Help needed: Photos, postcards and stories about Iowa’s Bridges

Durrow Road Bridge in Linn County, Iowa Photo taken in August 2011

When looking at the Durrow Road Bridge, located east of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is a typical through truss bridge built in the 1920s. Judging by its recent paint job, it has been maintained really well and on a regular basis. But while photographing the bridge, a resident on a farm place located just around the corner takes notice and decides to stop at the bridge to find out what I was doing (in reality, I was with another pontist who resides near Marion, located north of Cedar Rapids). It is from that point on, we have a nice long conversation about the history of the bridge and why it was named. The bridge was relocated here in 1949 from Cedar Rapids to replace a wooden trestle bridge and add a piece to the farmstead that is over a century old.

The main idea is the fact that each bridge has its own history and character that makes preserving it for future generations a must. Yet, bridges like this one are being replaced in favor of progress with the records on its history and its association with the local communities lost forever.  There are many books that have been written about these historic bridges. They include Dennis Gardner’s book on Minnesota’s historic bridges in 2008, using the materials of wood, stone, metal and concrete as the main pillars to the story of how the bridges were developed.  Another book on the bridges bridges in New Jersey, written by Steven Richman, portrays the existing bridges in New Jersey. And there are many books written about the covered bridges in the northeastern corner of the USA from Pennsylvania to Maine, many of them have contributed to the states taking pride on their covered bridges more than the other bridge types.

The truss bridges in Iowa, a project that has been launched, will be a book that will differ from all the books that have been written for two reasons: 1. Iowa’s bridges have been documented in books already but in bridge types only. This includes the Marsh Arch bridges, written by the late James E. Hippen in 1997 and the bowstring arch bridges, written by Michael Finn in 2004. Up until now, there are no sources that deal with truss bridges in the state with the exception of reports conducted by agencies, like the Iowa Department of Transportation, and other interested parties but are only limited in availability.  2. The focus of the book will be on the development of the truss bridges in Iowa beginning with the first crossings along the Mississippi River and in big cities, like Dubuque and Ottumwa and continuing on with the dominance of truss bridges over bowstring arch bridges, experiments with new bridge types, like the Thacher truss bridge, the role of the bridge builders, first from out of state and later from local Iowa bridge builders. It is then followed by the introduction of standardized truss bridges and how they waned in popularity in favor of concrete bridges. And finally the book will focus on the successes of identifying these bridges and preserving them for reuse. The book will feature truss bridges both past and present and their history and how they brought the communities together. This includes stories similar to the one of Durrow Road Bridge.

If you have any old photos and postcards of bridges (esp. those that no longer exist in Iowa), as well as any information and stories pertaining to the truss bridges in Iowa, please send them to Jason D. Smith via e-mail at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Mailing address is available upon request.

The book project will take approximately 5-10 years to complete pending on the amount of information that comes in. But quality will outweigh quantity and the goal is to bring the history of truss bridges in Iowa to light (going as deep into the research as possible) so that the readers can understand how they contributed to the development of the state’s infrastructure, let alone to the development of their communities and farmsteads.  So if you have any information that is useful to this book, I would love to hear or see it. Thank you very much for your help.

Ellsworth Ranch Bridge in Emmet County. This 1895 Thacher through truss bridge is NOT the first one that was built. There is one that was constructed earlier and somewhere in Iowa. Do you know when and where the first Thacher bridge was built? Photo taken in August 2011

 

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