The 89th mystery bridge takes us back to Iowa and to a town of Muscatine. Located along the Mississippi River, the town of 22,886 inhabitants prides itself on its historic buildings in downtown, the riverfront and the lone LED-lit bridge in the Norman Beckley Bridge, the lone Mississippi River crossing that carries vehicular traffic into Illinois. Natural inhabitant areas, such as areas along the Iowa River and Wildcat Den State Park make the county seat in southeastern Iowa a treat for boaters and drivers alike.
This mystery bridge was discovered by fellow bridgehunter Luke Harden and is located directly in Muscatine. This pony truss span features two Howe designs that have welded connections, with a length totalling not more than 60 feet long. The width is not more than 14 feet. Spanning Geneva Creek west of Issett Avenue, the bridge connects Hilltop Baptist Church on the western bank with a towing company on the eastern bank. According to Harden, the bridge first appeared on a USGS map in 1951 and had been in the middle of farmland prior to the urbanization effect, which followed after 1960. Yet looking at the rust and the riveted/welded connections of the bridge itself, it is very likely that it was constructed much earlier but at a different location. Estimates of the bridge’s age ranges from between 80 and 110 years old. Many bridge companies in the region constructed these bridges between 1905 and 1925, including the Stupp Brothers Company in St. Louis and the King Bridge Company in Cleveland. Yet there is no real information as to who built this bridge and when. However, a similar bridge exists at a park in Henry County, approximately 40 miles to the southeast. There the bridge build date goes back to 1907 but on a farm road. It was relocated to its present site a decade ago.
This leads us to the question of when this bridge was relocated to its present site and from which place of origin. Also important is when it was constructed, aside from the fact that estimates are narrowed to between 1905 and 1920.
Can you solve this case? Feel free to provide some clues and informatiop. A page where the bridge is located is here, which includes a map.
When I mention to my students of English that I originate from the State of Minnesota, the first question that mainly comes to mind is: Where is it? The second: What does it have to offer, apart from professional sports teams, like the Vikings (NFL), Timberwolves (NBA), Wild (NHL), Lynx (WNBA), Loons (MLS), Gophers (NCAA) and Twins (MLB)?
Well, the second question is easy to answer: Minnesota has a lot to offer year round- from fishing to ice carneavals, farming to multi-cultural activities in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul), snowmobiling to chit-chatting with a genuine Minnesotan dialect:
For the first, one has to include a little geography, using Niagra Falls as our starting point, between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Ah yes, Niagra Falls is one of the seven wonders that German tourists most often visit while in the US. As the northern half of the US consists of the Great Lakes Region, most of which straddles the border between the States and Canada, the city on the westernmost end of the region is almost opposite of Niagra Falls by over 2,000 miles. That port, located at the tip of Lake Superior, is Duluth. With over 86,200 inhabitants, Duluth is the third largest city in Minnesota, and combining it with Superior and other cities within a radius of 30 miles, the metropolitan area has 280,000 inhabitants, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the state. Founded in 1857, the city prides itself in its shipping and has several places of interest, whether it is a city zoo, a state park, historic city center, ….
…or even its bridges. 🙂
Since the 1870s, Duluth has been bridged with crossings made of wood and later iron and steel, connecting the city with neighboring Superior and providing access between the mountainous areas on the Minnesota side and the farmlands of Wisconsin, enroute to major cities to the east, such as Chicago, Cleveland and even New York. As the city was bustling with traffic on land and water, the first crossings were movable bridges, featuring bascule and swing bridges, but also a transporter bridge which later became a vertical lift bridge. That bridge, the Aerial Lift Bridge, has become the symbol of Duluth, making it the gateway between land and the deep blue sea. Together with the Slip Drawbridge and the Grassy Point Bridge, the Aerial Lift Bridge is the only movable bridge still functioning today, as it lifts its center span for boats to pass. The Slip Bridge is 26 years old and is sparsely used for smaller boats along the canal, which connects the port area with its business district. The Bong and Blatnik Bridges are two of the longest bridges in Duluth and in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, replacing their predecessors in the movable bridges that had served rail and vehicular traffic. The Grassy Point bridge is the only swing bridge still in use and one of two key railroad crossings that cross the border. A pair of arch bridges dated back to the 1930s used to serve rail traffic going westward, yet they are now part of a rail-to-trail consortium that provides recreation to the parks located to the west.
I first came across the bridges in Duluth during a visit with a few friends in 2009, having spent a vast amount of time at the Aerial Lift Bridge, watching the span raise for boats lining up to pass. With its beautiful amber color at night, one cannot miss this icon when visiting Duluth. Further research was conducted by two key sources: John Weeks III and the newspaper people at the Duluth Tribune, the latter of which had dug up substantial research and photos of some of the most important movable bridges that had served both Duluth and Superior before being replaced by the fixed spans. Combining that with additional research done by another pontist, John Marvig, it was the best decision to put together a tour guide on Duluth’s (historic) bridges, both past and present. Unlike the previous tour guides, this one features a bridge with links that will take you to the pieces written by the Tribune and Weeks, while some bridges feature photos and facts provided by Marvig and Weeks. A map with the location of the bridges is provided in the guide to give you an idea where these bridges are located.
Use this guide and you will have a chance to visit and photograph the bridges that still makes Duluth a key port for transportation, looking at their history and their role in shaping the city’s infrastructure- and that of the US and beyond.
Washington DOT (WSDOT) will pay up to $1 million for the dismantling, transporting and reassembling of the 1925 through truss bridge to be reused for any purpose.
TACOMA, WS- Sometimes historic bridges get into the way of progress and need to be replaced. This is especially true with bridges whose height, width and weight restrictions hamper the ability to get trucks and other means of transportation across. However, before they are removed, states are required to put them up for sale so that third parties can claim them and relocate them the way they see fit. In general, the bridge program has had a mix of successes and failures in selling off their historic assets, for on the one hand, third parties wishing to purchase the historic bridge for use are shirked away by the cost for transportation and reassembly. Furthermore bridges marketed by the department of transportation are often too big or in the case of arch, beam and suspension bridges, too entrenched or too fragile to relocate. On the other hand, however, one will see in each state a success story of a historic bridge that was given to a third party. This is especially true with truss bridges as they are easily taken apart, transported to a new location in segments and reassembled. One will see an example in every state, yet Indiana, Texas, Iowa, Ohio and Minnesota have multiple examples of success stories. Even some stone arch bridges have been relocated to new sites where they still serve their purpose.
However, there is one state department of transportation that is going the extra mile to sell their historic bridge by even paying for the relocation and reassembly of the historic bridge. Between now and 2019, the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) can sell you this historic through truss bridge:
According to the information by the WSDOT and bridgehunter.com, this historic bridge was built in 1925 and used to cross the Puyallup River at State Highway 167 (Meridan Street) in Puyallup, located seven miles east of Tacoma, until it was replaced in 2011 by a modern crossing. It was then relocated on land, where it has been waiting for its new owner ever since. Washington has got a wide array of historic bridges, whose unique design makes it appealing for tourists. They have the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (with its name Galloping Gertie), the , the world’s only concrete pony truss bridge, and a housed through truss bridge made of wood in Whitman County that was once a railroad crossing, just to name a few. The Puyallup Bridge is a riveted Turner through truss bridge, a hybrid Warren truss design that features subdivided chords and A-framed panels. After the demolition of the Liberty Memorial Bridge in Bismarck, ND in 2009, this bridge is the last of its kind and one of two of its design left in the world- the other is a Turner pony truss crossing in the German city of Chemnitz. Normally, going by the standard marketing policy, the historic bridge is marketed first before it is replaced and then taken down if no one wants it. However, looking at that tactic done by many state DOTs, this has not allowed much time for third parties to step forward and save it, especially because of the costs involved. For some bridges, like the Champ-Clark Truss Bridge, spanning the Mississippi River at the Missouri-Illinois border, there was almost no information about the bridge being up for sale as well as a very small time window of three months, thus providing no interest for at least one of the spans. According to MoDOT representatives in an interview with the Chronicles a couple months ago, the spans now belong to the same contractor building the replacement, who in turn will remove the spans when the new bridge opens in 2019.
The Pullayup Bridge is different because of its large size and rare design, which goes along with the history of its construction. It was built in 1925 by Maury Morton Caldwell, a bridge engineer who had established his mark for the Seattle-Tacoma area. This event was important for its completion came at the heels of the introduction of the US Highway System a year later. Born in Waynesboro, Virginia in 1875, Caldwell moved to the Seattle area in 1904. He worked as a civil engineer for the City of Tacoma from 1910 to 1916 before starting his own engineering business. Prior to the construction of this bridge in 1925, Caldwell had been responsible for the construction of the Carbon River Bridge in 1921, the Pasco-Kennewick Bridge in 1922 and the Wiskah River Drawbridge in Aberdeen in 1925. Yet the 371-foot long Pullayup Bridge proved to be one of his masterpieces that he built in 1925, thus leaving an important mark on his legacy of bridge building in the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. It is unknown how many other bridges were credited to his name, but from the historic research conducted by WSDOT, he was never a licensed professional engineer for Washington State and only practiced the profession for the Seattle-Tacoma area, which means the highly likelihood of more bridges having been designed by Caldwell and located strictly in north and western Washington and possibly British Columbia. He died in 1942, having been survived by his wife, Amy, whom he married in 1915, and his sister Nettle, who resided in Virginia state.
The Pullayup Bridge is being offered to those interested by WSDOT between now and 2019. The catch to this is the DOT will pay for the dismantling, relocation and reassembling costs- up to $1 million for the whole process. The only cost that the party may have to pay is for the abutments and possibly the road approaching it. The deal provided by WSDOT is a great steal for those wishing to have a unique historic bridge for reuse as a park or bike trail crossing. Even the thought of using it as a monument describing the history of the bridge, bridge engineering and M.M. Caldwell is realistic. Some parties who have called up wished to convert it into a house, similar to one of the reused spans of the now demolished eastern half of the San Fransisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which had been built in 1936 and was replaced with a cable-stayed span in 2013. The main slogan is if you have an idea for the bridge, WSDOT can pay for it, and you can make your dream a reality. With many successful projects, stemming from creating historic bridge parks in Iowa, Michigan and coming soon to Delaware (where historic bridges were imported from other regions) to numerous bridges along the bike trails throughout the US, Europe and elsewhere, this deal to have the bridge for free, with a transportation agency having to pay for the relocation and reerection at its new home, is something that one cannot really afford to miss out on.
If you are interested in this unique historic bridge, please contact Steve Fuchs at WSDOT, using this link, which will also provide you with more information on this structure. The agency is also looking for more information on M.M. Caldwell and other bridges that he may have designed and contributed to construction. If you know of other bridges built by this local engineer, please contact Craig Holstine, using the following contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 360-570-6639.
Culverts- tunnels that channel water under roads. Culverts are used as a substitute for (mainly small to medium-sized) bridges spanning creeks and small waterways as they have several advantages. First and foremost, they provide minimum maintenance, as either earth and roadway cover them or the short crossings are anchored to the ground and supported by abutments. It acts as a canal for directing water under the roadway but also as a dam to keep debris from blocking the roadway. Yet the drawbacks to culverts is that they are not really effective against high water for floodwaters can undermine culverts by washing out the roadways approaching them. In some cases, they can even collapse, swallowing cars in the process, if they attempt to cross them. If they are not washed out by flooding, the high water can cause flooding upstream up until the crossing itself. In summary, engineers should really think about the advantages and disadvantages of culverts before they even implement them as replacements for bridges deemed obsolete.
This mystery bridge deals with a culvert (or should I say a series of culverts) but in order to better understand the logic behind this, we need to look back at the types of culverts that exist and the oldest known culvert known to human kind. There are five different types of culverts that are used today: pipe, box, pipe arch, arch and bridge slab- the first three can be multiple spans, the last two are single spans of up to 30 meters. All of them are usually built of steel, stone or concrete. Only a handful have been built using brick.
The oldest known culverts that exist in the world go very far back- way back to the Bronze Age. There, you can find Arkadiko Bridge in the state of Argolis in Greece. Built between 1300 and 1190 BC, the stone culvert has a total span of 22 meters and an arch span of 2.5 meters. It is one of four remaining bridges of its kind using an Mycenaean arch design, all of them are located near Arkadiko.
The next one in line is a stone arch bridge over the River Meles in Izmir in Turkey. Built in 850 BC, this bridge is the oldest of its kind still in use. In Australia, the Macquarie Bridge, featuring a double-barrel arch culvert, is considered the oldest bridge still in use. The 1816 bridge can be found in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney. The Old Enon Stone Arch Culvert, built by Samuel Taylor in 1871 and spans Mud Run in Ohio, is the oldest known culvert in the US and one that was built using limestone.
The culverts in the Eiderstedt region in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein may not be as old as the aforementioned bridges, nor is it definitely the oldest in Germany- that honor goes to the Stone Arch Bridge (built in 1146 AD) over the River Danube in Regensburg (Bavaria). But given their appearance, they are one of the oldest in the region, let alone in Schleswig-Holstein. The culverts discovered during my tour along the North Sea to Westerheversand Lighthouse consists of box culverts, built using brick as material. They each span a drainage canal which is used to divert water away from the fields during high tides (German: Flut). And despite the bike trail careening along the dikes that are lined along the shores of the North Sea, these culverts are still in use for farm vehicles. The concept is odd, but because farming is practiced in the Eiderstedt region, brick culverts were used along with concrete and sometimes wooden bridges to haul farm vehicles.
The dikes were established in the early 1960s, in response to a massive storm that flooded large parts of western Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony and the City of Hamburg in 1962. 400 people lost their lives in Hamburg alone, as dike failures took them by surprise and almost all of the hanseatic city was under water. With the dikes came the rechanneling of waterways, eliminating natural gullies, as one can see while traveling along the North Sea coast. The damming of the rivers, such as the Eider, Au, Sorge and Treene, caused the massive extinction of marine wildlife, including the sturgeon, which used to lay eggs upstream close to the rivers’ starting point. The last sturgeon was caught in 1969 and there has not been a single sturgeon in the region ever since. The creation of the Eidersperrwerk near St. Peter-Ording put the last nails in the coffin of the natural cycle of the North Sea, protecting farmers and residents from the flooding processes.
Yet the culverts seen in the pics are much older than the dike and drainage systems that have existed since the 1960s. Judging by the green and yellow moss on the brick and the decoloration of the brick and concrete, it is estimated that the culverts are at least a century old, if not older. Unfortunately, there are no records of the date of construction of the culverts, let alone the bridge builder(s) responsible for building them. Not even the German bridge website Brueckenweb.de has any data on the bridges, nor the Dusseldorf-based Structurae.net. Only a map where the author found the structures and the pictures are the only piece of information that is known to exist.
While some records may be available through local authorities in Husum, St. Peter-Ording or Eiderstedt, the chances of finding concrete information is very slim, because the culverts are only 20 meters long with a center span of only 5 meters, and there are dozens of them that are known to exist, aside from the ones that were found near Westerhever.
Do you know of some information on the history of these ancient culverts? Let alone the number of culverts that still exist in the region alone? If so, then please contact the Chronicles and share some information about them. Any clues, including photos, will be of great help. The culverts will be included in the book project on the bridges in Schleswig-Holstein. Information on how you can contribute can be found here. (Hinweis auf Deutsch: Sie können die Information in der deutschen Sprachen übersenden, da der Autor sehr gutes deutsche Kenntnisse hat.)
The culverts and the covered bridge profiled here, are a couple of many bridges the author found during his trip to the Eiderstedt region. However, there are plenty more that visitors should see while vacationing there. The author has a few bridges that one should see while visiting the Eiderstedt region. The tour guide will come very soon.
Author’s notes: Enclosed is a map with the exact location and specifics of the culverts found during the trip. Information on the Great Flood of 1962 in Hamburg/ Schleswig-Holstein can be found here. A video on the event can be found here.
Ironically, an even bigger flood occurred 16 years later after the dikes and dams were built. It all occurred during the year summer never existed which ended with the Great Blizzard of 1978/79 that crippled the northern half of Germany, stranding thousands of motorists and causing massive flooding in Schleswig-Holstein alone. More information can be found here. and here.
After some time looking at the mystery bridges in the German state of Saxony, our next Mystery Bridge takes us back to the United States and the community of Salisbury in northwestern Connecticut. With a population of 3655 inhabitants, the town, incorporated in 1741, is part of the New York Metropolitan Region, which encompasses the entire state. Salisbury is laden with many historic buildings dating back to the time of its incorporation, some are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Because of its proximity to Mount Frissell in Massachusetts, the community is situated on the highest point in the state, with an elevation of 2380 feet above sea level. And lastly, the community has six lakes and several ponds. And with that come many bridges, although in high numbers.
And with the high number of bridges in the community, come the difficulties of finding rare structures and mystery bridges with missing information, like these two bridges in the postcard above.
Posted recently on bridgehunter.com by Dana and Ray Klein, one can see clearly that the bridge on the left was for pedestrians- on the right for horse and buggy and later, the Model T cars. The setting is around the turn of the century because of their design and appearance. Given the high number of trees and the given facts above, the twin bridges spanned a waterway connecting a pair of lakes and/or ponds. The question here is where exactly the bridge is located.
A closer look at the two bridges show that the material used for construction was clearly iron (most likely, cast iron), for two reasons:
The pedestrian bridge features a curved design, namely curved endposts, and appears to have some artistic designs on the trusses, similar to the ones found at Central Park in New York City. These bridges were built in various areas between 1865 and 1880. It’s unknown what exactly the truss type was given the transversal view in the postcard.
The vehicular bridge featured a Parker pony truss span, using the earliest design by C.H. Parker when it was patented in 1884. The connections were pin-connected, but unlike other regular Parker designs built after 1890, the upper chord consists of eyebar beams built in short lengths per panel with four or five put together. The vertical and diagonal beams are integrated into this mechanism and pins are used to connect all of them. In the picture, you can see how far apart they are, in comparison with conventionalpin-connections, whose vertical beams are inserted into the upper chord, and pins are used solely for the diagonal beams. When Parker introduced his design, wrought iron was already being used, even though it was being phased out in favor of steel because of its flexibility and tolerance to heat. From 1890 onwards, all truss bridges were being built using this material. Therefore, because iron was used for circular designs and ornaments, in comparison to steel used for other geometrical shapes, such as rectangular ones, the bridge was built between 1885 and 1890.
Both bridges are long gone, but it would be curious to know the following questions:
Where were the bridges located?
When were the bridges built? The Parker was most likely between 1885 and 1890, while the pedestrian span was built before 1885.
Who built the bridge?
What were the dimensions of the two bridges? For both, it appears to have the length of between 40 and 70 feet. The pedestrian span had a width of between 10 and 20 feet; the vehicular one, between 15 and 25 feet.
When were they removed? Most likely because of the progressive development of the infrastructure combined with population growth, they were gone before 1960 latest, unless they were relocated. If relocated, where could one see the bridge today?
Do you know about the bridges, then send the author a line or post the information on the Chronicles’ facebook page. You can also comment on bridgehunter.com, where the postcard came from. In either case, we would like to know more about the structures.
Another bridge builder worth mentioning and listing in the Bridge Builder’s Directory is a company based in Council Bluffs, Iowa named Raymond and Campbell. While only one bridge example remains which is credited to the name of the firm, multiple newspaper sources claimed that dozens of bridges were built by this company during the last two decades of the 19th century, with more claimed to have been built by the company’s primary agent, George C. Wise, who later established his own business with his brothers. This included the bridges in Jackson County, Minnesota, one of the bridge builders’ primary customers. According to research done by the author for a bridge book on this topic, from 1883 until 1907, between 10 and 17 bridges were credited to the company’s name and to that of George C. Wise. This includes all but four crossings along the West Branch of the Des Moines river as well as those along the Little Sioux River. By 1955, all of them were replaced with current structures.
Yet the question we still have is what other counties and states did Raymond and Campbell do business with and how many bridges were built? Before opening the question for forum and adding some examples to this article, let’s have a look at the history of the company and its primary agent, George C. Wise:
Little has been written about the company partly because there are only a few records of its existence. However, the company was unique for the founders originated from the northern third of North America and migrated to Iowa to make their living there. E.W. Raymond (1842-?) originated from Lockport, NY and made his way down through Illinois, before settling in Council Bluffs in 1868. Charles Edward Henry Campbell (1850-1902) was a Canadian from Prince Edward Island, who immigrated to the US in 1867, eventually settling down in Omaha, located across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs. Together, the gentlemen founded the bridge building company in September 1874. It is unknown how long the company stayed in business, except the fact that Raymond and Campbell, during the 1880s, had employed about 50 workers and made over $200,000 worth of business. Apart from Mr. Wise, Raymond and Campbell did have an agent for a short time, who would later reach his fame in bridge building through constructing magnificent bridges and patenting his own truss bridge design. That gentleman was John Alexander Low Waddell, and much of his work still exists today. (Click on this link to see his profile)
As for the company’s primary agent, George C. Wise, Raymond and Campbell hired him in 1875 as an agent for the upper Midwest. Born in Huntingdon County, PA in 1851, Mr. Wise served in the Army for five years, was involved in many military conflicts with Native Americans in Nebraska and Wyoming, as well as serving as an escort for the peace commissioners in brokering a truce with Sitting Bull and his Northern Sioux tribe in the Black Hills in July and August of 1875. Shortly after the peace agreement was signed, he was honourably discharged from the Army and emigrated to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he worked for Raymond and Campbell. According to the Pottawattamie County history books, Mr. Wise worked there until he established his own bridge building accounts and worked independently in 1883. He oversaw the construction of crossings in Minnesota and other places and even had his brothers join the business, some of whom continued the business after he retired from the business in 1907. George spent the rest of his life involved in public affairs in Council Bluffs until his death in 1916.
The only known bridge that is still standing today is the Moscow Mills Bridge. Built by Raymond and Campbell in 1885, this Pratt through truss bridge with a three-layered combination of Town Lattice and X-frame portal bracings and pinned connections has a length of 214 feet (the main span is 177 feet). Closed for over a decade, the bridge is sitting idle with overgrowth covering the portal bracings and part of the top chord. Yet plans are in the making to convert this bridge into a recreational crossing in the future, as county officials would like to utilize the bridge as part of a city park. Before doing that though, the bridge will need to be rehabilitated and a new deck. This bridge is located over the Cuivre River on the east end of Moscow Mills in Lincoln County, Missouri.
Other examples of bridges built by Raymond and Campbell but no longer exist include the following (this is an ongoing list as more examples will be added here.)
State Street (a.k.a. North) Bridge in Jackson, MN: Spanning the West Fork Des Moines River at State Street and Ashley Park, this bridge has had its own history which could easily be written into a booklet and sold at the County Historical Society. The bridge was unique because it was the first structure built over the river in Jackson. It was rebuilt seven times over the course of 150 years, counting the current structure. Three of which were credited to Raymond and Campbell and especially to George C. Wise, who was the county’s primary provider of bridges. The first structure was built during the winter of 1866/67, using oak pile and hewn wood courtesy of Welch Ashley. It lasted only a couple months as it was destroyed in an ice jam. It was rebuilt later that year and lasted 12 years until a contract was awarded to Raymond and Campbell to build a new structure in 1879. The iron structure measured 194 feet and had a width of 22 feet. It survived less than two years as flooding and an ice jam took out the structure in March 1881. It was one of several bridges along the river that was destroyed that spring. The county contacted Wise again for a fourth structure, which was built later that summer. The structure only lasted 15 years and Wise was asked to build a stronger structure in 1896, which upon its completion, featured a Pratt through truss with M-frame portal bracings and pinned connections. The bridge was a permanent fix, providing access to the east and north of Jackson for 58 years. The bridge used to carry two primary highways (US 71 and 16) until it was realigned through a new crossing at the junction of Springfield Parkway and Third Street (near the now demolished St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church) in 1924. That bridge eventually was relocated to the site of the last Wise structure in 1955, after city officials revealed that the bridge was no longer able to carry traffic because of structural issues. The North Bridge was the site of many accidents and stories involving floods and ice jams, yet inspite of its checkered history, it was only one of a few rare stories of bridges built either by Raymond and Campbell, George C. Wise or both. This one clearly belongs to the third category, especially as Wise continued to have Jackson County as its primary customer until his retirement in 1907.
 Waddell, Dr. John Alexander Low and John Lyle Harrington. “The Principal Professional Papers of Dr. J.A.L. Waddell” unpublished manscript. Downloaded from Google Books Online 10 November, 2008; Keatley, John H. “The History of Pottawattamie County, Iowa.” Council Bluffs, IA, 1883, p. 50 Downloaded from Google Books Online 10 November, 2008. Stewart, James: E-mail correspondence, 10 November, 2008, Roenfeld, Ryan of the Pottawattamie County Historical Society: E-mail correspondence 29 October, 2008.
 Roenfeld, Ryan of the Pottawattamie County Historical Society: E-mail correspondence 29 October, 2008; Stewart, James: E-mail correspondence, 10 November, 2008; George C. Wise obituary Pottawattamie County Genealogy. Obtained on 3 November, 2008.
During the summer of 1998, I embarked on a bridgehunting tour along six rivers in northern Iowa, among them the Des Moines River. Before splitting into the East and West Forks, the river literally cut the state and its capital Des Moines into two up until Frank Gotch Park south of Humboldt. Then before entering Minnesota, the East branch snakes its way through Humboldt, Kossuth and Emmet Counties, whereas the West Fork stays in Humboldt County, nicking a corner of Pocahontas before halving Emmet County and its county seat Estherville. It was along the West Branch I saw the bridge in the photo above: the Murray Bridge. Located two river miles southeast of Bradgate, this Pratt through truss bridge with pinned connections had a very unique feature on its portal bracing: star-shaped heel bracings welded right through. That, plus the plaque indicating its builder’s date of 1905 all belonged to a local Iowa bridge builder, A.H. Austin. Little did I realize at that time was that although Mr. Austin may have been a local bridge builder, he left a legacy in northern Iowa that is still talked about to this day. And while three bridges were officially credited to his name in a state-wide survey conducted by the late James E. Hippen in the early 1990s, he built more than any of the historians knew about. And henceforth, we will look at his legacy and the bridges that he built up until now, plus the ones that still exist today.
Born Alva Hiram Austin in Colchester, Vermont on 7 September, 1848, he grew to manhood, having graduated at the University of Vermont. After many of his friends decided to heed to the advice of Horace Greeley, the young man of 27 years emigrated west to Webster City in 1875. After having worked for the county auditor and a local church, Alva became interested in bridge building, and in 1877, did an apprenticeship for a bridge builder in Cedar Falls, who was building bridges in Hamilton County, where Webster City is located. Shortly afterwards, he became a contractor, having established his bridge building business in Webster City at 737 Bank Street. For over 40 years, Mr. Austin built dozens of bridges in Hamilton County, as well as surrounding counties, although records have indicated him constructing bridges mainly in Humboldt and Kossuth Counties. It is possible that he built bridges in other counties but more research is needed to confirm these claims. Mr. Austin was known for his athleticism as a civil engineer, having walked 10 miles between his workplace and the bridge building site daily, and thus having known every village and field in the county and its surrounding neighbors.
Mr. Austin was also a committed civic leader, having served as a mayor of Webster City from 1898-1900 as well as the head of the school board from 1899 to 1901, having successfully spearheaded efforts in building the Webster City High School. He later worked as a city inspector, having overseen the construction of the public swimming pool to ensure the design suited the builder’s expectations.
When Alva died on 8 July, 1944 at the age of 96 years, he was survived by his three children, Roy, Jesse and Fred- all of whom had attended college at Iowa State University, yet his daughter Jesse became professor of economics at Cornell University in New York. Especially in his later years before his death, she became his caretaker. Alva’s wife, Chloe Rachel (née: Scullin) died in 1896 after having been married to Alva for 18 years. Another daughter, Grace, had preceded in death 18 years before his ultimate passing.
As far as bridges are concerned, at least 20+ bridges had been built by Austin in five counties, including Hamilton County, yet Kossuth County seemed to have been his primary customer for at least six bridges were built during his career as a bridge builder. One of them was later relocated to Emmet County. Three were reportedly built in Humboldt County, including the now extant Lewis Street Bridge in Humboldt and the aforementioned Murray Bridge near Bradgate. It is still unknown if and where Austin has built other bridges. However, here is the databank of the bridges that he had built. Information on its dimensions and other photos are available by clicking on the name of the bridge, which will take you to the bridge:
Murray Bridge- This 1905 bridge spans the West Fork Des Moines River southeast of Bradgate, in Humboldt County. The bridge is still open to traffic and considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It’s still open to traffic but plans for possible reuse for bikes and pedestrians are being considered.
Armstrong Gravel Pit Bridge- This bridge spans the East Fork of the Des Moines River north of Armstrong in Emmet County. It can be seen from 160th Street but is privately owned. The bridge was built in 1899 by Austin, but its original location was in Kossuth County. Emmet County’s engineer bought the bridge in 1940 for relocation to the gravel pit, where it served traffic until its closure in the 1970s. The bridge then sat abandoned for three decades until a new owner restored it for private use. The markings on the portals are typical of Austin’s design which could be seen with most of the structures built.
Albright Bridge- Spanning the Boone River at Inkpaduta Avenue south of Webster City, this 1907 bridge represents the common form of the Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings and is one of the latest examples of Austin’s work. At 156 feet, this bridge is still one of the longest of its kind in Iowa.
Second Street Bridge- Spanning the Boone River in Webster City, this two-span Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracings with curved heel bracings was one of the first bridges built by Austin in 1878-9. It served US Hwy. 20 when it was designated in 1926. Sadly, a truck crashed into the bridge in 1949 and it was subsequentially replaced in 1950.
Blackford Bridge- Spanning the East Fork Des Moines River west of Algona, this bridge was one of the earliest structures built by Austin. It was one of the first with its star-formed heel bracings but one of the last using the Town Lattice portal bracing. The bridge was replaced in 1942 for unknown reasons except that the steel was probably reused for the war efforts.
Lewis Street Bridge- Located in Humboldt, this two-span Pratt through truss with Town Lattice portal and heel bracings used to carry this thoroughfare until the late 1960s, when it was bypassed by the Hwy. 169 bridge to the west. The bridge closed to traffic in 1970, yet attempts were made to convert it to first pedestrian then afterwards a pipeline crossing. Heeding to the demands of the county engineer to have the structure removed with haste, the bridge was removed in 1981. Today, only the center pier and the abutments can be seen.
Riverdale Bridge- Located over the East Fork Des Moines River at 150th Street, south of Algona and west of Hwy. 169, the Riverdale Bridge was a late example of a bridge built by A.H. Austin. He was awarded a contract to build the bridge in October, having completed it in 1900. The 142-foot Pratt through truss bridge with M-frame portal bracings functioned in place until its replacement in 1991.
Bancroft Bridge- Spanning the East Branch Des Moines River west of Bancroft, this Pratt through truss bridge is similar to the bridge at Armstrong in Emmet County. It was built in 1899 yet it was replaced before 1990, when the statewide Iowa historic bridge survey was carried out.
(Blue highlighted bridges denotes link to bridgehunter.com website; yellow denotes no info outside this page to date)
According to the surveys carried out by Hippen and Clayton Fraser, several other bridges may have been credited to Austin’s name, yet there has not been any full confirmation. Therefore, there is a plea from you. Do you know of other bridges that Austin built? If so, when was it built, where was it located and most importantly, what did it look like prior to its replacement?
All of these bridges will be added to this page on A.H. Austin in the Chronicles’ Bridge Directory. Stories are also welcomed.
Special thanks to Martin Nass of Webster City for the information on A.H. Austin and Doug Miller at the Kossuth County Highway Department for the photos and information on the bridges in the county.