Portal view of the bridge. Photo taken by Mitch Nicholson of Abandoned Iowa
Bridge to become part of a city bike trail. Potential for other steel truss bridges to follow suit?
WINTERSET, IOWA- The Bridges of Madison County: Home of its covered bridges, one of a handful counties in the United States that has at least a half dozen of them. Built between 1867 and 1885, there were once 19 of these wooden housed structures spanning the North, Middle and South Rivers as well as numerous streams. Today only six of them remain, all of which are considered nationally significant, and each one has its own park and rest area to allow people to enjoy the bridge and the natural surroundings.
Madison County also has numerous truss bridges made of steel, and one of them is about to become part of a bike trail. The Valley View Trail Bridge, located four miles west of I-35 and two miles southwest of Bevington,has been closed since 2008 and has sustained significant damage to the approaches thanks to flooding that occurred in 2008, 2011 and 2013. The banks of one of the approach spans was washed away to a point where it resembled a diving board. Yet the 120-foot long bridge, constructed in 1911 by the Iowa Bridge Company and features a pinned connected Pratt through truss span with M-frame portal bracings and V-laced overhead strut bracings is seen by many locals as a rarity nowadays. Therefore the county is expanding its historic bridge heritage by including this bridge as part of a recreational complex. The plan is to place the bridge over a spillway being constructed at Cedar Lake in Winterset, which it will serve as a bike trail surrounding the lake. While costs are being calculated even as this gets posted, the county has already received funding from Iowa Dept. of Transportation (DOT) which will cover the cost for relocating the bridge.
Close-up of the approach span resembling a diving board. Photo by Mitch Nicholson
The reuse of the Valley View Trail Bridge for recreational purposes has started a question about the possible use of other steel truss bridges in the county. There are as many steel truss bridges in the county as they are the covered bridges when their numbers reached its peak with 19 in 1920. Some of them have already been decommissioned and taken off the road system, yet there are some others that are approaching the end of their service, despite most of them being built during the Depression era. The relocation and reuse of the Valley View Bridge may serve as an incentive for the county to consider reusing these bridges and bring their histories to the forefront, making the county not only the place of covered bridges, but also the place of bridges built of steel with the help of bridge builders, steel welders and railroaders responsible for molding the bridge parts in the mills, transporting them by rail and erecting them on site. With the number of truss bridges becoming a rarity, the county might have to consider this option once the Valley View Bridge is relocated and reopened for cyclists and pedestrians.
There are seven bridges worth considering for reuse apart from the successful plan involving the Valley View Bridge. These bridges are as follows:
Located over North Fork Clanton Creek a mile south of Limestone Rd. between US Hwy. 169 and Clark-Tower Road, this bridge is one of the shortest of the through truss bridges in Madison County, as well as Iowa. The 80-foot long Pratt through truss bridge with A-frame portal bracings was built in 1909 by local bridge builder SG Hunter Iron Works Company of Atlantic, Iowa, the bridge is perhaps the last example of its kind. Yet since its abandonment in the late 1980s, the bridge has become derelict. Relocation is possible, yet it would require dismantling the structure and doing some major sandblasting before reerecting it at its new home.
Huston Bridge over Clancy Creek. Photo taken by Mitch Nicholson
Located over Clanton Creek at 282nd Trail, this bridge is a classic example of a series of truss bridges built by the King Bridge Company because of its portal bracings, as well as the inscriptions on the diagonal and vertical beams and the builder’s plaque. The bridge was relocated to this spot in 1952 and has been here ever since. The bridge has seen its better days as the decking has been removed to keep everyone off the bridge. Yet the bridge appears stable enough to be relocated without disassembly.
Fox Trail Bridge. Photo taken by James Baughn in 2013
Fox Trail Bridge
Located over Middle River at Fox Trail (CSAH G-47), five miles southwest of Winterset, this 157-foot long riveted Camelback through truss with West Virginia portal bracings represents a great example of a truss bridge built using Iowa state highway standards introduced in 1914. The bridge was built by another Iowa firm, the A. Olson Construction Company based in Waterloo. Two dates of construction make this bridge a controversial topic: 1935 according to the National Transportation Records and 1951 according to records by Iowa DOT. The hunch is that this bridge was built in 1935 somewhere else and was relocated here in 1951. Still in use, this bridge has potential to become a National Register landmark in the next 15 years because of its unique design that is becoming rare to find.
St. Charles Bridge. Photo taken by the author in 2007
St. Charles/ North River Trail Bridge
Located three miles north of Winterset and one mile east of US Hwy. 169 over the North River at North River Trail, this 122-foot long riveted Pratt through truss bridge features an M-frame portal bracing similar to many structures built by a bridge company Wickes Engineering from Des Moines. Yet this structure was built in 1932 by Ben Cole and Son, located in Ames, just 25 miles north of the state capital along Interstate 35. The question is whether Ben Cole did business with Wickes prior to 1932. This will require some research to find out. Yet the Wickes style of bridge is becoming rare today, for despite having an average of three of these bridges in each county, the numbers have dwindled down to just above 10% remaining in Iowa. The bridge is still in use but has some potential of being reused once its time as a full-service bridge runs out. The bridge is located six miles west of another covered bridge, the McBride Bridge, which was destroyed by arson in 1983. The instigator, who confessed to the act as response to losing his true love, eventually did social work to make up for the incident- working as a bridge inspector at a county highway department!
Clanton Creek Bridge at Bevington Park Rd. Photo taken by the author in 2007
Bevington Park Road Bridges
Located along Bevington Park Road between Bevington and St. Charles, this stretch of highway features two nearly identical trusses, located only three miles apart. Both feature riveted Pratt through trusses with M-frame portals. Both were built in 1932 by Ben Cole. Both have similar lengths of the main spans- ca. 125 feet. And both have the same color of a rustic brown. The only difference: One is located over the Middle River just outside Bevington and south of Iowa Hwy. 92; the other is over Clanton Creek, two miles north of St. Charles. They’re still open to traffic but once their service ends, they are potential candidates for reuse as they exemplify as early modern truss bridges built during the Depression era, using Iowa State Highway standards, which were later used in bridge building, especially during this difficult era.
Mystery Bridge next to Holliwell Covered Bridge. Photo taken by James Baughn in 2013
Mystery Bridge at Holliwell Covered Bridge
There are as many pony truss bridges in Madison County as they are through truss bridges. This bridge is located just east of the Holliwell Covered Bridge, southeast of Winterset. Given the eyebar connections as seen in the photos taken by James Baughn, this bridge may be one of the oldest in Madison County, let alone in western Iowa. Yet as written as a mystery bridge in the Chronicles in 2011, there is a lot to learn about this bridge (see article here). As there are three pony truss bridges already preserved as bike trails in Madison County, like the Cunningham, Miller and Morgan Bridges, this bridge would be a perfect candidate for trail use, regardless of whether it is in place at the Holliwell Covered Bridge (which would make much sense given the bridge’s value and location from Winterset), or if it was relocated to Winterset, as was the case with the Morgan and Miller Bridges. In either case, the bridge serves as a historical compliment to an even more popular Holliwell Bridge.
If these examples are not enough for people to take action and make the county an even bigger and more popular tourist attraction, then they should visit the county. After visiting historic Winterset, the John Wayne Birth Place and Museum and the six covered bridges, plus the site of the former McBride Covered Bridge, they should click on the links to the above-mentioned bridges, plan a trip to these structures, armed with a camera and some paper and have a look at them. Then start a movement to save the remaining truss bridges and repurpose them for recreational purposes. While covered bridges are one of the key symbols of American heritage, bridges like the ones mentioned here are just as valuable because of their contribution to the development of the US as a whole, and in this case, Madison County on the local level. The Valley View Trail Bridge project is just the beginning of a potentially bigger project to preserve what is left of these truss bridges. And if the county and state work together with private groups and those interested in these artefacts, then there will be another reason to visit Madison County in the coming summer months. Furthermore, Iowa just might have another completed preservation project on its long and storied resumé of preserved bridges, whose movement started with James Hippen in the 1970s and has been very successful since then.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on the Valley View Bridge project as well as any other developments involving the historic truss bridges in Madison County. The author would like to thank Mitch Nicholson of Abandoned Iowa and James Baughn of bridgehunter.com for allowing use of the photos. All information are courtesy of IowaDOT, whose director, Matt Donovan is to thank for his help.