While we’re talking Bridgehunter Awards and Best Kept Secret, I would like to address this bridge as this week’s best pic. The Green Valley Bridge used to span Three-Mile Creek a mile north of Green Valley. It’s four miles north of Marshall, the county seat of Lyon County. It was a Warren pony truss bridge with riveted connections and vertical angles, having been built in 1931. While it is unknown who built the bridge, during my visit in 2010, I saw that there used to be a plaque on the end post, which had been removed years before. Henceforth it is most likely that if there was any information, it would be in the library at the State Historical Society or in the bridge archives at MnDOT (both in St. Paul).
Nevertheless, while going north to hunt bridges, the bridge was visible from MN Hwy. 23 and given the vast amounts of snow we got during the trip, the bridge was definitely worth the stop. While the area is flat enough that one can see the horizon as far as the eye can see, this bridge exemplified a typical wintry rural setting: a horizon full of trees lining along the river, telephone poles and drifts of snow. It had a serene setting where as long as the structure was left alone, it can serve its purpose.
Unfortunately, with an expanding cityscape like Marshall, combined with age, it was never meant to be left as is. It was removed in 2017 and replaced with a concrete slab bridge, serving as a reminder of progress at the expense of nature and enjoyment. Going past there in the winter time nowadays, if one stops for a visit, there’s no doubt that the photographer would be disgusted at the bland structure that has taken its place. If this is making America Great Again, then maybe they should reread the history books on how America became great to begin with.
The 75th mystery bridge in the Chronicles takes us to a small but empty town of Beloit, in northwestern Iowa. Located on the Big Sioux River just east of Canton, Beloit was founded in the 1880s and was once a bustling community of almost 2,000 inhabitants. It used to be famous for its state children’s orphanage. Founded in 1890, the orphanage owned over 400 acres of farm land and had cared for over 1000 boys and girls ages 12 and under before closing down in 1944 and relocating to Ames in 1949. Augustana College was also located in Beloit for awhile before moving first to Canton and eventually to its current location in Sioux Falls, 30 miles up the river. Beloit was also a railroad hub, having served passengers coming in from Sioux Falls, Sioux City and even Rock Rapids. With all of them now gone, the community that used to have over 2,500 inhabitants (counting the orphans and college students) has now become a ghost town with not more than 20 residents living there and a lot of empty and dilapidated buildings and places that used to hold fond memories of what Beloit used to be like back in days of horse and buggy as well as the railroad.
Many people connected with Beloit in one way or another may be familiar with the Beloit Bridge, our mystery bridge. Located over the Big Sioux River, this bridge was the lone crossing serving Beloit for almost 80 years, yet little is known of who built it, how long it was and whether there was a predecessor- either a wooden/iron bridge or a ferry. We do know that the bridge was a Pennsylvania through truss with M-frame portals thickened with V-laced bracings, and pinned connections. It was built in 1897 and for 74 years, served traffic in the community. It is unknown how long the bridge was but estimates point to somewhere between 200 and 300 feet for the main span plus the approach spans. Records show that anyone going across the bridge faster than a walk was fined $10, which is equivalent to $300 in today’s standards. A plaque used to exist on the portal bracings, as seen in the picture below, and its design matches that of a handful of bridge builders that had once populated the state with through truss bridges. This includes A.H. Austin, Clinton Bridge and Iron Works, and King Bridge Company. Given the high number of Pennsylvania truss bridges built in the state, all money is being bet on Clinton, but research and a lot of luck is needed to confirm this. The plaques were removed in the 1940s and have not been seen ever since. Perhaps with the closure of the orphanage, they were simply taken off the portals and given to someone as a keepsake ornament.
But what else do we know about the bridge? The dates of its existence and its connection with Beloit is clear. But who built the structure and was there one before that? If you have pictures and information that will be of some help, please contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles and share some stories. The Beloit Bridge has a key role in the existence of a once thriving farm community and one that brought children, college students and even visitors together during its rather short existence. While we know a lot about Augustana College and the children’s home, plus many historic buildings that served customers, this bridge is definitely part of the community’s heritage and through your help, we can solve the mystery of the bridge that connected Beloit with the outside.
This (and the next) Mystery Bridge takes us back to Lyon County, Iowa and a couple pictures I came across of this bridge, whose information is missing. Here’s the story behind the Golf Course Road Bridge (also known as Two Mile Bridge), located north of Rock Rapids:
During the Winter Break of 1998, I took my camera and did some bridgehunting along the Rock and Big Sioux Rivers, looking for the location of this bridge. As seen in the map below, the bridge used to span the Rock River north of the site of its replacement and the golf course. It was a seven-panel Pratt through truss bridge with riveted connections. The portal bracings are Lattice-style, consisting of two-storied rows of three rhombus Howes. 45° heel bracings are found at the bottom of the portals as well as at the overhead struts, which are V-laced. According to records from the Lyon County Highway Department, the date of construction is 1900, although given its age, it could be that it was constructed much earlier in the early 1890s, for at the turn of the century, most through truss bridges used one-row Howe Lattice portals, as well as portals with lettering, such as A, W or even M-frames. The total length of the bridge was 244 feet, 130 feet belonged to the main span.
Sadly, the bridge was replaced by its current structure, a three-span concrete girder bridge with a curved roadway, in 1980. Its total length was 300 feet and still today, serves county highway A 16, the main access to Rock Rapids and the golf course to the east of the Rock Rapids. The bridge was built on a new alignment and the old structure was removed once it was opened to traffic. The steel cylindrical piers can still be seen today as the area is now privately owned but controlled by wild overgrowth.
We still don’t know when exactly it was built or whether there was a previous structure in its place. The builder’s name was not mentioned in any of the county records, however newspapers and oral history can help solve this mystery. Can you help? Leave your comments here or contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles. The pic can be seen at the Historical Society as they too are looking for some information on the bridges in and around Rock Rapids. This includes the crossings to the south of town and between Rock Rapids and Doon. If you know of any bridges in that area as well as photos, you can contact the Chronicles as well and they will be added to this page, as well as forwarded to the museum.
In the meantime, if you want to visit what’s left of Two Mile Bridge, a map with some pics taken by the author are below:
Our 70th mystery bridge keeps us in Iowa but takes us almost to the other corner of the land of corn and farming, namely Lyon County and in particular, this bridge. While doing some research on bridges in the county many years ago at the Lyon County Historical Society in Rock Rapids, I came across a photo of a through truss bridge, whose span collapsed on one end. My first speculation was that the bridge had spanned the Big Sioux River at the Hidden Bridge Wildlife Area, located seven miles west south west of Larchwood and five miles west of West Central Lyon Schools. The reason behind the speculation apart from the name was because of the roads that led to the river, even though the structure had been removed decades before.
Fast forward to December 2014, when fellow pontist John Marvig visited this bridge, and one can see that the previous assumption was proven wrong. The bridge still stands, but with two spans- both being riveted Pratt overheads with A-frame portals, built using Iowa highway standards- but one of them still broken down and in the Rock River. The bridge is located on what is left of Grant Avenue between the communities of Doon and Lakewood Corner, the latter of which only exists in the history books. Little do the pontists realize is that the now abandoned road and the bridge itself was once part of a legendary railroad that had once traversed through Lyon County but is still talked about today at the museum. That is the Bonnie Doon Railroad.
Owned and operated by the Chicago, Omaha and Pacific Railroad, the railroad line started at Doon, at the junction of the Great Northern Railroad (now owned by BNSF), the line would make an “S-curve” along the Rock River, and after a stop at Lakewood, would cross at this bridge before heading north past farmsteads and cemetaries before stopping at Rock Rapids. A brief description of the trip according to a written account by Galen Lawrence can be found here. The passenger had the option of taking the line further north to Luverne, which required crossing two tracks running through town. The Bonnie Doon line was in operation for 50+ years until the last train travelled it in 1932-3. The line was never properly maintained and was subject to vandalism and derailments. By 1933, thanks to the coming of the automobile and the expansion of the highway system in the US, the Bonnie Doon line was abandoned with the tracks removed. Some remnants of the line can still be seen today along Grant Avenue as well as in and around Doon, which includes two abandoned culverts, remains of the original crossing here at this bridge and some crossings that could not be removed and had to remain.
It is unknown when this bridge at Lakewood was built in its place, let alone what the original Bonnie Doon crossing looked like. Yet given the introduction of the Iowa highway standards for truss bridges beginning in 1914, the two-span crossing was probably brought in during the 1930s as part of the plan to repurpose parts of the Bonnie Doon Railroad line. Whether it was built from scratch or relocated from another place remains unclear. What is clear is given the somewhat straightness of the road and the nostalgia involving this line and its history, the community of Doon and the township decided to repurpose the railroad as a road for travellers and farmers and provide a wider and safer crossing. It basically served as an alternative to travelling K.T. Highway to Rock Rapids, which is today known as US Hwy. 75. According to the US geographical maps, the road continued its service until the end of the 1960s when the north approached was partially washed away by floodwaters. It is unknown when the southern truss span collapsed partially, but the road and the bridge itself were closed off and abandoned by the early 1980s.
The bridge at Lakewood is a mystery in itself because of its association with the Bonnie Doon rail line and the histories that are being collected, especially with regards to this crossing. We have no idea what the original Bonnie Doon crossing looked like when the trains were in service, let alone when the road trusses were installed to replace the railroad bridge. We do know that the current crossing appears to have retained their structural integrity and could easily be repurposed as a bike trail crossing, even in its original place if one wants to revitalize the line as a bike trail. But given the lack of funding for even bridge replacement in Iowa, that project is, at the most, in the pipeline and it could take years until Bonnie Doon comes alive again for cyclists to use.
Do you know more about this bridge? Put your comments in the section below, post them on the Chronicles’ facebook page or send them to Jason Smith at the Chronicles. Information will be updated as they come in.
Rock Rapids was the central hub for railroads between 1880 and 1930 with three railroads passing through the community of 2,300 residents. Apart from the Omaha Railroad, another north-south line passing through was the Illinois Central, which connected Orange City and Sioux Falls, stopping at George, Edna and Beaver Creek (MN). The Rock Island Railroad was the lone east-west line going through Rock Rapids, connecting Sioux Falls with Estherville, stopping at Little Rock, Larchwood, Lester and Granite. Each one had a bridge crossing the Rock River. After the ceasement of the Bonnie Doon Line, the Rock Island abandoned its line through Rock Rapids in 1972 and eventually went bankrupt in 1980. The Island Park Viaduct, located east of the Historical Society and was part of the Rock Island line was converted to a bike and pedestrian crossing in 2008. The Illinois Central line was abandoned in 1981, but its crossing is still being used by the local public works facility. Eventually it too will become a bike trail crossing because of its proximity to a nearby park.
The Chronicles would like to thank John Marvig for discovering this bridge and bringing the topic on Bonnie Doon back to life.
Located in southwestern Minnesota, Lyon County, with its county seat being Marshall, prides itself with its ice cream in Schwann, athletics and academics through Southwest State University and the county’s school districts, its agriculture in the form of corn, soybeans and sugar beets, and lastly its beautiful landscape because of the deep valleys along the Redwood and Cottonwood Rivers. The county once prided itself in vast numbers of historic bridges, many of which consisted of steel truss spans that were relocated for reuse many times. Some of them were even stored at the county highway department awaiting reuse, according to correspondence with the county engineer while pursuing a science project on bridges in the 7th grade at Marshall Junior High School.
But with the recent developments going on, the county is facing a dwindling number of these truss bridges. Already gone are the spans that used to cross the Cottonwood River, including two at Garvin Park. Those featured a 1920 Warren span brought in from Lynd in 1985 and a 1908 Queenpost span brought in from Clifton Township in 1986. But the spans at Camden State Park may be the next ones to follow.
Featuring five bridges- three steel pony trusses, a low-water crossing and a wooden trestle, with one exception, these spans were built in the 1930s when Camden State Park was developed as a facility to replace a village that had once existed. What is unique about the steel pony trusses is the fact that they were part of the relocation scheme, built in their place of origin somewhere else before being relocated to the park in the late 1980s to 1990 to replace previous crossings. Each bridge presents a sense of beauty as they fit perfectly with the scenery, with the hills and trees surrounding them.
Yet word is getting around that Lyon County is planning to turn over responsibility of the road (County Road 25) and the bridges to the owner of the park, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR), in the near future. There, planning is in the works to replace all three pony truss spans with concrete structure with a form liner resembling cut stone. These spans would resemble a Cottonwood River span that opened in 2005 and is located in Springfield, in Brown County.
Already gone is the low-water crossing because of flooding in 1993 (that was replaced with a welded pony truss bridge), losing the three truss bridges would be a blow to the state park because of their historic value they present. They were built using standardized spans introduced in 1914 with the purpose of making the crossings safer for traffic. Each bridge has survived weather extremities, for they were washed out by the floodwaters in 1993, but were reconstructed in their original places, keeping their historic integrity in tact. If the bridges were rebuilt, integrating the trusses in the concrete roadway, as is being practiced with many Minnesota spans, then their structural lifespan will be prolonged for another 60-80 years with little maintenance. Yet should the truss bridges go, they will most likely take the wooden trestle with, which was built in 1931 spanning the railroad track. Whether this plan of action is for the benefit of the state park remains in question. But to better understand which bridges are affected by the latest project, here is a list of bridges and their location for you to visit and convince the parks to save:
Location: Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway at the south entrance to Camden State Park
Bridge Type: Wooden Trestle
Year Built: 1936
Length: 190 feet (36 feet main span)
Status: Open to traffic but not affected by project (for now)
Location: Redwood River at Camden State Park- first steel truss bridge after entering park.
Bridge Type: Warren pony truss with vertical beams and riveted connections
Year Built: 1931 at undisclosed location, relocated here in 1989
Length: 61.4 feet (main span: 60 feet)
Status: Open to traffic, but scheduled to be replaced.
This bridge is located east of the site where the low-water crossing once stood. It originally consisted of a two-span pony truss bridge located somewhere along the Redwood River northeast of Marshall, yet this half made its way here in 1989, whereas the other half was relocated to Green Valley, where it still serves traffic today. It sustained damage by floods in 1993 but was rehabilitated and reopened to traffic afterwards.
Location: Redwood River at Camden State Park. Second crossing after entering the park
Bridge Type: Steel Warren pony truss bridge with vertical beams and riveted connections
Year Built: 1931 by Illinois Steel Company; Moved here in 1990.
Length: 75.1 feet (main span: 73.2 feet)
Status: Open to traffic but scheduled for replacement
This crossing is located at a dangerous corner, where drivers have to make sharp right turns before crossing the truss span. The bridge originally came from a crossing over Plum Creek at US Hwy. 14 west of Walnut Grove. At the time of its replacement and road reconstruction in 1990, it was relocated here where it is still serving traffic today. This bridge was washed out during the flood of 1993 but was salvaged and placed back into service a year later.
Location: Redwood River at north entrance to Camden State Park
Bridge Type: Warren pony truss with vertical beams, extended wind bracing and riveted connections
Year Built: 1915 over the Yellow Medicine River in northern Lyon County. Relocated here in 1986
Length: 50.2 feet (main span: 47.3 feet)
Status: Open to traffic but scheduled for replacement.
This bridge is the oldest of the three to be found at the park. It is also the only bridge that features an exterior wind bracing, which was common in earlier standardized truss spans. 1915 is the date that was designated in the records, but the bridge looks younger than that. The crossing is the first one upon entering the park from the north side. For a long time, it was a dead end crossing for vehicles minus the bikes, for drivers were not allowed to enter the park from the north end. Yet after being wiped out by floods in 1993 and being reerected in its place a year later, the entrance was reopened to all traffic.
Why these bridges are not being considered for relocation to another less used road in the county remains unclear, let alone being considered for relocation, but these bridges represent a classic example of how Lyon County took care of its truss bridges in the 1980s and 90s, seeing the potential for reuse and the historic significance of each of the spans. The new bridges in place, like the Springfield crossing, may fit the landscape of a community, yet in cases like the ones at Camden, they represent an epic fail because of the lack of conformity with the natural surroundings. Therefore it is important that these spans are saved and rehabilitated for reuse to ensure that they continue to serve their purpose for the next 60-80 years.
You can help spread the word. Not only is it important to visit these sites, but it is important to convince the county and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to keep these spans in place because of their importance to the parks. With as many voices as possible, the planning can be altered to benefit the tourists visiting the park and the county that has prided itself in its reuse of historic structures. Your voice can make a difference.
Information and contact details for Camden State Park can be found here.
Contact details for the Lyon County Engineer’s Office in Marshall are found here.