The Bridges of Harvey/Tracy, Iowa

At dusk
Never travel alone in the dark, as you are being watched. Photo of a farmstead taken at dusk by the author in August 2011

This tour guide takes us to southeastern Iowa, where we have not only one but six bridges in the area where Harvey and Tracy are located. One mystery bridge, one extremely haunted one carrying a dead end low maintenance road, one railroad bridge that had a tragic end, another railroad bridge that was located next to a sunken ferry and two abandoned ones that are being considered for a bike trail. All of them span(-ned) the Des Moines River within a 10-mile radius of a small town of Harvey. Located approximately seven miles east of the county seat of Knoxville in Marion County, Harvey has a population of roughly 250 inhabitants. Judging by the appearance of the houses and even the two churches, the town had seen its better days, as the majority of them live at or below the poverty line and most of the buildings are run down, the yards littered with junk needed to be removed if the assistance is available. It doesn’t look any better for the town of Tracy, located three miles down river in Mahaska County. The town of 150 inhabitants had once seen better days with the railroad in business, connecting it with Oskaloosa, which is 10 miles to the east and the county seat.

But looking at Harvey, these characteristics are only scratching the surface, as the town, and the surrounding area, and the crossings along the Des Moines River are all haunted in one way or another. Photographing the bridges, there is a sense of eeriness that makes a person stay close to the car and not wander off, fearing that he will not return. The region used to be bustling with railway and commercial traffic in the 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, Harvey was plotted in 1876 by the railroad with a line passing through later that year, connecting Knoxville and points east through the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.  But the line that passed through Harvey was abandoned, and one by one, commerce moved away to nearby towns, but leaving traces of the past in the forms of ghosts and other paranormal activity that makes the region haunted, but researchers curious about its history. If there is a word of advice I have for the passers-by it is this: Never travel alone in the dark, for you are being watched. Travel in groups and in the day time to ensure that you are safe and sound. Make sure you do not wander off away from the cars, and never ever get lost when photographing in the area!

On one of the evenings in August of 2011, I took a tour of the region and its bridges. There were five historic truss bridges that I found and spent some time photographing them: The Horn’s Ferry, Wabash Railroad, Harvey Railroad, Belle Fountain, and Eveland Bridges. While the Horn’s Ferry Bridge has a topic of its own (click here), the primary focus of this tour is on the other four bridges.  In addition to that, there is an abandoned highway that used to pass through Harvey in a form of Iowa Highway 92, the same highway that used to crisscross Madison County, and its numerous covered bridges that existed (now there’s only six fully restored structures). It snaked its way towards the Des Moines River before crossing north of Tracy.  The highway was straightened and bypassed in 1978 but numerous questions remain about the highway. And lastly, east of Tracy is the remains of a railroad bridge which has a history of its own, including that of its tragic end 60 years ago.

This article provides you with a tour of the area and its bridges with some insight from the author on the structure and its significance. It will also include some stories of his encounters with some rather strange things that happened while on tour. We’ll start off with our first bridge:

Wabash Railroad Bridge:

The first bridge on the tour is one of two that used to be a railroad crossing but was repurposed to serve cars. The Wabash Railroad Bridge can be found spanning the Des Moines River just south of the present crossing at Keokuk Drive (CSAH T-17). It was built in 1881 by the Oliver Iron and Steel Company, even though it is unclear whether it was the company that had been operated by Henry Oliver in Pittsburgh or James Oliver in the state of Indiana. It consists of three Pratt through truss spans with pinned connections and Lattice portal bracings. The overhead bracings are V-laced with 45° heel supports. The center span was replaced in 1905. The total length is 545 feet long, meaning three 150-foot long spans plus an approach constructed in 1951 when it was converted to vehicular traffic. The Wabash Railroad was created in 1837 but started using the name out of the creation of several small railroads in 1865. The company served the Midwestern states which included an area between Kansas City and St. Louis to Chicago, Detroit, parts of Ontario and ending in Buffalo. This included the line going through Harvey and Tracy enroute to the Quad Cities (E) and Omaha (W). After its receivership in 1931 and purchase by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1933, several tracks were sold off, including this line and the bridge, which Marion County purchased in 1946. The bridge was eventually converted to a vehicular crossing by 1951 and the line was turned into a gravel road connecting Harvey and Oskaloosa. The bridge was bypassed by a newer crossing in the late 1980s but remained a crossing as a gravel road until its closure a few years ago. Today, it is a pedestrian crossing with each ends being barricaded and steel fencing having been installed. Plans are in the making to include the crossing into the bike trail network connecting Pella and Van Buren County.  In 2013, the remains of an antique ferry boat were found 500 feet south of the crossing. It is possible that a ferry used to serve locals during the time the Wabash Railroad was in service, but more information is needed to prove these claims. The Wabash folded into Norfolk and Southern in 1991, ending its storied 153 year run.

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Harvey Railroad Bridge:

Built in 1878 by the American Bridge Company, this four-span Pratt through truss bridge was one of the first bridges that featured the bridge company’s signature portal bracings (as you can see in the pictures below). They were used often for railroad crossings with most of them built after the consolidation of 26 bridge companies in 1901. The bridge served rail traffic until it was abandoned in 1938 and purchased by the county, which then converted it into a roadway bridge. At some time later, the Des Moines River was re-channeled making the road expendable. Yet it still serves this dead end road to nearby farms along the river today. The railroad that used the bridge was the Rock Island, which started its decline at the time the bridge and the line were sold off and was eventually liquidated in 1980.

The bridge is surrounded by thick trees, which covers the structure and makes the tall and narrow structure a haunted place to visit. During my visit to the bridge, the first impression after looking at the entrance was that of walking through a dark black hole filled with bats, owls, and creepy insects. Crickets were already out in full force chirping away. Everything else was deathly still as I was crossing the structure, taking pictures of it. Yet as I was at the easternmost portal entrance to the bridge, I heard gunshots ringing out from the opposite end of the bridge. The first shot did not stir me but it did scare off the birds that had been dining in the nests. The second shot however made me rethink my stay on the bridge as there was speculation that someone was shooting at me (or trying to). There was no one approaching me on the bridge and no other people in the vicinity of the structure. The third gunshot was the final signal for me to make my exit as I rush towards the car, hearing more gunshots along the way, got in and took off. As I was leaving, a party of two people on an ATV rushed onto the bridge.  If this was a way of shooing someone from the bridge just so they could have it, then they could have done better than that. Yet even if no guns were being used, the bridge is probably one of the most haunted structures you can ever cross, ranking up there with the Enoch’s Knob Bridge in Missouri. The best time to visit the bridge is in the daylight, where you can get the best pics and are most likely not be frightened by spooky creatures and guns going off without knowing where it came from.213048-L

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Old Highway 92 Bridge:

Among the four being profiled here is another mystery bridge- the first in Mahaska County, Marion’s neighbor to the east. The first time this crossing came to my attention was on a GoogleMap, where there are two crossings bearing the name Hwy. 92- the present one in Marion County and what is left of the previous crossing on the Mahaska side, approximately 1.5 miles south of the present crossing. The road approaching the previous crossing is still in its original form- concrete from the 1930s and really narrow. Yet when arriving at the crossing, it is barricaded with signs and broken down excavators on each end, with the road turning to the south and becoming gravel.  Another piece of evidence to be presented was the fact that a US geological survey map of the 1930s indicated that the crossing consisted of four spans and a truss design, similar to a Parker design. And lastly, National Bridge Inventory records indicated that the present Hwy. 92 bridge on the Marion side was built in 1978. Given the fact that the Belle Fountain Bridge is located a half mile downstream, it is possible that the Old 92 Bridge was removed as it was deemed expendable and obsolete. Yet we do not know whether it is true or not.

What we do know is there are many questions that need to be answered about this bridge, such as: 1. What did the old bridge look like? Was it a Parker truss bridge or another truss type?  2. When was the bridge built? Who built the structure? and 3. When was the bridge removed? Was it in 1978 or afterwards? And why was it removed?

 

Belle Fountain Bridge:

This bridge is located in a small unincorporated village of Belle Fountain, located 1.5 miles south of Hwy. 92 on the west bank of the Des Moines River. It is one of the earliest bridges built by a prominent bridge builder in Iowa, the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, which built the structure at a cost of $9750 in 1898. The four-span Pratt through truss super-structure features A-frame portal and strut bracing and pin connections, the former of which was recently introduced to replace the Lattice portal bracing. The bridge is 595 feet long with each span being 145 feet. The bridge has been a subject of neglect, especially after the Old 92 Bridge was built in 1930 and located 0.5 miles upstream. The lack of maintenance of the structure for unknown reasons prompted its closure. Since then the truss bridge has been allowed to remain in place with the flooring rotting away to expose the bottom chord. However, given the awareness of the bridge and its historic significance and connection with Belle Fountain, interest is being garnered in restoring the bridge and reincorporating it into a bike trail. When and if that will happen remains to be seen. One of the factors to keep in mind is to rid the bridge of the overgrowth, which has been ruling the eastern truss bridge for some time, as you can see in the photos. Given the fact that the bridge has been sitting abandoned for a long time, it is possible that the bridge may have to be disassembled, with the parts being sandblasted and replaced, and the foundations being rebuilt, before reassembling it back into place. The cost for the whole work would be a fraction of the cost for replacing the bridge outright.  Having a restored bridge like this one would be a blessing for the community and the county, which seems to have embraced preservation given the importance of this bridge.

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Eveland Bridge:

The next bridge on the tour is the Eveland Bridge. Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, this bridge replaced a ferry that was used to cross the river. It is perhaps the only bridge originally built by a bridge company in Indiana, the Fort Wayne Bridge Works, which built the foundations in 1876 and erected the three-span truss bridge in the spring of the following year. It featured three spans of the Whipple through truss with the portal bracing representing the exact truss design. The structure was made of iron and featured pin-connections. Flooding wiped out the center span in 1903 and was subsequentially replaced with a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge made of steel. Since its closure in the early 1990s, it has sat in its place waiting to be reused, but not before replacing the decking (which has rotted away substantially) and possibly reconstructing the trusses. Photographing the bridge is really difficult as both sides of the river are heavily forested with the southern bank being littered with trailer homes and small houses. It also does not present a welcoming feeling when driving past the structure, especially as there are many dogs roaming around, waiting to chase the next person away from the area. With a lack of lighting in the area, it is especially creepy at night when driving, let alone walking. But nevertheless, I took advantage of the little daylight that was left and got a pair of pics before anything unusual happened, and then drove back to the hotel in Des Moines, which was a good hour’s drive away.  Like the Belle Fountain Bridge, the Eveland may be getting a new lease on life, as plans are in the preliminary stages to convert the bridge into a bike trail.  Given its remote location, the whole area surrounding the bridge may benefit from having a bike trail pass through, as business and other services could be established to serve the bikers and tourists. It will also mean more lighting in the evening for those going on an evening stroll, something that this area and the bridge itself need very badly. It all depends on the costs, the interest and the question of what can be realized and what can be scrapped.

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Tracy Railroad Bridge:

The last bridge on the tour is one with a long history- and one that ended in tragedy. The Tracy Railroad Bridge consisted of two Whipple through truss spans with an X-frame portal bracing, all being pin connected. The bridge was originally built in 1882 by George S. Morrison for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (later became part of the BNSF Railways), spanning the Missouri River near Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Three bridge builders were behind the construction of the bridge, one of which- Keystone Bridge Company in Pittsburgh- had a hand in relocating and rebuilding the bridge at Tracy in 1903 for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. This was part of the plan to build a sturdier three-span Pennsylvania truss bridge at Plattsmouth while the 1882 bridge was needed for the line at Tracy. From 1903 to its removal in 1950, the bridge was located over the Des Moines River near the site of present-day Cedar Bluffs Natural Area, while the line connected Eddyville with Knoxville. After many years of disuse, workers in 1950 dismantled the structure and sold the parts for scrap. But it came at a price of one life, for one person was crushed to death as the eastern span fell thirty feet into the river. Another person was on that bridge and jumped into the river as it fell. He suffered only minor injuries. The accident happened after the western half of the bridge was removed. The rest of the eastern half was pulled out of the water and hauled away by another demolition company, months after the incident. The Tracy Bridge was a work of art of one prominent bridge builder, yet its life ended on a sour note, even though had the preservation movement started after World War II, there might have been a chance for this bridge, just like its neighbors to the north.

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It will be interesting to see what the future brings for the bridges in the greater Harvey area. Plans are in the making for a bike trail network going from its terminus at the Horn’s Ferry Bridge to Eddyville, possibly using the crossings for cyclists to pass through. This will bring a new lease in life for the ones that have been unused for a long time but whose history can be contributed to the development of the infrastructure in the state of Iowa over the past 150 years. And while it will take up to seven years to finalize the plans and actually build the network, when it is completed, people will take advantage of the trail and learn about the history of each village and bridge they pass by. And even if some of the bridges are haunted, it is unlikely that anyone will actually be taking the trail at night, unless they are as gutsy as I was when visiting the bridges last year. But it is a sure bet that safety features, including lighting, will be considered to accommodate those who dare to encounter the paranormal at night. As for the towns of Harvey and Tracy, the coming of the bike trail may help turn things around for a community that had seen its better days. Having the trail will boost commerce, like it did during the days of the railroad. And with that will bring good fortunes for the community, something that the people surely have been waiting for that for a long time and owe themselves to that share of the pie of prosperity.

A map of the bridges can be seen here. Should you be interested in helping out with the bike trail project in one way or another, please contact the county conservation board, historical societies and other groups involved and see what you can do for them.

 

 

 

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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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The Bridges of Des Moines Part III: The (lost) Truss Bridges

18th Street Bridge over the Raccoon River (now extant). Photo courtesy of IaDOT Archives

There are more bridge types that make Des Moines one of the most populous bridges in the Midwest. As we will see in this part, truss bridges were just as popular of a bridge design as the arch bridges that were built by James Marsh and company. As many as 30 truss bridges were reported to had been built during the time span between 1870 and 1930 along the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers as well as other tributaries, including those mentioned in the first two parts of the series. The majority of them featured two or more spans. And while more than half of them were Pratt designs, there were many exceptions to the rule. Already mentioned in part II there was the Post through truss design that had existed at Court Avenue before its replacement in 1917. But like this bridge, the majority of the structures lack the information regarding its history, including the date of construction and the bridge builder. This was in part because of the fact that they were gone prior to the urban renewal period in the 1960s and after 1993.  This is not good for many of these structures, like the 18th Avenue Bridge featured some decorative designs on the portal bracings, which were common during the period of bridge construction prior to 1920, when bridge builders could afford to leave their marks with ornaments and builders plaques. After 1920, with the standardization of truss bridges and the letter-shaped portal bracings (A, M and X-frames), these were seldomly used and can rarely be found today when travelling on Iowa’s highways.

Today, eight bridges are known to exist in Des Moines that have a truss design, at least two thirds of the number that had existed prior to 1970. This does not include the CGW Railroad Bridge, which was demolished in its entirety last month. While some of the structures have already been mentioned earlier, the tour of Des Moines’ truss bridges will feature the ones not mentioned. Each one will feature a location, when they were built (and replaced), what they looked like and if there is no concrete information on the bridge builder, some assumptions will be made. As they will mentioned in the Iowa Truss Bridge Book project that is being compiled by the author, any information on the bridges will be useful.

Without further ado, here are the bridges worth mentioning on the tour:

UP (Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific) Railroad Bridge at Hartford Avenue. Photo taken by John Marvig in 2012

Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Bridge at Hartford Avenue:  This bridge can be seen from Hartford Avenue on the southeast end of Des Moines. The three-span subdivided Warren through truss bridge with X-frame portal bracings is the fourth bridge to be located at this crossing, for the earliest crossing was dated 1871. It was rebuilt in 1890 and again in 1915 with a four-span through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings and pinned connections. While it can be assumed that the reconstruction in 1890 and 1915 may have to do with either flooding that damaged the spans or the increase in rail traffic, the current span was built in 1920 by the American Bridge Company and it most probably had to do with the destruction of the 1915 bridge, albeit more research and information is needed to confirm that claim. The bridge is 469 feet long and is owned by Union Pacific Railroad. However, it was part of the Rock Island Railroad with had a line connecting Indianola and Kansas City to the south, going through Des Moines enroute north to Albert Lea and Minneapolis. When the railroad company was liquidated in 1981, the line was acquired by Chicago and Northwestern, which in turn was bought by Union Pacific in 1995. 20 trains a day use this bridge.

18th Street Bridge: As seen in the picture at the very top of the article, this bridge crossed the Raccoon River at what is now Fleur Drive, southeast of the Central Academy. Before its demolition in 1936, the bridge featured four Camelback truss spans and was one of the most ornate bridges in Des Moines, let alone along the Des Moines River. More information is needed as to when the bridge was built (and by who) and why it was demolished. It is known that today’s Fleur Drive Bridge serves four-lane traffic and serves as a key link to Martin Luther King Drive and all points south of downtown Des Moines.

Inter-Rail Bridge Photo taken by John Marvig in 2012

Inter-Urban Trail Bridge:     Built in 1902, this bridge spans the Des Moines River south of the Euclid Avenue Bridge. The structure features four spans of Pratt with pinned connections, yet three of the spans feature lattice portal bracings with curved heel bracings, while the fourth and easternmost span features V-laced portal bracings with a 45° angle heel bracing- quite possibly a span that was either brought in or built on-site to replace an earlier span destroyed. This bridge used to serve the Inter-Urban Rail Line, one of eight in Iowa accomodated commuters through the 1950s. This route connected Des Moines with Colfax in Poweshiek County, a length of 23 miles. Service continued until 1949, when the freight railroads took over and people resorted to the car or bus. 33 years later, the railroad line and bridge was abandoned, but the City bought both of them to be converted into a bike trail, which was opened in 1998. With the exception of the replacement of the approach spans in 2012, the bridge today retains its integrity and still serves bike traffic, while providing access to the Neal Smith Bike Trail, which combs the Des Moines River.

Commerce Bridge: Spanning the Raccoon River, this bridge featured four truss spans which included three Camelbacks with Howe Lattice portal bracings with subdivided heels and a Pratt through truss with M-frame portal bracings. The latter was built at a later time, whereas the three Camelbacks were reportedly to had been built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works Company, one of many Iowa bridge builders that existed during the period between 1890 and 1930. It is unknown when they were built, let alone rebuilt, but records had it that the bridge was destroyed during the Flood of 1965. The bridge was later removed, and Commerce Street was rerouted to run along the Raccoon. All that remains are the abutments and the rapids where the bridge once stood. They can be seen as 105th Street southwest curves to the south.

Iowa Interstate Railroad Bridge. Photo taken in August 2013

Iowa Interstate Railroad Bridge:   Spanning the Des Moines River south of the Red Bridge and once part of the Rock Island Railroad, the Iowa Interstate Railroad Bridge was built in 1901 by the American Bridge Company and featured eight spans of pony girders totalling 625 feet. While it used to be a double-tracked bridge, the eastbound track was abandoned and fenced off in the 1980s and today, only one track is used. It replaced a four-span lattice through truss bridge, which had served one-lane of rail traffic and was built 30 years earlier. The future of this bridge is in doubt due to its sparse use, combined with the city’s plans to raise the dikes. Already the Red Bridge was raised four feet and the CGW Railroad Bridge were removed as part of the city flood planning. It would not be surprising that the bridge’s owner, Iowa Interstate Railroad would abandon the bridge altogether, making it the target for scrap metal. But it is unknown if and when that would happen.

SW 63rd Street Bridge: Located over the Raccoon River between Brown’s Woods and Water Works Parks on 63rd Street in West Des Moines, this three-span truss bridge featured two pin-connected Pratt through truss bridges with portal bracings similar to the 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge, located downstream. It is possible that either George E. King or Clinton Bridge and Iron Works (because of the plaque on the portal bracing) had built the original span. Its northernmost span featured a Pratt through truss bridge with riveted connections and A-frame portal bracing. That bridge was most likely brought in to replace one of the original spans that was destroyed either through flooding or an accident. Little information was gathered about the bridge prior to its demolition and replacement in 1964, due to lack of interest in the history of the structure. Had the historic preservation movement started 10-15 years earlier, it would most likely have been one of the first bridges eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The National Historic Preservation Law was passed in 1966, one year after the replacement of this bridge was open to traffic.

Waterworks Park Bridge. Photo taken by John Marvig in August 2013

Waterworks Park Bridge:    Built in 1922, this Raccoon River crossing is one of the key attractions of Waterworks Park on the south end of Des Moines, as well as the city’s bike trail network. The crossing is 320 feet long and features two 98 foot riveted Pratt pony trusses that used to carry vehicular traffic until its closure in the 1990s. In 1999, the City converted the crossing into a bike trail bridge and has remained in that fashion ever since.

SW Ninth Street Bridge: This Raccoon River crossing is perhaps one of two bridges on this tour that has the least amount of information on its history, despite the fact that it was replaced with the current bridge in 1967. The structure featured three spans of pin-connected Pratt through trusses with Howe lattice portal bracings. Yet that is about it as far as further information is concerned…..

Old Highway 46 Bridge:    This is the second of the two bridges that is missing information (including dimensions) and even more detailed photos than what is shown in the link. No information was found in the historic bridge survey conducted in the early 1990s.  Located southeast of Des Moines, this multiple-span polygonal through truss bridge was built in 1938 and was removed 60 years later when the Hwy. 65 freeway opened. Other than that, there was no information as to whether a previous structure had existed before that, let alone who the bridge builder was that built the 1938 structure. It is known though that the removal of the bridge came despite protests from farmers, who wanted the bridge open so that they can haul farm equipment across it. Yet because the valley where the bridge was located was flood prone, safety precautions were taken and the bridge was removed. Today, portions of the highway exist on its original path from Avon to the river and from there to Des Moines, terminating at Hwy. 163.  Interestingly enough, a railroad bridge located adjacent to the bridge was removed in 1968 after the railroad decided to reroute the line through Indianola enroute to Knoxville. A section of the railroad line exists but makes a dead-end at the power plant located on the north side of the river.

Two Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad Bridges: Located south of the Iowa Interstate Railroad Bridge over the Des Moines River, the crossings featured two four-span through truss bridges. The northern crossing was a quadrangular through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracings. The southern crossing featured Warren through trusses with A-frame portal bracings. Both of them disappeared before 1970.

Ashworth Park Truss Bridge:  This is one of three bridges that straddle Walnut Creek carrying Iowa Interstate Railroad through Des Moines (the other two are Pratt pony trusses). The 1897 Warren through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracings and riveted connections used to serve dual track rail traffic until the 1990s when it was reduced to only one track. The bridge still serves traffic and can be seen up close from the bike trail while passing through Waterworks Park.

This sums up the tour through Des Moines. The truss bridge portion of the tour is rather the most interesting, but the most challenging if one wants to find information and photos of the structure. As some of the structures will be included in the Iowa Truss Bridge Book project, if you have any information that is useful for the project, or for other people who are interested in bridges in general, you can leave a comment here, or you can contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.  Aside from that, it is hoped that people will have an opportunity to visit the bridges while in Des Moines and listen (or read) the stories involved with each of them, for the bridges span a total of 160 years and three periods, both in terms of materials (wood-iron/steel- concrete) as well as the period of bridge building (trusses-arch-modern bridges). Through the interest in history, you are doing more than just collect stories, you are sharing them with others as well, for there is no such thing as no interest in history. Without history, we are ignorant and a group of people with no identity, no pride and no soul. We take pride in history to ensure we know who we are and bridges are an integral part of our history.

 

Author’s Note: More info can be obtained by clicking on the links marked in the heading and text. Special thanks to John Marvig for photographing the bridges and allowing usage in this article.