with this project, that we need to keep construction separate from the friends groups and local politics. Most friends groups don’t have the expertise to pull off such large and expensive projects, that is why the county allowed us to take on what they didn’t want, because we had those credentials. This is our mission, to preserve historic bridges and greenbelts, and with our growth we are pleased to be able to help an Iowa bridge.
Workin’ Bridges, in an effort to move the project forward in January, encouraged the group to reach out for donors. W’B invested $21,000 in materials and roughly $20,000 in labor for BACH Steel to bring the bridge this far, after their donated time installing stringers. Bowers wants people to understand that while we have come a very long way towards our goal of “Crossing the English”, we are not there yet. Another $30,000 will be required for repair of rail on the approach and the new railing system on the bridge. A wing wall for the south approach is being designed and engineered, and once ready we will bid that work. The north approach, while it held the weight of the JCB, has more spongy planks now. Funding will drive the schedule for completion. Portal gates will be installed on the bridge in order to keep those interested in the project safe until it is finished. We don’t want anyone falling off the bridge in their excitement. The bridge was engineered for recreational use, a maintenance truck, horses and buggies and people for the future, but it is limited in what it can do. The easements were acquired for the preservation and protection of the bridge only.
Each of the easements, Miller, Ehrenfeldt and Stumpf have different requirements. The Millers wanted nothing on their side, the Ehrenfeldt’s wanted no trespassing signs posted but no fence to keep folks out of their land. In the Stumpf easement, the area was vacated by the county in 2013 to Mr. Stumpf in order to grant us that last easement. At the time and in a meeting, the area was staked out and none of our easement touched Nutmeg Avenue. He has asked us to limit the access of folks coming from the north directly onto his property. Just yesterday someone came out at 5 am to try to walk over the bridge and that made us realize that the bridge park must be controlled more, and that was one of the areas that FBMB was to be working on before they voted to leave the services that we have provided behind. Stumpf has put an offer on the table for a purchase the “Catholic 40” as it is commonly known. Our binding agreement with Stumpf allows for a gated fence that will help us define the park boundaries on the south side. He would also allow the gates open for our regular Tuesday events (that won’t take place this summer) and for special events or visiting Sundays for the Amish. There is no further road vacation needed which only came out on discussions with Stumpf that should have happened years ago. Our south side friends that have enjoyed the bridge and the road will be able to continue to do so. We hope to see them in the middle soon, but in the meantime we have to go back to work to make more money to finish the job. Donations made to FBMB will continue to be tax deductible and if they flood in the schedule will move up. NSRGA has reached out to the Natural Heritage Foundation of Iowa, part of the Land Trust Alliance to help us define what a park would look like and what signage and posted hours need to be. Other groups would also be interested in a collaboration and if partners can be found for a REAP grant, the area could be managed the state DNR as we know the County Conservation Board is not interested in managing a park near Kalona.
Questions can be directed to Julie Bowers, Executive Director of NSRGA / Workin’ Bridges at firstname.lastname@example.org or 641.260.1262.
DES MOINES- While work will eventually be underway to replace the Grand Avenue Bridge over the Des Moines River in Iowa’s state capital, with a faux pas arch bridge design that is presenting a controversy among the city’s population, work on preserving the Green Bridge over the Raccoon River at 5th Avenue near the junction of the major river is ongoing and very tirelessly. Already decided, apart from renovating the three-span Pratt through truss bridge built by George E. King, is to narrow the roadway and include observation decks on the bridge, fundraising for the bridge is already underway with a pair of options to choose from:
The Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department, together with the Des Moines Register newspaper and Bike World Bike Store in Des Moines are sponsoring the 28th annual Mayor’s Bike and Run this Saturday, April 18th beginning at 8:00am. The race will start and end at City Hall and will go along the trails through downtown Des Moines. To participate in the competition, it is $5 for children ages 5-18 and $25 for adults. You can pre-register before April 17th. Otherwise at the gate, it is $35 per person. A raffle drawing will be included in the race. All proceeds will go towards the restoration of the bridge. For more information and to register, please click here.
The Des Moines Community Foundation is also collecting money for the project. If you are interested in donating for the project, you can send money to the following address:
Des Moines Community Foundation, 1915 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309.
When submitting a check for the amount, please place in the subject line: “Friends of the Jackson Street Bridge” (That’s the original name of the Green Bridge). All donations are tax deductable and all the money collected will go towards the project.
The Ray Gun Site is also chipping in on the donation by selling the Jackson Street Bridge t-shirts. They are $21 per shirt and are available in various sizes. To order, please click here. The design of the shirt is similar to some of the photos submitted to the Green Bridge’s facebook website.
At the present time, $2.5 million is needed for the restoration efforts, and every cent matters, no matter where it comes from (within the US or even outside the country). There are many other options open as to raise money for preserving the bridge. If you have an idea worth sharing, please post it on the Save the Jackson Street- Fifth Street Pedestrian Bridge’s facebook website or contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles using the contact form below. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will continue to keep you posted on the developments involving the Green Bridge and results of the fundraising that is going on even as the article is posted.
Bridge to become part of a city bike trail. Potential for other steel truss bridges to follow suit?
WINTERSET, IOWA- The Bridges of Madison County: Home of its covered bridges, one of a handful counties in the United States that has at least a half dozen of them. Built between 1867 and 1885, there were once 19 of these wooden housed structures spanning the North, Middle and South Rivers as well as numerous streams. Today only six of them remain, all of which are considered nationally significant, and each one has its own park and rest area to allow people to enjoy the bridge and the natural surroundings.
Madison County also has numerous truss bridges made of steel, and one of them is about to become part of a bike trail. The Valley View Trail Bridge, located four miles west of I-35 and two miles southwest of Bevington,has been closed since 2008 and has sustained significant damage to the approaches thanks to flooding that occurred in 2008, 2011 and 2013. The banks of one of the approach spans was washed away to a point where it resembled a diving board. Yet the 120-foot long bridge, constructed in 1911 by the Iowa Bridge Company and features a pinned connected Pratt through truss span with M-frame portal bracings and V-laced overhead strut bracings is seen by many locals as a rarity nowadays. Therefore the county is expanding its historic bridge heritage by including this bridge as part of a recreational complex. The plan is to place the bridge over a spillway being constructed at Cedar Lake in Winterset, which it will serve as a bike trail surrounding the lake. While costs are being calculated even as this gets posted, the county has already received funding from Iowa Dept. of Transportation (DOT) which will cover the cost for relocating the bridge.
The reuse of the Valley View Trail Bridge for recreational purposes has started a question about the possible use of other steel truss bridges in the county. There are as many steel truss bridges in the county as they are the covered bridges when their numbers reached its peak with 19 in 1920. Some of them have already been decommissioned and taken off the road system, yet there are some others that are approaching the end of their service, despite most of them being built during the Depression era. The relocation and reuse of the Valley View Bridge may serve as an incentive for the county to consider reusing these bridges and bring their histories to the forefront, making the county not only the place of covered bridges, but also the place of bridges built of steel with the help of bridge builders, steel welders and railroaders responsible for molding the bridge parts in the mills, transporting them by rail and erecting them on site. With the number of truss bridges becoming a rarity, the county might have to consider this option once the Valley View Bridge is relocated and reopened for cyclists and pedestrians.
There are seven bridges worth considering for reuse apart from the successful plan involving the Valley View Bridge. These bridges are as follows:
Located over North Fork Clanton Creek a mile south of Limestone Rd. between US Hwy. 169 and Clark-Tower Road, this bridge is one of the shortest of the through truss bridges in Madison County, as well as Iowa. The 80-foot long Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings was built in 1909 by local bridge builder SG Hunter Iron Works Company of Atlantic, Iowa, the bridge is perhaps the last example of its kind. Yet since its abandonment in the late 1980s, the bridge has become derelict. Relocation is possible, yet it would require dismantling the structure and doing some major sandblasting before reerecting it at its new home.
Located over Clanton Creek at 282nd Trail, this bridge is a classic example of a series of truss bridges built by the King Bridge Company because of its portal bracings, as well as the inscriptions on the diagonal and vertical beams and the builder’s plaque. The bridge was relocated to this spot in 1952 and has been here ever since. The bridge has seen its better days as the decking has been removed to keep everyone off the bridge. Yet the bridge appears stable enough to be relocated without disassembly.
Located over Middle River at Fox Trail (CSAH G-47), five miles southwest of Winterset, this 157-foot long riveted Camelback through truss with West Virginia portal bracings represents a great example of a truss bridge built using Iowa state highway standards introduced in 1914. The bridge was built by another Iowa firm, the A. Olson Construction Company based in Waterloo. Two dates of construction make this bridge a controversial topic: 1935 according to the National Transportation Records and 1951 according to records by Iowa DOT. The hunch is that this bridge was built in 1935 somewhere else and was relocated here in 1951. Still in use, this bridge has potential to become a National Register landmark in the next 15 years because of its unique design that is becoming rare to find.
Located three miles north of Winterset and one mile east of US Hwy. 169 over the North River at North River Trail, this 122-foot long riveted Pratt through truss bridge features an M-frame portal bracing similar to many structures built by a bridge company Wickes Engineering from Des Moines. Yet this structure was built in 1932 by Ben Cole and Son, located in Ames, just 25 miles north of the state capital along Interstate 35. The question is whether Ben Cole did business with Wickes prior to 1932. This will require some research to find out. Yet the Wickes style of bridge is becoming rare today, for despite having an average of three of these bridges in each county, the numbers have dwindled down to just above 10% remaining in Iowa. The bridge is still in use but has some potential of being reused once its time as a full-service bridge runs out. The bridge is located six miles west of another covered bridge, the McBride Bridge, which was destroyed by arson in 1983. The instigator, who confessed to the act as response to losing his true love, eventually did social work to make up for the incident- working as a bridge inspector at a county highway department!
Bevington Park Road Bridges
Located along Bevington Park Road between Bevington and St. Charles, this stretch of highway features two nearly identical trusses, located only three miles apart. Both feature riveted Pratt through trusses with M-frame portals. Both were built in 1932 by Ben Cole. Both have similar lengths of the main spans- ca. 125 feet. And both have the same color of a rustic brown. The only difference: One is located over the Middle River just outside Bevington and south of Iowa Hwy. 92; the other is over Clanton Creek, two miles north of St. Charles. They’re still open to traffic but once their service ends, they are potential candidates for reuse as they exemplify as early modern truss bridges built during the Depression era, using Iowa State Highway standards, which were later used in bridge building, especially during this difficult era.
There are as many pony truss bridges in Madison County as they are through truss bridges. This bridge is located just east of the Holliwell Covered Bridge, southeast of Winterset. Given the eyebar connections as seen in the photos taken by James Baughn, this bridge may be one of the oldest in Madison County, let alone in western Iowa. Yet as written as a mystery bridge in the Chronicles in 2011, there is a lot to learn about this bridge (see article here). As there are three pony truss bridges already preserved as bike trails in Madison County, like the Cunningham, Miller and Morgan Bridges, this bridge would be a perfect candidate for trail use, regardless of whether it is in place at the Holliwell Covered Bridge (which would make much sense given the bridge’s value and location from Winterset), or if it was relocated to Winterset, as was the case with the Morgan and Miller Bridges. In either case, the bridge serves as a historical compliment to an even more popular Holliwell Bridge.
If these examples are not enough for people to take action and make the county an even bigger and more popular tourist attraction, then they should visit the county. After visiting historic Winterset, the John Wayne Birth Place and Museum and the six covered bridges, plus the site of the former McBride Covered Bridge, they should click on the links to the above-mentioned bridges, plan a trip to these structures, armed with a camera and some paper and have a look at them. Then start a movement to save the remaining truss bridges and repurpose them for recreational purposes. While covered bridges are one of the key symbols of American heritage, bridges like the ones mentioned here are just as valuable because of their contribution to the development of the US as a whole, and in this case, Madison County on the local level. The Valley View Trail Bridge project is just the beginning of a potentially bigger project to preserve what is left of these truss bridges. And if the county and state work together with private groups and those interested in these artefacts, then there will be another reason to visit Madison County in the coming summer months. Furthermore, Iowa just might have another completed preservation project on its long and storied resumé of preserved bridges, whose movement started with James Hippen in the 1970s and has been very successful since then.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on the Valley View Bridge project as well as any other developments involving the historic truss bridges in Madison County. The author would like to thank Mitch Nicholson of Abandoned Iowa and James Baughn of bridgehunter.com for allowing use of the photos. All information are courtesy of IowaDOT, whose director, Matt Donovan is to thank for his help.