The Bridges of Bertram, Iowa (USA)

Rosedale Bridge
Rosedale Bridge. Photo taken in September 2010

 

Located only five kilometers (two miles) east of Cedar Rapids in the state of Iowa is the village of Bertram. There is not much of the village apart from a cluster of houses along the Cedar River, as well as Big, Indian and Squaw Creeks. But the village of 300 residents living in the largest incorporated area east of Iowa has one special gift for photographers and pontists alike: the area has a lot of pre-1920 historic bridges. Five truss bridges that are over a century old and several arch bridges flank the region, making a photo tour look like a day trip; especially when some of them were built by the likes of J.E. Jayne and Wrought Iron Bridge. Many of them still serve traffic today despite attempts to replace them with more modern crossings. And there is a reason why residents don’t want them: with new bridges comes more traffic and more pollution. Furthermore, they are emotionally attached to the structures as they fit a very natural landscape, which makes the region southeast of the second largest city in Iowa a treat to see.

This tour guide takes you through Bertram and the vicinity, providing you with a glimpse of the bridges you will see when passing through the area. The Ely Street Bridge is being replaced at the time of this revamp of the guide produced in 2014 as the structure was destroyed in a flood.  Blaine’s Crossing is featured as a mystery bridge in this article, which gives us eight bridges featured in this guide that comes with a map. Without further ado…….:

Rosedale Bridge:

Spanning Indian Creek on Rosedale Road, just north of Indian Creek Park, this bridge is one of the shortest through truss bridges in the state, with a span of 89 feet. The markings of the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge- in particular, the Town Lattice portal bracings with knee braces, “fish tail” style floor beams, and sway bracings with riveted angles- are similar to the ones at Ely Street, resulting in the conclusion that the bridge may have been built by J.E. Jayne and Sons of Iowa City. The contractor was the county’s main bridge builder in the 1890s, although only a couple examples remain in use today. 1890 was the date of construction for this bridge, even though it has not been fully confirmed. The bridge was renovated in the early 2000s, which included a paint job shoring up the rip rap and abutments, as well as the replacement of the wood decking and bridge railings (with the typically modern Armco ones), thus continuing its function as a through traffic crossing, albeit only for light vehicles.

Ely Street Bridge in Bertram
Ely Street Bridge in Bertram in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2013

Ely Street Bridge:

Located east of Cedar Rapids and accessible from highways 151 and 13, the town of 300 inhabitants is located on a key railroad line between Clinton and Cedar Rapids. The quiet community prides itself in having four historic bridges located within a six-mile radius, all of them located along Big Creek, one of the tributaries that eventually empties into the Cedar River.  The Ely Street Bridge, located on East Bertram Road just south of the railroad crossing is one of them.

Built in 1891, the two-span Pratt through truss bridge, with Town lattice portal bracings and pinned connections, is a key example of a bridge built by J.E. Jayne and Son Bridge Company in Iowa City, located 30 miles south of Cedar Rapids. Born in 1838,  John E. Jayne moved to Johnson County at the age of two where he settled down with his family on a plot of land in Graham Twp., according to county records. He started his bridge building business in Iowa City in the 1870s, with his company located on Gilbert Street. Many bridges built in Linn County were credited to his name, including three in and around Bertram. The red-colored Ely Street Bridge is the best known product built by Jayne, as the structure consists of two truss spans totalling 224 feet long and 14 feet wide. Plaques are found at the top center part of the portal bracings. The bridge is well-hidden but one will cross it right after crossing the railroad tracks.

Ely Street Brdg. Bertram
Ely Stret Bridge in Bertram

That is, it used to…

Heavy rainfall caused Big Creek to flood its banks, resulting in trees and other debris falling into the rushing waters. One of the larger trees knocked the two-span structure into the water on June 30th, 2014, cutting the truss bridges into pieces and the street off from its main access to US 151 and IA 13. State and local governments contemplated on what to do with the structure, ranging from rebuilding the bridge in its usual form to a full replacement. The decision in June 2016 to scrap the remaining bridge and replace it with a 300 foot concrete bridge put the last nails into the coffin in the life of a bridge, whose builder has a place in the history books of Linn County, as well as the state of Iowa. Moreover, its design and service on America’s roads serve as a reminder of how truss bridges played a role in paving more roads in the history of America’s infrastructure. The replacement span is expected to open by the end of 2017.

Bertram Bridge
Bertram Road Bridge Photo taken in September 2010

Bertram Road Bridge:

This through truss bridge at Bertram Road is the second to last vehicular crossing over Indian Creek before it empties into the Cedar River. Yet although the blue-colored bridge has markings typical of a bridge built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio- namely the Town Lattice portal bracings with ornamental features and builder’s plaque in the middle and a plaque with the date of construction found at each end of the portal bracing where the end posts and top chords meet, the 1876 bridge, whose main span is 115 feet long out of the total length of 192 feet, features a rather unique truss design. According to records from the Iowa DOT, the bridge is a double-intersecting Pratt truss bridge, yet one can look at it closer and argue that it is a Whipple truss with features resembling a Pratt truss bridge. The reasons are that the diagonal beams that cross two panels, going directly through the vertical posts, yet there are some that only cover one bridge panel but in a format similar to a Pratt truss.  The design can be discussed similar to the question of a beverage being half-full or half empty.  In either case, the bridge is listed on the National Register, like the Ely Street and Rosedale Bridges, because of its affiliation with one of the largest bridge builders that existed between 1870 and its integration into the American Bridge Company consortium with 27 other bridge builders in 1901, in addition to its unique but debatable design that is perhaps the last of its kind left in Iowa.

Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

Big Creek Bridge:

Spanning Big Creek, the 100-foot long, red-colored Pratt through truss bridge can be seen either from Bertram Street or Holmann’s Road, providing a picturesque view of the structure and its wooden surroundings, year round. The bridge features pinned connections, V-laced bracings supported by riveted-connected angle supports, Town Lattice portal bracings with angle heel supports, and “fish tail” floor beams. Assumptions indicate a work of J.E. Jayne and Sons built in 1890, yet there is no real confirmation of the exact date. Yet records indicate that it was built in 1929, the date that is considered impossible because of the introduction of standardized truss bridges with riveted connections and letter-style portal bracings (such as the A, WV and M-frame style). Henceforth it must be the date of its relocation. Question is where was it originally built?  Like the Rosedale Bridge, the Big Creek Bridge was renovated recently with new paint, new flooring and new Armco railings, yet it functions as a key crossing within the city limits of Bertram.

Photo taken by Dave King

UP Big Creek Bridge:

Northeast of the Ely Street Bridge is the two-span pony truss bridge with riveted connections. Although it can be seen from Bertram Street enroute to the Big Creek Bridge to the north, it is almost impossible to photograph it from a distance, and given the private property surrounding it, one cannot get close to it to find out the building date and detailed features. One can assume that it was built around 1901-2 to accommodate the increase in rail traffic. The two-tracked Union Pacific line, connects Cedar Rapids with Chicago to the east and Omaha to the west. It is the same line that has the Kate Shelley High Bridge, located 150 miles west of this crossing near Boone. This bridge was bypassed and replaced in 2017.

Photo taken by Dave King

UP Stone Arch Bridge:

This bridge is the shortest of the crossings in and around Bertram. Built in 1901 as part of the double-tracking project along the now Union Pacific rail line between Cedar Rapids and Chicago, the stone arch bridge is no more than 45 feet long and 15 feet deep, spanning an unknown tributary that empties into Indian Creek. The bridge can be seen from Bertram Road, two miles west of Highways 151 and 13.

Squaw Creek Bridge:

The last bridge on this tour may not be the most spectacular-looking crossing, yet it is one that warrants some more research. The bridge is a concrete slab, measuring between 90 and 120 feet long, 15 feet wide and up to 20 feet deep. Yet given its derelict state, it appears that the structure was built between 1900 and 1920, serving the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line between Cedar Rapids and Central City, 20 miles to the north. It is unknown when the line was abandoned, yet given the amount of overgrowth and the concrete deck deteriorating, it has been out of use for at least 30 years. As there are no plans for a possible rail-to-trail project, it seems most likely that the bridge will give into nature and sit abandoned until it collapses on its own, but not before some research is done on the crossing.

Blaine’s Crossing

The Blaine’s Crossing Bridge spans Big Creek between Highways 151 and 13 and Bertram. The Pratt through truss bridge can be seen clearly from the main highway, as the crossings are only 600 feet apart from each other and viewing the bridge from a distance, it appears to be a tall bridge- roughly 18 feet in height from the top chord to the river bed. Despite seeing the bridge from that distance, access to the structure is almost impossible unless either negotiating with property owners or having a camera with a lens that can enable a person to take close-up photos from a distance.  During my visit in 2011, I chose the second variant, taking some pictures from a nearby gravel road (Cedar Woods Road), thus finding out the bridge type, the portal bracing and whether the connections are pinned or riveted. Judging by the photos taken (which can be seen here), the bridge is a pinned connected Pratt, with A-frame portal and strut bracing, and has seven panels.  Dave King, another bridge photographer took the first option of getting up close to the bridge (but probably not before talking to the nearby home owners about it first) and looking at the details of the bridge during the winter months (his photos can be seen here as well). There, one can take some assumptions about the bridge’s dimensions. As the truss bridge has seven panels, it is between 120 and 140 feet long with a 15-17 foot width, this not including the fact that the original bridge decking has long since been removed. Also noteworthy is the eye-loop connections of the vertical beam at the outermost panels, which is a rare feature for a truss bridge. The bridge originally served a local road going to Bertram until 1965, when the crossing was supplanted by the Highway 151 Bridge, as part of the project to bypass Cedar Rapids and Marion. Whether or not the road was once part of 151 is unclear, but a mystery bridge article shows the potential of the theory to be true.

A map of the bridges show where they are located so that in case you wish to visit them, you can.

 

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The Bridges of Bertram, Iowa

Rosedale Bridge
Rosedale Bridge. Photo taken in September 2010

The collapse of the Ely Street Bridge a few weeks ago was a tragedy for people living in the small village of Bertram. Located east of Cedar Rapids in Linn County, Bertram has over 300 inhabitants and prides itself on it historic bridges located not only directly in the village, but also within a five-mile radius of each other. As many as eight historic bridges are located directly in or in the vicinity of Bertram, many of them are accessible by car.  They include six structures built before 1915 that are made of either iron or steel. Two of them are confirmed to have been built by a local bridge contractor. One of them is a mystery bridge, which can be seen from US Hwy. 151/ IA 13, and will be documented as such in the next article.  These bridges have received their share of visits from photographers, pontists and history junkies alike visiting the area. They were on the Saturday morning tour of the Historic Bridge Weekend last year. This makes it even more important not only to recognize them as important places of interest that contributed to Linn County’s history but also protect them from wear and tear and modernization. Already residents rejected funding from the state and county to replace these bridges last year, a sign that they want to keep their bridges from becoming history. Yet with the Ely Street Bridge down, the challenge will be not only to try and rebuild it, but also strengthen the other bridges so that they do not become the next victims of flooding. With Linn County having one of the strongest track records with regards to historic bridge preservation in the state, many people are taking comfort in the fact that something will be done to ensure these bridges will last for future generations to come.

This tour guide takes you through Bertram and the vicinity, providing you with a glimpse of the bridges you will see when passing through the area. The Ely Street Bridge has already been mentioned in a previous article, yet you can click here if you have any ideas as to how to rebuild the bridge. Blaine’s Crossing will be featured as a Mystery Bridge in the following article, which takes us down to six bridges featured in this guide, starting with:

Rosedale Bridge: Spanning Indian Creek on Rosedale Road, just north of Indian Creek Park, this bridge is one of the shortest through truss bridges in the state, with a span of 89 feet. The markings of the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge- in particular, the Town Lattice portal bracings with knee braces, “fish tail” style floor beams, and sway bracings with riveted angles- are similar to the ones at Ely Street, resulting in the conclusion that the bridge may have been built by J.E. Jayne and Sons of Iowa City. The contractor was the county’s main bridge builder in the 1890s, although only a couple examples remain in use today. 1890 was the date of construction for this bridge, even though it has not been fully confirmed. The bridge was renovated in the early 2000s, which included a paint job shoring up the rip rap and abutments, as well as the replacement of the wood decking and bridge railings (with the typically modern Armco ones), thus continuing its function as a through traffic crossing, albeit only for light vehicles.

Bertram Bridge
Bertram Road Bridge Photo taken in September 2010

Bertram Road Bridge: This through truss bridge at Bertram Road is the second to last vehicular crossing over Indian Creek before it empties into the Cedar River. Yet although the blue-colored bridge has markings typical of a bridge built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio- namely the Town Lattice portal bracings with ornamental features and builder’s plaque in the middle and a plaque with the date of construction found at each end of the portal bracing where the end posts and top chords meet, the 1876 bridge, whose main span is 115 feet long out of the total length of 192 feet, features a rather unique truss design. According to records from the Iowa DOT, the bridge is a double-intersecting Pratt truss bridge, yet one can look at it closer and argue that it is a Whipple truss with features resembling a Pratt truss bridge. The reasons are that the diagonal beams that cross two panels, going directly through the vertical posts, yet there are some that only cover one bridge panel but in a format similar to a Pratt truss.  The design can be discussed similar to the question of a beverage being half-full or half empty.  In either case, the bridge is listed on the National Register, like the Ely Street and Rosedale Bridges, because of its affiliation with one of the largest bridge builders that existed between 1870 and its integration into the American Bridge Company consortium with 27 other bridge builders in 1901, in addition to its unique but debatable design that is perhaps the last of its kind left in Iowa.

Photo by Quinn Phelan

Big Creek Bridge: Spanning Big Creek, the 100-foot long, red-colored Pratt through truss bridge can be seen either from Bertram Street or Holmann’s Road, providing a picturesque view of the structure and its wooden surroundings, year round. The bridge features pinned connections, V-laced bracings supported by riveted-connected angle supports, Town Lattice portal bracings with angle heel supports, and “fish tail” floor beams. Assumptions indicate a work of J.E. Jayne and Sons built in 1890, yet there is no real confirmation of the exact date. Yet records indicate that it was built in 1929, the date that is considered impossible because of the introduction of standardized truss bridges with riveted connections and letter-style portal bracings (such as the A, WV and M-frame style). Henceforth it must be the date of its relocation. Question is where was it originally built?  Like the Rosedale Bridge, the Big Creek Bridge was renovated recently with new paint, new flooring and new Armco railings, yet it functions as a key crossing within the city limits of Bertram.

Photo by Dave King

UP Big Creek Bridge: Northeast of the Ely Street Bridge is the two-span pony truss bridge with riveted connections. Although it can be seen from Bertram Street enroute to the Big Creek Bridge to the north, it is almost impossible to photograph it from a distance, and given the private property surrounding it, one cannot get close to it to find out the building date and detailed features. One can assume that it was built around 1901-2 to accommodate the increase in rail traffic. The two-tracked Union Pacific line, connects Cedar Rapids with Chicago to the east and Omaha to the west. It is the same line that has the Kate Shelley High Bridge, located 150 miles west of this crossing near Boone. This bridge was bypassed and replaced in 2017.

Photo by Dave King

UP Stone Arch Bridge: This bridge is the shortest of the crossings in and around Bertram. Built in 1901 as part of the double-tracking project along the now Union Pacific rail line between Cedar Rapids and Chicago, the stone arch bridge is no more than 45 feet long and 15 feet deep, spanning an unknown tributary that empties into Indian Creek. The bridge can be seen from Bertram Road, two miles west of Highways 151 and 13.

 

Squaw Creek Bridge: The last bridge on this tour may not be the most spectacular-looking crossing, yet it is one that warrants some more research. The bridge is a concrete slab, measuring between 90 and 120 feet long, 15 feet wide and up to 20 feet deep. Yet given its derelict state, it appears that the structure was built between 1900 and 1920, serving the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad line between Cedar Rapids and Central City, 20 miles to the north. It is unknown when the line was abandoned, yet given the amount of overgrowth and the concrete deck deteriorating, it has been out of use for at least 30 years. As there are no plans for a possible rail-to-trail project, it seems most likely that the bridge will give into nature and sit abandoned until it collapses on its own, but not before some research is done on the crossing.

The last bridge on the tour is the Blaine’s Crossing Bridge. Yet this mystery bridge has a story of its own, as you will see in the next article.

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The Bridges of Ames, Iowa

211245-L
Photo taken in August 2011

Our next post brings you to Ames, Iowa. Located 30 miles (48 km) north of the capital of Des Moines, the city of 59,000 is perhaps the engineering hub of the state. The Iowa Department of Transportation has its headquarters in the city’s business district.  Iowa State University is filled with engineering students with promising aspects in the future. And even though it is not the county seat of Story County (that honor goes to Nevada, located 8 miles (15 km) east of the city), the city is part of the triangular district, sharing with its neighbor to the east as well as to the west, Boone, Iowa, located 10 miles  (18 km) west of the city and home of the Kate Shelley Viaduct and the Wagon Wheel Bridge.

Now as far as bridges are concerned, the city, like Story County, is loaded with numerous pre-1960  bridges dating as far back as 1875, with numerous bridge types to choose from and regardless of whether they used for rail or vehicular traffic. Some of them used to cross Skunk River (located east of the city) before being taken off the highway system or relocated to a less traveled road. This includes those that served the Lincoln Highway (US Highway 30). But many of them cross Squaw Creek, which snakes its way through the city before emptying into the Skunk River in the southern part of the city.

Luke Harden, a college student at Iowa State University and a regular contributor of the Historic Bridges of the US website, picked out the top five of the bridges that one should visit, even though the selection is rather difficult. He will provide you with a tour of the bridges, with a bonus question on the part of the author: Can you match the picture I posted above to the ones he profiled?

Luke Harden:

These bridge my favorites not because of build dates or because of a specific design, or anything like that. These bridges are my favorites because they aesthetically befit the scenery in which they are located.  These bridges were places that I would visit, sit down, and do nothing but be one with the surroundings.  These bridges are simply aesthetically beautiful in their surroundings.


Bridge #1 Veenker Memorial Golf Course Pony Truss Bridge
This bridge is a footbridge located within the Iowa State University Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames. It spans Squaw Creek and it is part of the cart path and is crossed often with golf carts by users of the course. It is located in the western part of the course.  Now that corner of the course has quite a fair amount of trees. This bridge is a welded truss comprised of angle irons and was built at a presently unknown date by an equally unknown builder. The bridge itself aesthetically befits the scenery in which it was set.  The steel is thin enough that from a distance on a spring or summer day, you could hardly tell there was a bridge there until you got up close.
Images:
http://bridgehunter.com/photos/22/97/229726-L.jpg
http://bridgehunter.com/photos/22/97/229728-L.jpg
http://bridgehunter.com/photos/22/97/229727-L.jpg

Bridges #2-3 Squaw Creek Railroad Bridge & 6th Street Bridge
These bridges are not too far from each other in Ames. They are only of few meters apart from each other.  The double tracked railroad bridge was mostly built in 1898 by the Lassig Bridge & Iron Company of Chicago, Illinois with one span bearing a tab/plaque for the Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The bridge replaced an earlier single tracked pony truss bridge. The 6th Street Bridge over Squaw Creek is a girder bridge that was built in 1948.  The bridges are both surrounded by trees and are located adjacent to Brookside Park and the Ames municipal skatepark and bike trail. The 6th Street Bridge was recently replaced by a newer span in 2016.
Images:
http://bridgehunter.com/photos/22/97/229700-L.jpg
http://bridgehunter.com/photos/22/96/229696-L.jpg
http://bridgehunter.com/photos/22/96/229697-L.jpg

 

ames

Bridge #4 Skunk River Bridge
This Warren through truss bridge was originally built in 1876 by the King Bridge Company at Cambridge, Iowa over the (South) Skunk River, where it’s piers faced issues and was eventually replaced in 1919, at which point the span was moved to this location, paired with a generic pony truss provided by the Iowa State Highway Commission (now known as the Department Of Transportation), which is based out of Ames, Iowa.  It served as a crossing of the Skunk River on a small and extremely rarely used gravel road until the bridge, along with the road, were vacated in 1990. The bridge presently sits abandoned, utilized by locals who live in the nearby residential neighborhood to walk their dogs and college students going to the first US land grant college, Iowa State University.  The bridge is located in an area that is quite scenic, and, most importantly for a nature lover of any form, quiet. The only non-natural noise that is frequently heard would be the sound of airplane engines droning as the Ames municipal airport is nearby.

Images:

http://www.bridgehunter.com/photos/21/12/211237-L.jpg                    http://www.bridgehunter.com/photos/21/12/211264-L.jpg                    http://www.bridgehunter.com/photos/21/12/211256-L.jpg


Bridge #5 Squaw Creek Park Bridge
This bridge is part of a rail-to-trail within the city limits of Ames that is presently closed due to flood damage on an approach span (The plate girder itself is in good shape for a railroad bridge.).  The bridge was part of an Ames-Slater line on the Chicago &and Northwestern Railway, which was abandoned in the 1980s. The bridge was presumably built by the American Bridge Company of New York. This assumption is based upon two holes on the side of the bridge. These holes match up with known riveting/bolting patterns for bridge plaques on girder spans built by the American Bridge Company. The assumption is also backed up with knowledge that the American bridge company built extremely similar pony plate girders for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. The bridges (and the trail) are part of Ames’ Squaw Creek Park.  The views from the bridge shows you an upstream view, including the  nearby confluence of Worle Creek with the Squaw as well as well as the surrounded wooded area, and the downstream view will show you the rest of the surrounding woods. It’s a great place in Ames to just stand and watch the creek flow whilst listening to the birds chirp.

Author’s Note: This bridge was replaced in 2012.
Images linked are John Marvig’s, I have been given permission to use them:
http://bridgehunter.com/photos/23/60/236078-L.jpg
http://bridgehunter.com/photos/23/60/236074-L.jpg
So there you have it. My top 5 most aesthetically pleasing bridges of Ames, Iowa.

Author’s note: For more information on the bridges in Ames and Story County, you can click on the link here.  Some of the bridges I visited during my trip through Iowa last year while visiting the Iowa DOT, and I have to agree with Mr. Harden, many of these bridges are highly recommended to visit, but there are many others outside the city that deserve some visitors in one way or another.  In either case, when you are in Story County and happen to stop in Ames, take an hour or two for the bridges. You will not regret it.

 

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