Mystery Bridge Nr. 70: Bonnie Doon’s Crossing

Photo taken by John Marvig

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.

 

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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. 

 

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Rig Downs Historic Highway Bridge in Arkansas

Photo taken by Wayne Kizziar in 2011

Semi-truck with skidder brings down 1920s through truss bridge that used to serve three major highways, no one injured.

POTTER, ARKANSAS- Careless and ignorance seems to be the major theme involving historic bridges in the United States and elsewhere, as drivers of large heavy trucks have been illusive in ignoring the restrictions involving crossing a light weight bridge and have taken the chance, even if it meant paying the price for their ignorance.

After the Christmas Day disaster in Paoli, another bridge of similar type has fallen victim to an overwiszed and overweight truck in near Potter in western Arkansas. Police officials are investigating the reasons why the driver of a semi truck with a trailer loaded with a skidder, ignored the weight limit of the Two Mile Creek Bridge and tried crossing the bridge only to drop the 1920 structure into the water. The incident happened on Friday. According to officials, the Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings, Howe lattice strut bracings and riveted connections, had a weight limit of 6 tons, while the truck’s weight limit was four times the weight limit. The bridge used to carry three different state highways before the county took ownership. The crossing carried US Highways 71 and 59 as well as State Highway 375 before they were relocated on a new (and straighter) alignment. Prior to its collapse, it carried county highway 37.  Its truss design, a riveted Pratt through truss was constructed using standardized truss designs to accomodate the load. Unfortunately, it is unknown who the bridge builder of the 100-foot long crossing was.

It was just unfortunate that the bridge could not accomodate a truckload that was four times its weight limit, as it was seen in the picture below. Considered a total loss, the crossing was the last of the through truss bridges in Polk County. Compounding it with the most recent flooding, the bridge is the second one in a month that became victim. A two-span pony truss bridge was severely damaged by flooding on Christmas Day and its fate is uncertain. As for the driver, charges are pending for wreckless driving and disobeying the weight limit sign. More information will follow.

Side view of the bridge collapse with the rig on there. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Lance
Side view of the bridge collapse with the rig on there. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Lance

REMINDER: Today is the last day to enter your photos, bridges, etc. for the 2015 Ammann Awards. Entries will be taken until 12:00am Central Standard Time. The Voting process will start the following day, which will be posted in the Chrinicles. Get your entries in before it’s too late!!!

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Milan Bridge in Minnesota: A Bridge Unwanted

Photo taken in December, 2010

Sometimes it takes courage and sacrifice to get a photo of a jewel like this bridge. When visiting the Milan Bridge in Lac Que Parle County, Minnesota, in December 2010, I had the lovely experience of photographing this bridge in crystal clear sunlight. However, it almost came at a price when leaving to head north to Little Falls, when my mini SUV almost got stuck in the snow while leaving the boat ramp located next to the bridge. Yet when looking at the situation the bridge is in right now, there are no regrets that I took the time to photograph this bridge, despite the fact that when it was taken, a strong storm system was to move in a couple hours later, bringing ice, snow and high winds, thus making travel anywhere dangerous…..

The Milan Bridge is one of only 29 historic bridges left in Minnesota that is being looked after by the state’s department of transportation (MnDOT). The bridge was built by the Theodore Jensen Construction Company of Des Moines, Iowa in 1938, replacing an earlier truss bridge, a Pratt through truss type, that had been built in 1901 by the American Bridge Company but was relocated when this bridge came in. The steel for the truss superstructure was provided by the Minneapolis-Moline Steel Company. Originally, the bridge had Howe lattice portal bracings to go along with the rest of the structure, a parker through truss bridge with riveted connections and concrete approach spans. The portals were raised by cutting off the lower half and encasing the upper half in steel in 1967, thus making the vertical clearance of 16 feet. The bridge intself is longer than its predecessor- 210 feet long with a 17 foot roadway width.

Milan Bridge at the time of its completion in 1938. Photo taken by MnDOT
Milan Bridge at the time of its completion in 1938. Photo taken by MnDOT

The construction of the bridge was part of the Works Progress Administration project, initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 with the goals of improving the infrastructure throughout America and getting many of the 33% unemployed Americans back into the workforce. The construction of the bridge was part of the plan to improve the flood plain area along the Minnesota River, which included the creation of Lac Que Parle Lake by damming the river near Appleton. This happened in 1939, shortly after the bridge was built.  Minnesota Hwy. 40 was supposed to be a key link between Milan and Madison (going west to South Dakota), yet in comparison with the other highways crossing the Minnesota River (US 12  to the north and US 212 to the south), the number of vehicles crossing at this location is punitive because of the proximity of the highways to the nearest cities with more inhabitants than the towns Hwy. 40 connects. US 12 connects Minneapolis with Aberdeen, South Dakota, but crosses the river at Ortonville. Hwy. 212, which crosses at Montevideo, also starts in the Twin Cities but heads west to Watertown, also in South Dakota. There is also MN Hwy. 119, whose crossing is located south of Appleton but north of the bridge at Milan.

This leads to the situation that the bridge is currently in. MnDOT plans to rehabilitate the bridge by replacing the decking, repairing some truss parts and repainting the entire superstructure, which is currently blue but the paint has peeled off. It was supposed to begin this year, but a petition by local residents put a halt to the plans, at least temporarily. This task force wants the bridge to be replaced in its entirety because it does not meet the current needs and is structurally deficient. This is a rare case where a state, which owns the historic bridge, wants to prolong the structure but residents don’t want that. Their concerns were addressed in April prompting the state agency to hit pause and table the decision until April 2016. According to federal law, because the bridge is located in a historic district like Lac Que Parle, “…the state to rehabilitate rather than replace historic structures, unless there is “’no feasible and prudent alternative.’’’   Little does the task force realizes is that the cost for rehabilitating the bridge is estimated to be between $2.3 and 3 million, half the amount needed to replace the bridge. In addition, there is no guarantee if and when funding would be available for replacing the bridge, let alone when construction would begin on the bridge.

Originally, had there not been any objections, rehabilitation would have begun in November and been completed by the spring. Now with opposition to the project being brought forward, the decision of whether MnDOT to proceed with the rehabilitation will come in the spring. It is more of a question of whether it makes sense to wait until earliest 2020 to replace a bridge that takes between 300 and 600 cars a day- a third of the amount of its neighboring highway crossings at US 12 and 212, or simply proceed and ask residents to consider alternatives. This includes using alternative crossings or even lightening the load and size before crossing the bridge. Given the crossing’s proximity, sometimes just allowing for a small fix on a landmark destined to be a National Register monument is worth the price. And alternatives can in the long term save more money than having to spend more on a new bridge, whose lifespan is half of what bridges, like this one has. The average life of a concrete bridge is approxinately 35-40 years, while the current Milan Bridge is turning 78 years old this year. Most truss bridges can live twice as long if properly maintained- a logical conclusion that is being taken into account for rehabbing the bridge.

So what option would you favor: spending excessive amounts of money for a concrete bridge that is wider and has no clearance, but has a lifespan of 40 years, or rehabilitate the current bridge, prolonging it for 60-80 years and having travellers with wide loads use other crossings? Look at the map and then think about it. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest and will inform you when the decision is made…..

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Photo by MnDOT in 1938
Portal view with current weight limit. Photo taken in December 2010

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 57: Havenga Bridge in South Africa

Havenga Bridge
Havenga Bridge over the Orange River. Photo taken by Ronel Le Roux Cilliers, used with permission

At 2,200 km in length, the Orange River, which goes by many names in different languages, is the longest river in South Africa. Starting in the Maloti Mountains in Lesotho, the river slices through the state before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay. The river is characterized by having steep valleys and wooded areas in a country that features a combination of mountains, savannas, lakes and deserts in general.

According to records, 32 crossings and three dams are reported to exist, even though the numbers may be a bit higher because of the river’s length and the towns it passes through, such as Preiske, Kakamas, Groblershoop, Hopetown, Douglas and Oranjemund. None of them have sufficient information on their length and history. This includes the Havenga Bridge, located between Vanderkloof and Orania, our mystery bridge profile.

Close-up of the portals of the outer truss spans
Close-up of the portals of the outer truss spans

Fellow pontist Ronel Le Roux Cilliers brought this bridge to the attention of the pontists in the Bridges facebook page, and with that to the attention of this author. While he has yet to visit Africa, this bridge is high on his places to visit list because of its unique features. First of all, the bridge features seven through truss spans. The center span is a Parker through truss with A-.frame portals whose bottom bracing is polygonal, like the truss design itself. The outer spans features three Pratt through trusses on each side of the center span. The weirdest feature of these spans are the portal bracings and endposts, where the top part features a trapezoidal beam design. The endposts are unusual as they are double-barreled with the inner portion featuring lattice bracing on the inner portion and the outer endposts are flat beamed. Normally for all truss bridges, endposts are single-barreled, like this bridge below:

Upper Paris Bridge in Linn County, Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

Also more unique about the Havenga Bridge is the outer truss spans are much narrower than the center span. That span is estimated to be between five and seven meters (15 and 21 feet) wide, the outer spans a meter  (3-4 feet) narrower. It is unknown how long the bridge is total, but it is estimated that the bridge is close to 500-600 meters (1500- 1800 feet) long total with the longest span being 50- 70 meters (150- 210 feet) and each of the outer spans being 40-50 meters (120-150 feet long. Exact measurements would be needed to confirm the bridge’s dimensions. Even more important is when the bridge was constructed, for the plaque on the north end of the bridge is believed to have been built in 1934. It is unknown who the contractor was, but given the fact that South Africa was once a colony ruled first by the Dutch and later the British thanks to the Boer Wars, it is possible that the bridge builder may have come from the British Commonwealth or the Netherlands, especially because the truss design and portal features are typical in the region. More information would be needed to determine the exact date of construction, why it was needed, and who was responsible for the construction of the structure. It is possible that the original spans were Parker trusses, but the outer trusses were replaced at one point. Some are speculating the replacement dates being in the 1990s, but these are only speculations that need to be supported with pure facts. It is known that the entire bridge has riveted connections, which was typical of bridge construction at that time.

The bridge presents a beauty that has to be seen when visiting South Africa as a touring pontist or a tourist with an interest in history. What is lacking is the history of the bridge, and this is where your help is needed. What do you know about the bridge in terms of its history and/or features? Place your comments below or send them to Jason Smith at the Chronicles using the contact info in the About page. It is hoped that we can collect enough information to solve the mystery of the Havenga Bridge, but more so to open the can of beans and explore the Orange River and the other bridges that exist. Many of them are either just as old or even older than this bridge. May the Havenga Bridge open the stage for more bridges to be profiled in the Chronicles and beyond.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 57: Havenga Bridge in South Africa

Havenga Bridge
Havenga Bridge over the Orange River. Photo taken by Ronel Le Roux Cilliers, used with permission

At 2,200 km in length, the Orange River, which goes by many names in different languages, is the longest river in South Africa. Starting in the Maloti Mountains in Lesotho, the river slices through the state before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay. The river is characterized by having steep valleys and wooded areas in a country that features a combination of mountains, savannas, lakes and deserts in general.

According to records, 32 crossings and three dams are reported to exist, even though the numbers may be a bit higher because of the river’s length and the towns it passes through, such as Preiske, Kakamas, Groblershoop, Hopetown, Douglas and Oranjemund. None of them have sufficient information on their length and history. This includes the Havenga Bridge, located between Vanderkloof and Orania, our mystery bridge profile.

Close-up of the portals of the outer truss spans
Close-up of the portals of the outer truss spans

Fellow pontist Ronel Le Roux Cilliers brought this bridge to the attention of the pontists in the Bridges facebook page, and with that to the attention of this author. While he has yet to visit Africa, this bridge is high on his places to visit list because of its unique features. First of all, the bridge features seven through truss spans. The center span is a Parker through truss with A-.frame portals whose bottom bracing is polygonal, like the truss design itself. The outer spans features three Pratt through trusses on each side of the center span. The weirdest feature of these spans are the portal bracings and endposts, where the top part features a trapezoidal beam design. The endposts are unusual as they are double-barreled with the inner portion featuring lattice bracing on the inner portion and the outer endposts are flat beamed. Normally for all truss bridges, endposts are single-barreled, like this bridge below:

Upper Paris Bridge in Linn County, Iowa. Photo taken in August 2011

Also more unique about the Havenga Bridge is the outer truss spans are much narrower than the center span. That span is estimated to be between five and seven meters (15 and 21 feet) wide, the outer spans a meter  (3-4 feet) narrower. It is unknown how long the bridge is total, but it is estimated that the bridge is close to 500-600 meters (1500- 1800 feet) long total with the longest span being 50- 70 meters (150- 210 feet) and each of the outer spans being 40-50 meters (120-150 feet long. Exact measurements would be needed to confirm the bridge’s dimensions. Even more important is when the bridge was constructed, for the plaque on the north end of the bridge is believed to have been built in 1934. It is unknown who the contractor was, but given the fact that South Africa was once a colony ruled first by the Dutch and later the British thanks to the Boer Wars, it is possible that the bridge builder may have come from the British Commonwealth or the Netherlands, especially because the truss design and portal features are typical in the region. More information would be needed to determine the exact date of construction, why it was needed, and who was responsible for the construction of the structure. It is possible that the original spans were Parker trusses, but the outer trusses were replaced at one point. Some are speculating the replacement dates being in the 1990s, but these are only speculations that need to be supported with pure facts. It is known that the entire bridge has riveted connections, which was typical of bridge construction at that time.

The bridge presents a beauty that has to be seen when visiting South Africa as a touring pontist or a tourist with an interest in history. What is lacking is the history of the bridge, and this is where your help is needed. What do you know about the bridge in terms of its history and/or features? Place your comments below or send them to Jason Smith at the Chronicles using the contact info in the About page. It is hoped that we can collect enough information to solve the mystery of the Havenga Bridge, but more so to open the can of beans and explore the Orange River and the other bridges that exist. Many of them are either just as old or even older than this bridge. May the Havenga Bridge open the stage for more bridges to be profiled in the Chronicles and beyond.

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Route 66 Gasconade River Bridge

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The Gasconade River in Missouri: once populated with dozens of metal truss bridges loaded with history and charm, the river that flows past Wright, LeClare and Gasconade Counties now only has one bridge left. This bridge, built in 1924, used to carry the Mother Highway from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 (officially, US Hwy. 66). Sadly, this bridge is now the poster boy of how a state, like Missouri, has neglected its bridges, both modern and historic, and does not have the money to even maintain them.

Since December 2014, the Missouri Department of Transportation has closed this key crossing near Hazelgreen, despite its historic significance and its role in the development of Route 66. The bridge features three through truss spans and a pony span, going from far to near in the picture above: one Warren through truss, two Parker through trusses, one Warren pony and one beam approach, all totaling 524 feet in length, and all connections are riveted. The closure has sparked an outcry among locals, bridge enthusiasts and friends of Route 66 to a point where a rally took place back in March, drawing in as many as 300 attendants. The main objective is to put pressure on the State Legislature to provide funding to repair the deficiencies on the bridge and reopen it to traffic. Given the sparse amount of traffic on the bridge in comparison with the neighboring I-44 Bridge, located only 500 feet away.  Information and a video of the event which includes speeches, can be seen by clicking here.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles had a chance to sit down and chat with one of the members of the Gasconade River Bridge group and Friends of Route 66, Roamin Rich, who spoke at the Rally, to find out what ideas they have to convince lawmakers at Jefferson City (Missouri’s state capital) that the bridge is a vital part of the highway’s history and should be reopened. Here’s what he has to say:

1. How significant is the bridge?

The bridge is significant in all facets.  It is a major thoroughfare for local traffic.  People in the community, farmers, emergency responders all depend on this bridge.  There are several farmers in the area that own land on both sides of the river.  They are forced to make a 12 mile detour now because of the bridge closure.  Before the closure this section of Highway (also historic Route 66) was being utilized as an incident bypass route.  So if traffic on I44 shut down, they would divert traffic across this section of road and the Gasconade Bridge.

2. What’s the history behind building the bridge?

I don’t know the history behind building the bridge other than it occurred around 1922-23.  It is unique in the fact that is constructed of 3 different types of truss designs.  (See author’s description above in the introduction)

3. What’s the current situation on the bridge- are there plans to demolish it?

The current situation is indefinite.  There is absolutely no money at all set aside for doing anything with this bridge.  I seriously don’t think they are going to demolish it even when they do come up with funding.  In talking with the chief engineer with MoDot I don’t think they want to mess with repairing it either.  A bypass bridge looks like their preferred choice.

4. How do you want to save the bridge- as a pedestrian bridge or by rehabilitation?

We would like to save the bridge no matter what happens.  We would like to see it put back into service but we are willing to accept any plan that ultimately prevents the destruction of the bridge.

5. How are you approaching the plan as far as fund-raising, etc. are concerned?

Right now we are hashing out ideas to raise funds to pay for an independent inspection of the bridge.  We have formed an official committee and plan to meet within the next 10 days.  We aren’t sure how we are going to raise funds at the moment.

6. How much money is needed to preserve the bridge?

Until our independent study is concluded we do not know how much money is needed to restore the bridge.  We are guessing between 1.5 – 3 million dollars.

7. When would you like to see the bridge reopened?

We would like the bridge to be reopened within the next 24 months.  Earlier is better, but we are being realistic.  The state has slashed highway budgets drastically.  It’s going to take a literal act of Congress to get something done.

The irony behind the interview is the fact that MoDOT is trying to cut corners by putting in a replacement bridge at any cost, which would bypass the historic bridge. Yet the envision behind the draconian replace instead of repair is that money is needed to maintain that bridge as well. Without the maintenance, the lifespan of the structure is cut in half. Therefore repairing the bridges only prolongs their lives up up to 50 years, enough time for the state legislature to garner enough funds to either overhaul the original structure or even replace it with a newer structure that has a functional and structural appeal. However, with the state cutting funding, the mentality is to let the bridges fall apart until replacement is the lone option. This is figuratively slitting their wrists and the blood of greenbacks is leaving the body in droves.  But if there is one message to give to the state through this rally it is this: This way of thinking has to change, and priorities have to change. That means fixing the bridges and restoring them have more priority than the slash and burn approach, which is costing more money than necessary. And with that, our history slips away into the books, something our society has longed ignored.

While the fundraising is in its infant stage, you can help preserve the Gasconade River Route 66 Bridge. You can click on the link in the article, where you’ll be in the Route 66 News page. Yet the group has a facebook page, which you can click here and like to join. There you can share your ideas with other members and help in saving the bridge. As mentioned above, bypassing the bridge seems to be the option, yet fixing a bridge that is only used locally would serve in everyone’s best interest. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest developments involving the bridge.

Enjoy the pics taken by Roamin Rich of the bridge and the Rally:

Gasconade 4

Gasconade 2

Gasconade 3

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Valley View Trail Bridge to be Relocated

Portal view of the bridge. Photo taken by Mitch Nicholson of Abandoned Iowa
Portal view of the bridge. Photo taken by Mitch Nicholson of Abandoned Iowa

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.

Close-up of the approach span resembling a diving board. Photo by Mitch Nicholson
Close-up of the approach span resembling a diving board. Photo by Mitch Nicholson

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:

Hatley Bridge:

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.

Huston Bridge over Clancy Creek. Photo taken by Mitch Nicholson
Huston Bridge over Clancy Creek. Photo taken by Mitch Nicholson

Huston Bridge:

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.

Fox Trail Bridge. Photo taken by James Baughn in 2013

Fox Trail Bridge

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.

St. Charles Bridge. Photo taken by the author in 2007

St. Charles/ North River Trail Bridge

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!

Clanton Creek Bridge at Bevington Park Rd. Photo taken by the author in 2007

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.

 

Mystery Bridge next to Holliwell Covered Bridge. Photo taken by James Baughn in 2013

Mystery Bridge at Holliwell Covered Bridge

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.

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