Mystery Bridge Nr. 69: H.E. Dudley and His Bridge Near Richland, Iowa

Archive Photo courtesy of Luke Harden
Archive Photo courtesy of Luke Harden

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No one has really known about a bridge builder that existed in Iowa for over a century ago by the name of H.E. Dudley. In fact when researching about his history, only a handful of his names emerged which would make sense- namely, a Dudley that existed between 1870 and 1920. But then again, we don’t know if his bridge building business originated from Iowa or from outside. We just know two variables that confirm of his presence in bridge building and they are located in Marshall County- at Hoy Bridge

Photo taken by John Marvig

Located three miles southwest of Rhodes and three miles north of Hwy. 330, this bridge was constructed by Dudley in 1912 for the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad (aka The Milwaukee Road) connecting Marshalltown and Des Moines. Train traffic used this bridge for 70 years until the Milwaukee Road abandoned it in 1982 as part of the plan to cut its rail lines and save its company. The railroad eventually became part of Canadian Pacific through a series of mergers and consolidations. The 212 foot arch viaduct, whose towering height of 60 feet is covered wit vegetation became part of the Heart of America bike trail in 2003, thus revitalizing the network that had been abandoned for 20 years.

Going back to this mystery bridge at Richland, fellow pontist Luke Harden brought the photo to the attention of the Chronicles recently. The design is similar to that of the Hoy Bridge- six spans of concrete arches supported by another arch bridge, located over a small creek near the town of Richland in Washington County. This means that the work was most likely that of Dudley’s. The bridge was built to serve the Milwaukee Railroad. The question is when it was built, but even more importantly: where the bridge was located!

Richland is served with one railroad going through the community of 350 inhabitants and has a creek flowing north and west (Richland Creek). When using Bing, one can see two crossings to the south and west of Richland. Neither of which would fit the estimated length of between 200 and 270 feet the bridge would have. Sources had indicated that the bridge would be located to the southwest of Richland. Going southwest, the crossings appear to be a trestle with half the length and a multiple span plate girder bridge with a length of 150 feet. Unless the Dudley arch viaduct was removed and replaced with this span, neither crossing seemed to fit.

Tracing the rail line going northeast, there are several crossings along the creek, even going past the next community of Rubio. However all of them have a span of up to 75-100 feet total. This would refut claims made by another pontist that the bridge is/was northeast of Richland. However, recent discoveries might pinpoint this structure over a creek between Fir and Gingko Avenues northeast of Rubio, five miles east of the Skunk River Bridge. Looking at the map carefully, one can see a trough and a sizeably large creek which is crossed by a long bridge. Covered in massive vegetation, it is difficult to tell whether this crossing is indeed the Dudley bridge we are looking for. One would need to wait until the winter for a photographer to walk the railroad track and get a close-up of the bridge to confirm. The line is still operated by Iowa, Chicago and Eastern Railroad, despite being owned by seven different companies over the past three decades. Should a person happen to be at this crossing, he/she is due for a surprise, whether the bridge matches the black and white photo or not.

Little is known about this bridge, let alone H.E. Dudley and his work as a bridge builder, let alone his affiliation with the Milwaukee Road. While research is being conducted at the time of this press release, the Chronicles needs your help. What we would like to know about is when and where he lived, how long did he build bridges in his lifetime, where was his bridge building business located, and lastly, how many other bridges were credited to his name and where were they located? This is in addition to determining whether and where the Richland Viaduct is located exactly- whether it is still extant or if it has been replaced. Your thoughts on the Richland Bridge and/or H.E. Dudley? Please use the contact form and provide the author with some information that will be useful. Eventually if there is sufficient information, an article on Dudley’s life and works will be put together to provide the readers with an overview of this rather unknown bridge builder, whose two bridges (so far) have contributed a great deal to the Milwaukee Road and the history of America’s infrasturcture.

Map with the possible locations of Dudley’s Richland Bridge can be accessed here.


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