Our next bridge profile is a true rarity found in the US; in particular, in one of the most historic bridge-laden states in the country- Indiana. Three miles south of Aurora in Dearborn County, and a half mile west of the Ohio River is the Triple Whipple Bridge. The origin of the name comes from the fact that this 298 foot long through truss bridge is the only truss bridge of its kind left in the United States, whose diagonal beams pass through three panels instead of the two that are typical of the truss design invented by Squire Whipple. Normally, truss bridges have diagonals supporting one panel. The bridge was built in 1878 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company and used to serve a major highway until the 1950s. Restored in 2008, it still receives its lion’s share of pedestrians and cyclists today. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.
A while back, History in Your Backyard did a documentary on this bridge, which includes an in-depth coverage of its history, let alone a detailed view of the bridge, both ariel as well as on the ground. Before explaining further about this bridge, one should have a look at the film and plan a visit. A map with the bridge’s location is at the end of this article. Tell us about your impressions of the structure. Recommend it to others, even if they are passing through. There you will see a prime example of how Indiana takes care of its artefacts for others to see while stopping by. Enjoy! 🙂
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville, Pennsylvania. One of the most unique bridges in the US and perhaps even beyond. Spanning French Creek, the two-span through truss bridge featured an 1871 worught iron Whipple span encased with a 1912 Baltimore span. When I visited the bridge during the 2010 Historic Bridge Weekend, the blue-colored span was closed to traffic with a bleak future in its midst. The majority of the city’s population wanted the bridge gone. But efforts were being undertaken to try and preserve at least half the span. This bridge was the first one profiled in the very first aricle I wrote for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles blog, when it was launched in October of that same year. Click here for the article.
Fast forward to the present and the situation has changed completely. The bridge is being profiled again as the first article produced by the Chronicles as a website, yet the bridge is no more.
Well, not quite. 🙂
Most of the historic bridges like this one would be cut up into pieces and hauled away to be recycled. In Pennsylvania it is no exception for many of them are being replaced through the rapid replacement program initiated by PennDOT and many bridge builders in the private sector last year. Yet a last-minute attempt by one pontist has paid off. The bridge is being distmantled, the parts will be hauled, BUT it will be relocated. The question is how?
The Chronicles had a chance to talk about the plan to restore the bridge with Art Suckewer, the pontist who is spearheading the efforts and pulled off the last minute trick to saving the artefact from becoming a thing of the past. What he is going to do with the bridge and the challenges that he and his crew are facing at the moment are discussed below:
How did you become interested in historic bridges in general? I always liked them since I was a kid but never thought of them as more than a neat part of the scenery until recently. After purchasing a farm property in a historic district with several stream crossings, I researched my options and discovered that acquiring an old truss bridge was a viable solution. I learned a lot through your website, bridgehunter and historic bridges. Through speaking with Julie Bowers, Nathan Holth and Jim Cooper, I learned what was involved and received enough guidance to try to acquire one. While Mead Ave. was on my list, I thought it was too big of a project, and Vern Mesler was going for it so it seemed like it would be preserved. Instead I went for the Beatty Mills Bridge and the Carlton Bridge as my primary and back-up selections. Little did I know I’d get them both!
What got you interested in the Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadville?What is so special about it in your opinion? Your website, bridgehunter.com and historic bridges.org brought it to my attention. What is so special is that it still exists, that it was very decorative (none of the websites show the bridge with its original spires – look at pictures/ woodcut prints of the Azuma Bashi Bridge in Japan if you want to get a sense of what this bridge once was) and that even though it is a Penn Bridge Co. bridge it represents the last example of an early, long span Keystone Bridge Co. design. I am now 95% certain that it was built by Keystone Bridge Co. to Jacob Linville’s 1865 patent as a kit to be erected by Penn Bridge Co.
How did you purchase the bridge? Vern Mesler was going to take it but he had difficulty getting his plan approved due to very sensitive environmental issues (I still think his approach was the best way to go). Once Vern gave up, I stepped in because I feel strongly that the bridge should be saved. I think because I established credibility with PENNDOT in recovering two other bridges successfully (thanks to Nels Raynor, Nathan Holth, Jim Cooper and Ross Brown), my engineering background and experience in writing proposals and working with government agencies gained from my day job, they gave me a shot. I had pursued the recovery for nine months with serious efforts beginning in August. That said, it didn’t come together until after it was already too late and ownership had been transferred to Mekis (the prime contractor for the replacement) but with Mekis’ support/flexibility and strong support from PENNDOT, especially Kara Russell and Brian Yedinak, and Ross Brown’s inspection of the bridge and willingness to attempt my plan to reinforce the 1912 Baltimore truss as a falsework and disassemble the 1871 Whipple in place did we get the go ahead. We had less than two months and Ross worked 10 – 12 hour days 7 days a week to pull it off but the 1871 structure has now been successfully removed. The remaining structure will be lifted by crane by Mekis then disassembled by Ross and removed by May.
What difficulties did you encounter? The plan we were allowed to pursue was the most difficult and risky approach. Finding the funds was tough. Due to the lateness, Ross had a very narrow window to pull off the job and it ended up being one of the worst/coldest winters in memory. Also, the bridge had lots of previous improper repairs that made Ross’ job much more difficult.
What are your plans for the bridge? What are the places you want to relocate the structure? While I have committed to putting the bridge on my property and I do have a place for it, I consider that to be a placeholder. Ideally I’d like to find a home in a northwestern Pennsylvania town as a pedestrian walkway within a town as part of that towns revitalization. Alternately, a public use elsewhere. We have some leads.
How much rehabilitation will be needed before the bridge is reconstructed? A lot. The bridge is suffering from a thousand improper repairs as well as differed maintenance. However, the project is doable because the quality of the castings, both in tolerance and material is extraordinary – definitely benefitting from the demands of James Eads on Andrew Carnegie to meet his exceedingly high quality standards for the Eads Bridge as both bridges construction periods overlapped.
When will we see the reconstructed bridge next time? Within ten years (if it is reused for a public purpose then it may be soon; if no one else wants it, I’ve got two other bridges to fix first so it will be a while).
Any advice you would give to any party interested in preserving a bridge, regardless of whether it is in place or if it needs to be relocated? Look at all options; be flexible; listen to the experts (especially the craftspeople); be patient yet persistent; leverage your resources; be prepared to walk away – you can’t win them all; If you think ‘someone should…’ ask yourself if that someone is you.
Good luck to Art and his crew as they continue with the project. The removal and disassembly part is just the first of many phases that will be done during the 10-year frame he’s mentioned. There are many more to come, and if there is a proverb to end this article, it is the song produced by the East German music group Karat entitled “Über sieben Brücken muss du gehen.” (You must cross seven bridges) There, the person had to cross seven bridges spanning the worst of ravines in order to reach his destination. This is what Suckewer and crew are facing with the Mead Avenue Bridge. But after the seventh bridge is crossed and the newly restored Mead Avenue Bridge is in place, the efforts will pay off in the end. Even if the seventh bridge is out and there is no place to relocate the bridge, there will be many attempts to make sure that the restored bridge finds a new home and someone who will take care of it and use it for his purpose.
But before we speculate, let’s watch, wait and see how this next chapter, the one after a rather happy ending in the current one we’re reading, unfolds. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.
Note: More photos of the Meadville Bridge are available via flickr.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
And now the answer to the question of naming the bridge type. As you will recall, in a posting from last Thursday, there was a post card of a bridge that spanned the Wapsipinicon River near Independence in Buchanan County, located in the northeastern part of Iowa. While some people may have found the answer through James Baughn’s website, there are some who are not familiar with that, nor the picture, as it was posted most recently and readers have not yet had a look at the picture until now.
I can tell you that I had written about this bridge type a few years ago as part of an essay for a history class at the university here in Germany, and there are some examples of this bridge type that still exist today, even though there are two different types of this truss type that three bridge builders had used during their days.
The answer: The Thacher Truss. In 1881, Edwin Thacher (1840-1920), an engineering graduate of Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute, invented and patented this unusual truss type. It is a mixture of four truss types: the Warren, Pratt, Whipple and Kellogg. While the Kellogg is a Pratt truss design featuring a subdivided panel supporting the original diagonal beams that connect the vertical beams, the Thacher features two sets of diagonal beams starting at each end of the truss bridge at the upper chord- one creates a panel similar to the Pratt truss, while the other crosses two or three panels before meeting the center panel, which forms an elusive A-frame. The bridge at Independence was the very first bridge that was built using this truss design. It was built in 1881 and was in service for over 40 years. Yet after having the design patented in 1885, Thacher went on to build numerous bridges of this type, most of which were built between 1885 and 1910. He later invented other bridge designs, some of which will be mentioned here later on.
While it was unknown how many of these types were actually built between 1881 and 1920, sources have indicated that Iowa may have been the breeding ground for experimenting with this truss type. Apart from the railroad bridge at Independence, the very first structure that was built using the Thacher, as many as four Thacher truss bridges were reported to have been built in the state. Among them include the longest single span truss bridge ever built in the state, the Philips Mill Bridge, spanning the Winnebago River outside Rockford, in Floyd County. Built in 1891, this 250 foot long bridge, dubbed as one of the most unusual truss bridges built in the country, was the successor to a two-span bowstring through arch bridge and served traffic until it was replaced in 1958. Other Thacher truss bridges built included one over the Shell Rock River north of Northwood (in Worth County), the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge over the Des Moines River in Emmet County and the Okoboji Bridge over the Little Sioux River in Dickinson County. Of which only the Ellsworth Ranch and Okoboji Bridges still exist today.
On a national scale, if one counts the two remaining Iowa bridges, there are five bridges of this kind left, which include the Costilla Bridge in Colorado, Linville Creek Bridge in Virginia, and the Yellow Bank Creek Bridge in Minnesota. Two additional bridges, the Parshallburg Bridge (2009) and the Big Sioux River bridge in Hamlin County (2009) have long since disappeared due to flooding/ice jams and structural instability, respectively. While the majority of the bridges mentioned here were constructed by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio, the King Bridge Company in Cleveland constructed the Ellsworth Ranch, Yellow Bank and Hamlin County bridges, using a different hybrid of Thacher truss that was modified during James King’s reign as president of the bridge company (1892-1922). The Clinton Bridge and Iron Company in Clinton, Iowa built the only Thacher pony truss bridge in the Okoboji Bridge, the bridge that is featured in the next article. While the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge remains closed to traffic and seems to be abandoned, the Yellow Bank Bridge was relocated to Hastings, Minnesota in 2007 to serve as a replica of the Hastings Spiral Bridge at the Little Log Cabin Historic Village.
And that is the answer to the pop quiz, even though for some experts in the field, the answer was obvious. Yet perhaps the next bridge type quiz may be even more challenging than the first one. As for the ones who didn’t know, this one should get you acquainted to the questions that are yet to come that will require some research. So let’s go to the next question, shall we?
Author’s Note: If you know of other Thacher Truss Bridges that existed in Iowa or any part of the US and would like to bring it to his attention (and that of the readers), you know where to reach him: email@example.com or via facebook under The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. He’ll be happy to add it in any future columns, and for his project on Iowa’s Truss Bridges, it will make an excellent addition.
Located in Oneida County in north central New York State, the Town(ship) of Boonville is one of the forgotten relicts of the bygone era. With a population of over 4,500 inhabitants, the township was founded by Gerrit Boon, who explored and bought land for his company in 1795. It is located on the Black River Canal, which connects the Black River and the Erie Canal. There are a lot of historic points of interest that makes the town special, including those in the village of Boonville, which accounts for half of the township’s population.
For bridge lovers, Boonville town(ship) is loaded with unique bridges of every size, type and history, whether it is the bowstring arch bridge, which serves as a showcase for the local museum, a Whipple truss bridge that used to serve a railroad, but now serves a snowmobile trail, or even an arch bridge. There are over 25 historic bridges within the area of Boonville, some of which are concentrated within the village of Boonville. Because of the high number, the Chronicles will profile six of the ones that should be visited, thanks to information and photos provided by Marc Scotti of the New York State Department of Transportation. One of the bridges was entered in the Best Photo Contest for this year’s Ammann Awards.
Willett Bridge: This bridge spans the Mohawk River in the village of Rome, 30 minutes away from Boonville. The design features a Luten arch, characterized by its elliptical arches, as seen in the photo. The bridge is one of the more ornamental ones serving the village, as it has a unique builder’s plaque and many 20s style ornamental lighting, which makes this 1929 structure unique.
Sugar River Bridge: There are many reasons why this bridge is a must-see. It was built in the 1800s by Phoenix Bridge and Iron Company, consisting of a Whipple through truss bridge with Phoenix columns. It also had double-floor beams, which is one of a kind according to today’s standards. It was converted to snowmobile traffic in the 1980s. It placed third in last year’s Ammann Awards for best bridge photo.
Boonville Museum Bridges: The Boonville Canal Museum has many features that are in connection with the Black River Canal and the town’s history. Three genuine bridges, including the Whipple arch bridge (shown at the beginning of the article) serve this area, provding tourists with a sense of nostalgia, when walking through the area about 3 square miles. The Whipple Arch Bridge was one of many bowstring arch bridges that were built by Squire Whipple in the 1870s. This one was built in 1872. Interesting fact is the fact that it was Whipple himself who patented the bridge in 1848 and most of the bridges built during his lifetime were in New York state, many of which were along the Erie Canal. The second bridge is the Bailey Truss bridge, a riveted Howe lattice bridge that was used solely for temporary crossings during the 1940s and 50s, but this span was preserved and is used as primary access to the Whipple bridge. The youngest of the bridges happens to be the youngest bridge of its type built in New York state- the Town Lattice covered bridge. Built in 2005, the 70 foot long and 24 foot wide bridge is the most ornamental of covered bridges in the state and one of the main features of the park. A photo of the bridge, provided by Scotti is one of the candidates for this year’s Ammann Awards for Best Photo.
Other bridges worth noting but will be mentioned in later articles include those built by the Havana Bridge, Vermont Bridge and Iron and Elmira Bridge Companies, where one of two of each of the bridges are left in the state (and perhaps the country). Two thirds of them consist of a standardized truss design, but the history of each one is unique for the Boonville area because of local stories that are associated with them, in addition to the bridge builders. Unfortunately, half of these bridges will be replaced over the next couple of years. However, the Chronicles will profile the bridges in the next year in hopes that someone will pay attention to the unique value of the bridge and claim it before the bulldozer does. In addition, a Lane pony truss bridge is also located in the township, although it is unclear where it is located. Built in 1903, the truss bridge type is one of the rarest to find in the US. The Chronicles will provide a tour through the rare bridge types next year and will present the history of the bridge type and the examples that still exist.
While the number of bridges in the township is huge and cannot all be profiled, the author hopes that a few examples will provide tourists with another reason to visit the Boonville area (town(ship) and village), in addition to knowing about its history and visiting the historic places that make the are very special. There is special bridge for everyone in the area, which justifies its place as one of the candidates for Best Kept Secret for 2012. And even if one does not visit Boonville for the bridges, there is a lot of history and heritage that makes the area worth seeing.
The author would like to thank Marc Scotti for mentioning this area and for providing the photos and information on the bridges.
Note: This is part II of the series on tracking down the history of a historic bridge. To view part I, please click here.
After going through some useful tips on info-tracking a historic bridge (similar to that of genealogical research), part II looks at a pair of success stories of how a historic bridge’s life was tracked down through research. Both historic bridges mentioned here were relocated at least once, yet thanks to the research conducted by historians and members of the state agencies, they were able to determine the origin of the bridge’s history, tracing its life from start to present. One of the bridges is now enjoying its third life in service, even though it was close to becoming a pile of scrap metal, whereas the other no longer exists as attempts to relocate it a third time failed due to a tragedy. In either case, they are both worth mentioning and serving as poster boys for other bridges, whose lifespan remains to be researched.
Example 1: Hansen’s Ford Bridge in Allamakee County
Location: Upper Iowa River at Ellingson Bridge Road just east of the Winneshiek/Allamakee County Border
Type:Two-span Whipple through truss bridge with Wrought Iron Bridge Company-style Town lattice portal bracing
Dimension: 278 feet long (Each span was 138 feet); 15.8 feet wide
Status: No longer exists. Destroyed during a relocation attempt in 1994 and later scrapped.
Also known as Ellingson Bridge due to its proximity to the family farmstead, the Hansen’s Ford Bridge was one of only a handful of bridges that featured two spans of a Whipple through truss bridge. The portal bracing is a textbook resemblance of the one used by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Canton, Ohio, the one that built the bridge. Research done by the late James Hippen of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and later followed up by other pontists (including yours truly) revealed that the bridge was relocated once in its lifetime. It was known as the Pierce Bridge and was originally constructed in 1878 over the Cedar River west of Osage in Mitchell County. It was one of three bridges that served the county seat. When officials wanted to grade the main highway (now known as Iowa Hwy. 9) and with that build a wider bridge, the bridge was dismantled and transported three counties over towards the east, while a new bridge was built in its place. The truss spans were constructed over the Upper Iowa River east of the county border with neighboring Winneshiek County, replacing a wooden trestle bridge. This all happened in 1939. Apart from newspaper articles and post cards, like this one, the key evidence proving its relocation was found in the blue print provided by the Allamakee County Highway Department.
Sadly though attempts to relocate the bridge for the second time failed. The bridge was supposed to be given over to a private group to be erected over the Yellow River in the southern part of the county, yet as the spans were being hoisted from the river, they fell apart and collapsed. The decision was made to scrap the bridge. It is unknown what caused the disaster, but it is assumed that age combined with lack of maintenance may have played a role in the failed attempt to give the bridge a new life off the public road system.
Example 2: Silverdale Bridge
Location: Manning Avenue on Gateway Trail east of Mahtomedi in Washington County, Minnesota
Type:Wrought iron pin-connected Camelback Pratt through truss bridge with Town lattice portal bracing
Dimension: 162 feet long and 17 feet wide
Status: In use as a recreational trail
The Silverdale Bridge has a very unique history for not only was it relocated four times- untypical of any truss bridge on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean- but it was a mystery bridge that took many years of research to solve. In particular, the question that was on the minds of personnel at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) was where it originated from and who built the bridge?
The bridge was built in 1877, using wrought iron instead of steel. The evidence was through a laboratory study conducted in 2002. Yet visual studies concluded that the bridge was first built over Sauk Lake in Sauk Centre, in Stearns County. This was based on collaboration between MnDOT, the Historical Society in Sauk Centre and locals affiliated with the bridge. While a plaque was located on the top part of the portal bracing, up until now, it has not been identified as to who constructed the bridge, let alone whether the plaque still exists or if it has long since been destroyed. It is unknown whether any information from newspapers as to who built it would have helped.
The bridge’s life almost came to an untimely end, when it was replaced in 1935 with a steel stringer bridge and the truss bridge was relocated to a storage yard. Interestingly enough, the stringer span survived only 65 years before being replaced with a concrete span, which still serves main traffic today. It was salvaged two years later and was relocated over 500 kilometers northeast to Koochiching County in northern Minnesota. After replacing the strut bracings with one consisting of an X-laced strut bracings with 45° heels and trimming the curved heel bracings off the bridge’s portals, the truss bridge was re-erected over the Little Fork River between the villages of Rauch and Silverdale, serving Minnesota Hwy. 65. The portal bracings were replaced in 1964 after a truck damaged the northern entrance. Upon its removal from the highway system in 2008, the bridge remained in tact with the portal bracings that were a sixth of its height. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 and when it was scheduled to be replaced, MnDOT placed the bridge on the “most valuable historic bridge to preserve” list with hopes that someone will take the bridge and use it for recreational purposes. Fortunately, Washington County stepped up to purchase the bridge to be used as part of the Gateway Trail, connecting Mahtomedi and Stillwater. The bridge was dismantled and transported to the Manning Avenue site, where it was refurbished and reassembled. Portal bracings resemble the ones used at Sauk Centre and at the Little Fork crossing prior to 1964. Before it was erected over Manning Avenue, it was painted black. Governmental shutdown in July 2011 delayed the opening of the bridge by six months. But since November 2011, the bridge has been serving the bike trail, its third life but one that will last another 150+ years if maintained properly and if the story of how the bridge was built, transported and rebuilt, let alone how its history was researched, is passed down to the next generations.
1. Sauk Centre was the birth place of author Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. He is famous for the Fabulous Four, four novels dealing with the flaws of American society: Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry and Arrowsmith. He also wrote over 100 short stories and other novels. His birthplace is now a museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
2. Minnesota Highway 65 used to be part of US Hwy. 65 from 1926 until the portion was handed over to the state in 1934. The highway starts near International Falls and terminates in Minneapolis with half the highway being an expressway between Cambridge and Minneapolis. US Hwy. 65, which used to run through Minneapolis and St. Paul from its southern terminus of the state of Louisiana, now terminates in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Parts of it was integrated into the Jefferson Highway.
Author’s Note: The author wishes to thank Pete Wilson at MnDOT and Brian Ridenour of the Allamakee County Highway Department as well as the Ellingson family for help with this information.
Author’s Note: This is the second article of a three-part series on the bridges of western Wisconsin, based on the journey taken by fellow pontist and guest columnist, John Marvig, which included the counties of Chippewa, Dunn and Eau Claire. To view part I on the bridges of Eau Claire, please click here.
Dunn County has a population of 43, 967 inhabitants and is located northeast of Eau Claire, about 45 kilometers east of the St. Croix River, the river that divides Minnesota and Wisconsin. The county seat, Menonomie, has 16,264 inhabitants and is home to the University of Wisconsin STOUT and has the Mabel Tainter Center of the Arts and the Wilson Place Museum, one of many places to see during one’s stop in the city. One of the largest lakes in the county is Tainter Lake, an artificial lake that was created through the creation of the Cedar Falls Dam by Andrew Tainter, a rich lumber businessman who utilized the area for logging until 1901 through the creation of the mill and dam in the 1880s. While the mill was closed in 1901, two years after Tainter’s death, the dam was later converted into a hydroelectric dam, which still produces electricity to residents of the Cedar River vicinity today. Tainter Lake serves as the confluence point where the Hay and Red Cedar Rivers meet before making its journey to the Chippewa River at Dunnville. Most of the bridges profiled here come from the Red Cedar River.
Overall, Dunn County, like the rest of the state of Wisconsin, has not been too kind to historic bridges. All but one of the pre-1945 roadway truss bridges have been replaced with modernized structures. Another truss bridge, the Tainter Lake Bridge, was scheduled to be replaced in 2011, even though the Pennsylvania truss span is in excellent condition. However judging the existence of the bridge through Bing and Google View, chances are that the people residing near the Lake are fighting to keep the bridge open to traffic. As far as railroad bridges are concerned, they are numerous, as you will see in the samples provided by John Marvig. While a couple of them are still serving rail traffic thanks to the Soo Line/ Canadian Pacific Railways, many have been converted to a bike trail, while others have been abandoned but are awaiting to be reused for recreational purposes. Without further ado, here are some bridges that are worth visiting according to the guest columnist:
Wilson Creek Bridge
Built By: Chicago Northwestern Railway Company
Currently Owned By: City of Menomonie
Total Length: 196 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 150 Feet
Width: 1 Track
Height: 8 Feet (2.4 Meters) Estimated
Main Type: Quadrangular Through Truss
Approach Type: Deck Plate Girder
Date Built: Unknown
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is abandoned)
The Wilson Creek Bridge is a very small bridge, located in a scenic area of downtown. It goes very unnoticed. It was abandoned in 2003 after the dairy plant stopped using rail traffic. The line, when it was built was designed to go to downtown off of the Union Pacific mainline through the extreme northern portion of town. It was also used to connect to the Milwaukee Road line which went south to the Wabasha, Minnesota area. But the Milwaukee Road line was abandoned in 1975, and after the dairy plant stopped using rail traffic, there was no point to have this line. So it was taken up. Portions were turned into a trail.
What really bothers me is how there is trail on this line just north of this bridge, and about 500 feet south of it too. And building a trail over this bridge would provide a good connection between the north part of town, the Red Cedar State Trail (built on the Milwaukee Road) and UofW Stout. But for some reason, this has not happened yet. The bridge has several rotten ties, and one wrong step will make sure you end up in the marshy area below.
This photo is looking from the bridge on Meadow Road. Note how the bridge is in an urban area, but blends in nicely.
This photo is looking at the approach span. Note the pier, and the design that would have been used post-1900.
This photo is looking south through the bridge. Although some of the features seem to demonstrate this bridge is post-1900, the portal seems to show it is pre-1900.
Just south of this bridge lies the Red Cedar River Bridge, on the same line. This bridge was likely built the same time. This bridge also directly crossed over the Milwaukee Road. The south end lies on the campus of UofW Stout. This bridge is fenced off, and can be accessed from a dam access road, or a UofW parking lot.
This photo is looking from the upstream riverbank. Some prominent differences between this bridge and the Wilson Creek Bridge is the use of trestle approaches, the huge wood piers and the use of 2 quadrangular spans.
This photo is looking at the approaches over the Milwaukee Road line. Note the beam span.
This photo is looking on the south side. Note the large fence, and the half of a date plate. The plate does not have any date on it.
Located about 12 miles south of Menomonie Wisconsin is the massive bridge. This thing is located in a very scenic area called the Dunnville Bottoms, which is a very sandy and flat area along the Chippewa and Red Cedar Rivers.
Dunnville Bottoms Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific (Milwaukee Road)
Currently Owned By: Wisconsin DNR
Total Length: 860 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 230 Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 25 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Whipple Through Truss
Approach Types: Pratt Truss, Deck Plate Girder and Wooden trestle
Date Built: Ca. 1905
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)
This is a really cool bridge over the Chippewa River south of Menomonie. First, it has four different designs, making it fairly rare. Second, just look at it. Everything is massive! The bents on the trestle to the large truss main span. I believe this bridge was built about 1905. It about the time these types of truss spans became more common.
This bridge was also built by Morse Bridge Company. There are inscriptions on top of the large main span. But it could have been built earlier in the 1880’s.
I saw a rattlesnake when I was at this bridge. But be very careful if you go here. There are many vantage points, but you do not want to get hurt here.
The most commonly used vantage point is off a trail near the deck plate girder spans.
Another good one is from a massive sandbar in the river.
The main span is nothing short of huge, and contains quite the geometry.
The smaller main span is a lot more common, but is tiny compared to the larger span.
This is the deck plate girder spans.
This is also the deck plate girder spans, at a different angle.
This is looking north along the bridge. There are more trestle spans behind me.
This is looking north across the bridge.
This is the inscription on the main span.
This is looking with a telephoto south down the length of the bridge.
Author’s Note: The final bridge on the Dunn County Tour is one of the mystery bridges I had posted in May 2012 (click here). Located over the Red Cedar River, the Downsville Bridge was built by the Milwaukee Railroad and was converted into a bike trail when the line was abandoned in the 1970s. There was a speculation that this bridge and another bridge similar to that but located in Fayette County, Iowa were part of a bigger multiple span railroad bridge. Yet according to information from the Milwaukee Railroad Museum, it was all coincidential, as the Downsville Bridge was built at its original location and was never moved at any time. While this solves the mystery with regards to the Downsvulle Bridge, the question still remains open as to whether the Fayette County span was constructed at its original location or if it was relocated from somewhere else, and if so, where. To be continued…….
The last part of the tour consists of the bridges of Chippewa County. Apart from photos and commentary by Mr. Marvig, at least three other pontists and photographers and the author have some bridges to add to make the trip worth it. Stay tuned….
The author would like to thank John Marvig for the use of his photos and for his tour of the bridges in and around Menonomie and the rest of Dunn County.
When you go out and hunt for bridges, it is not rare to find a city that has a pocket full of antique bridges. What I mean for antique bridges in this case are structures built prior to the second World War, which one can find at least a third of them in most cities with a population of 15,000 or more. However it is rare to find a city or metropolitan area with a high number of notable antique railroad bridges. One of these cities happens to be Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Located about 140 kilometers east of Minneapolis-St. Paul along Interstate 94, the county seat with 65,000 inhabitants is part of a triangular metropolitan area shared with neighbor cities Menomonie and Chippewa Falls and is located at the junction of the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers. It is home to four colleges (two of which being public) and is one of the greenest cities in the state of Wisconsin. Yet when it comes to historic bridges in the city and its surrounding area, there are quite a few diamonds in the rough, especially with regards to railroad bridges, as John Marvig discovered during his recent visit to the city. Mr. Marvig is a photographer and writer on railroad bridges in the upper Midwest and Eau Claire was one of the stops on his bridgehunting tour. Yet little did he realize that his trip brought more than what he bargained for and is providing you with a tour of the historic bridges in the greater Eau Claire area. Some of the bridges have been converted to bicycle trails but there are others that have the potential to become part of a recreational trail and it is certain that there are many people interested in restoring them- more so after reading his tour guide here, as a guest columnist. Enjoy!
Hello, I am John Marvig. You may have heard of my work photographing historic railroad bridges in the upper Midwest. If you have not, then now you have 🙂 Thanks for looking and enjoy these photos!
When you think of historic railroad bridges in the upper Midwest, you probably think of the massive arches of stone gracing the mighty Mississippi below St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, or perhaps the massive steel arches north of Stillwater. Or maybe you think of the bridges in places such as Green Bay. Or what about bridges such as the Kate Shelley Bridge near Boone, Iowa? But I doubt anyone thinks of Eau Claire, Wisconsin as a place to find large, historic railroad bridges. After over three months of planning, I finally got to go out here on Mother’s Day weekend. And I was not disappointed by what it produced.
We start our little tour of Eau Claire on the north part of downtown. There lays a bridge not really famed, but definitely worthy of it! This bridge is the oldest in Eau Claire. The four main spans were built 1880, with the current approaches being added 1898. Northwestern Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago, St. Paul Milwaukee and Omaha Railroad
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire
Total Length: 890 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 180 Feet
Width: 1 Track
Height: 80 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Lattice Deck Truss
Approach Type: Deck Plate Girder
Date Built: 1880, approaches rebuilt 1898
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is abandoned)
The bridge consists of four large lattice deck truss spans, a major difference between the warren deck truss bridge that succeeded mainline traffic just north of this bridge.
Crossing the Chippewa River, his bridge served traffic until 2007, when there was no longer a need to access the Nestlé plant. The bridge was purchased by Eau Claire because of the gas pipeline running on the bridge. So now in 2012, the bridge is fenced off, but easy to get to. Several people have fallen off this bridge. Even though there are fences and people are aware of this information, bicyclists still cross this bridge, and will continue until this bridge is the newest bridge on Eau Claire’s vast trail system. Hopefully we aren’t too far off from that time!!!
Getting to the riverbank on the east side is easy, as there are stairs leading down from an access road. The west end is much more challenging. One must be able to get down limestone bluffs on steep paths and climb and crawl back out.
And this is a typical stone abutment. It was built for the old approaches, which were smaller deck truss spans. This is the east abutment.
This next bridge is located directly south of the last bridge. This bridge is also over the Chippewa River. This one is a lot smaller, and is a lot lower lying. I now introduce, the Phoenix Park Railroad Bridge.
Phoenix Park Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road)
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin DNR
Total Length: 526 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 232 Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Whipple Through Truss
Approach Type: 2 Spans Through Pratt Truss
Date Built: 1903
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)
This bridge is the second bridge over the Chippewa River on the former Milwaukee Road in Eau Claire. The bridge has a 146’ and 148’ Pratt Through Truss and a 232’ Whipple Through truss.
This bridge was abandoned 1981 after a failed attempt to put traffic back on it after the Milwaukee Road abandoned it. Then it was turned into the state trail. Phoenix Park was also built up very well in this area.
The best views are from Phoenix Park. There are overlooks and grassy areas to look at this bridge. The west bank is a little more challenging to get down to, but is fairly easy once you find a path.
Snaking across the Eau Claire River in the industrial section of Eau Claire is this bridge. The famed Soo Line S Bridge.
Soo Line “S” Bridge
Built By: Soo Line Railroad
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire
Total Length: 431 Feet
Length of Largest Span: Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Warren Deck Truss
Approach Type: Deck Plate Girder
Date Built: 1910
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)
Although this bridge is wonderful as a trail, it is hard to get a clear view of the entire structure. In fact, it is an unfortunate fact that it is near impossible.
But as hard as it is to get to, it is a good bridge. It was converted to a trail in 2002. It is very famed around western Wisconsin. The bridge was built at an S shape so it could cross the river between tracks running parallel to the river.
And as far as the views go, who knows! You may find the new best view! Good luck and happy hunting!
Finishing with the major bridges directly in Eau Claire, we come to the Clairemont Ave Railroad Bridge.
Clairemont Ave Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific (Milwaukee Road)
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin DNR
Total Length: 670 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 145 Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Pratt Through Truss
Approach Type: Wooden Trestle/Concrete Slab
Date Built: 1886, rebuilt at a later date
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)
This bridge is the first bridge over the Chippewa River on the former Milwaukee Road in Eau Claire. Has 4 Pratt truss spans ranging from 128’-148’ in length. There is also trestle approach on the south side and concrete slab on the north. The original four main spans were built 1886.
This bridge was abandoned 1981 after a failed attempt to put traffic back on it after the Milwaukee Road abandoned it. Then it was turned into the state trail.
The best views are from atop Clairemont Ave. Clairemont Ave (US 12) is a large road running at an angle from this bridge. It is a very busy road.
This bridge also might be the reason the line was abandoned. It was abandoned because of a very weak bridge in the Eau Claire area. And this bridge could be that bridge. It was converted to trail use in 2004.
Even though I did not include all the bridges in Eau Claire in this column, I would recommend if you ever have the chance, get out to this area. You will be happy you did! I hope you enjoyed the photos and thanks for looking!
Author’s Note: Apart from the four gorgeous looking railroad bridges one can see while visiting Eau Claire, there are a couple other notable ones one should keep in mind. One is a railroad bridge and another is an ordinary roadway bridge. More information and photos of the bridge is available by clicking on the title of the bridge.
Type: Warren Deck Truss (main span) with through and deck plate girder approach spans
Location: Chippewa River south of North Crossing Bridge
Built: 1911 by American Bridge Company (New York City) for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad
Status: Still In service
Comment: Mr. Marvig was also at this bridge during this tour and the only way to view this bridge is by boating on the river, as even though the deck view of the bridge is great, finding side views of the bridge from shore are difficult, as can be seen by the pics. However, one is not advised to cross this bridge as it is still in service.
Comment: This is probably one of the most beautiful roadway bridges in the city; especially given its arch design and its aesthetic appearance and conformity to the residential area. This bridge is the third to last structure on the river as it empties into the Chippewa River on the north edge of downtown Eau Claire.
Note: You can visit Mr. Marvig’s website on railroad bridges by clicking on the link here.