The last of the three part Wisconsin bridge tour takes us to Chippewa County. With 62,415 residents according to the latest US Census survey, the county is part of the greater Eau Claire economic metropolitan area. While Chippewa Falls, with a population of over 13,000 inhabitants, is the county seat of Chippewa County, it is located approximately 15 km north of Eau Claire. Even sections of Eau Claire are located in Chippewa County. The county’s origin comes from the Chippewa River, christened by the Obijwe tribes. There is a lot to see and do in Chippewa County, as it annually hosts the Northern Wisconsin State Fair and two music festivals near Chippewa Falls. Seymour Cray, an inventor of the supercomputer, was born in the county seat, and a research center was created after him. And the Leinekugel Brewery Company got its beginnings in the county, even though the name itself is purely German.
Yet the county has its share of historic bridges to choose from, one will find some rarities, mostly inside the city limits of Chippewa Falls but also along the Chippewa River and Lake Wissota. This includes the Cobban Bridge, which is the last remaining Pennsylvania through truss bridge in the state. Yet one of the bridges, a railroad bridge, was a site of tragedy caused by an arsonist not respecting the rights of private property. This segment will be divided up into roadway and railway bridges, with the latter being commented by John Marvig, who visited the region this past May. He, J.R. Manning, Bob Gile and Steve Conro provided the photos of the bridges for you to enjoy.
1. Cobban Bridge
Location: Chippewa River just off Hwy. 178 at Cobban
Type: Two-span Pennsylvania Petit through truss bridge with 3-rhombus Howe lattice bracing and 45° heels
Built: 1908 by the Modern Steel Structures Company of Waukesha.
- Length of largest span: 241.2 ft.
Total length: 486.5 ft.
Deck width: 16 ft.
This bridge was originally constructed over the Yellow River between Eagle Point and Arthur Townships. With the construction of the hydroelectric power plant six kilometers from the bridge in 1916, the two townships agreed to relocate the bridge 25 kilometers upstream to its present spot over the Chippewa River. It is the last of the bridge of its type in Wisconsin and one of the rarest you will ever see with two spans of the same truss design. It has become a point of attraction thanks to the state tourism board and given its pristine shape, it will remain in use for many years to come.
2. Bridge of Pines (Rumbly Bridge)
Location: Ravine on Erma Tinger Drive at Irvin Park in Chippewa Falls
Type: Three-span pony truss bridge
Built: 1907 by Wisconsin Bridge & Iron; Altered 1913 by Worden-Allen Co., both of Milwaukee
Dimensions: 146 feet long
The bridge was constructed in two phases. When the city of Chippewa Falls established the park in 1906, they contracted Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Company to build an arched Warren pony truss over Duncan Creek at the park’s main entrance. However, when the north addition was completed in 1913, that span was relocated and incorporated into a three-span system that would cross a deep ravine. The bridge today features the Warren truss as the center span with two Howe lattice approach spans- one on each end of the bridge. The structure is open to pedestrians and cyclists only.
3. Central Street Bridge
Location: Duncan Creek on Center Street in Chippewa Falls
Type: Riveted Pratt through truss bridge with 3-rhombus Howe lattice portal and strut bracings
Length of largest span: 130.3 ft.
Total length: 134.8 ft.
Deck width: 29.9 ft.
Vertical clearance above deck: 13.7 ft.
This bridge is perhaps one of the smallest structures that can be found in Chippewa Falls, let alone in the county. One cannot see the bridge until right before crossing it. The bridge was one of many that were built during the Roosevelt Administration when the Works Progress Administration was established to put many unemployed people back to work. When it started in 1933, one in three Americans were unemployed, a figure that was reduced to 20% by the 1936 elections. The bridge is eligible to by listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Judging by its recent rehabilitation, that bridge will remain in use on the street for years to come.
Bridge 4: Spring Street Bridge
Location: Duncan Creek on Spring Street in Chippewa Falls
Type: Pony Rainbow Arch Bridge
Built: 1916 by the Iowa Bridge Company of Des Moines with James B. Marsh as engineer
Length of largest span: 93.2 ft.
Total length: 110.9 ft.
Deck width: 20.0 ft.
The Spring Street Bridge is an example of a type of bridge one can still see on America’s rural roads today known as the Marsh Arch Bridge. Developed by James B. Marsh in 1911, these bridge types are classified by its pony or through arch design with reinforced concrete upper arch supported by vertical beams. It is unknown how many Rainbow arch bridges were built between 1911 and 1930, but over 100 of them still exist today, many to be found in Iowa and Kansas. The future of this bridge is questionable as plans are in the making to make this bridge serve one way traffic only for reasons that its 20 feet width is no longer suitable to today’s traffic needs.
There were many rail lines that passed through Chippewa County, let alone the county seat of Chippewa Falls including two by Chicago and Northwestern Railroad (now owned by Union Pacific), one by the Soo Line Railroad (now owned by Canadian Pacific) and one by the now defunct Milwaukee Road. John Marvig is providing you with a couple key examples of railroad bridges you should visit while in the vicinity of Chippewa Falls
Bridge 1: Lake Wissota Railroad Bridge
Built By: Soo Line
Currently Owned By: Canadian National Railway
Total Length: 185 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 80 Feet
Width: 1 Track
Height: 5 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Through Plate Girder
Date Built: 1910
Traffic Count: 4 Trains/day (estimated)
This bridge is located on the east side of Chippewa Falls. It is along county road X (old WI-29).
This bridge is a fairly common Midwestern design. But what makes it interesting is that it only goes over water.
But if you are going to access this bridge, be very careful. The road next to it is extremely dangerous. Traffic moves very fast, and there is a lot of it.
Bridge 2: Union Pacific Chippewa River Crossing at Chippewa Falls
Built By: Chicago Northwestern Railway Company
Currently Owned By: Union Pacific Railroad
Total Length: 907 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 160 Feet
Width: 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Quadrangular Through Truss (2-160’ and 2-100’ spans)
Approach Type: 3-100’ Deck Plate Girder and I-Beam Spans with Trestle approaches)
Date Built: ca. 1894, partially rebuilt 1993
Traffic Count: 5 Trains/day (Estimated)
The northern most of all the bridges over the Chippewa River in Chippewa falls is this bridge. There were once 4 bridges, now there is only two. This one and the downstream bridge on the Soo Line.
This bridge was first built in about 1894 with trestle, 2-100’ truss spans, and 4-160’ truss spans. But after the tragic events of July 21st 1993, the bridge looked forever different.
This bridge has lived a very tragic life. First were the events of July 21st 1993. A middle aged man walked to the second span from the west bank, and dropped a match on the wooden pier. The pier had a very hot blaze, and the metal on the second span from the west bank expanded, causing the span to collapse.
After this event, a large scale investigation was carried out. They found the man was upset by railroad traffic going by his house. The Chicago Northwestern brought in 3 large deck plate girder spans from the nearby abandoned Lake Wissota Bridge. These replaced the first 2 spans from the west bank. Also added in was an additional I-Beam span at the west abutment, and another I-beam span between the current westernmost truss span and the easternmost deck plate girder span. Also, many people have been killed on this bridge. This bridge is a landmark for Chippewa Falls. I just wish I could have seen the full truss bridge.
We hoped you enjoyed a tour of the three county region in western Wisconsin. While the state has lost a lot of its historic bridges over the course of 20 years, this area is one of only a few that has been bucking the trend and finding many creative ways of reusing the bridge for recreational purposes, should the structure no longer be able to accomodate today’s traffic. Each structure profiled in the three-article series has a unique value in terms of design and history, which has garnered attention by those wishing to keep the structures in tact for future generations. To close, I would like to ask you a favor when you visit one of these bridges next time, whether it is closer to home or far away: look at the structure closely and ask yourself: how did the structure get built and why, why is it here today, what stories can you find that relate to the bridge, and what can you do to save it for future generations. Chances are that nine times out of ten, you will receive at least one answer to each of the questions posed.
Our next stop on the Chronicles Bridge Tour is Erfurt, Germany and with that, I would like to provide you with an introduction to a bigger series that is yet to come.
Special thanks to John Marvig for narrating the railroad bridges and providing the photos. Also thanks to J.R. Manning, Bob Gile and Steve Conro for their contribution of photos to this article.