Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement Post Humus: James Hippen

Black Bridge spanning the Iowa River west of Belle Plaine in Tama County, Iowa. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

Back in January, the winners of the Ammann Award for Lifetime Achievement and Best Example of a Preserved Historic Bridge were announced in the Chronicles page, with certificates being mailed off via post. Two of them to be exact, which should arrive in their respective mailboxes very soon.

But there is a third certificate that is going neither to Minnesota nor Missouri, but to the heartland of the US, the state of Iowa. Once this recipient receives it and reads the article that goes along with that, then everything will make sense.  The Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement also includes one for Post Humus, awarded to a pontist who devoted much of his/her life to preserving historic bridges, but passed on before being honored for his work.

James Hippen may not have been a naturally born Iowan- he originally came from Oklahoma and studied history in Massachusetts (receiving a Masters and PhD at Harvard), but he was an Iowan by heart, moving to the state in the 1970s, taking up a job as professor of history at Luther College in Decorah. From there, he made history, not to mention the fact that the rest was ALL history.

Realizing the historic and aesthetic value of historic bridges in the state- especially in his area of residence, Mr. Hippen, traveled through the state photographing historic bridges and collecting information on their histories and identifying bridge types and bridge builders. Using that information, he wrote several articles and books about them, including a catalog on the historic bridges in Winneshiek County, finding historic bridges in Eastern Iowa, and the history of the Rainbow Arch Bridges that were first conceived by Iowan bridge builder James B. Marsh, just to name a few examples. He also assisted on some other works as well, including the bowstring arch bridges, whose numbers still put Iowa in the top 10 of the highest number in the country. His work was contributed greatly in a comprehensive study of historic bridges in Iowa for the Historic American Engineering Record, which was carried out by Fraser Design during the 1990s, and through this, he identified several historic bridges that were eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, most of which have long since been listed and are still in use today in its present shape and form. This include the bridges in the following counties: Winneshiek, Jones, Linn, Tama, Fayette, Story, Dallas, Crawford, Harrison, Van Buren, Marion, and Boone, just to name a few. Historic bridges included are the Cascade Bridge in Burlington, the Ellsworth Ranch Bridge east of Estherville, the Black Hawk Bridge in Lansing, and the historic bridges in Des Moines.  In addition, a historic bridge park west of Iowa City (FW Kent Park) features nine historic bridges that were researched and documented by Hippen.

Chimney Rock Bridge in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Photo taken in 2009

Mr. Hippen’s enthusiasm of history (and in particular, infrastructural history, if we add the dams, railroads and railroads) led to his involvement on many boards, including that of the State Historic Preservation Office, Iowa DOT, and several counties, and many people becoming more interested in the history of the state, and its contribution to American history during its time of industrial expansion and the development of the country’s infrastructure.  On a personal note, I was in contact with him via e-mail a couple times with regards to information on Winneshiek County’s historic bridges, and he provided me with a lot of his work on this subject, which contributed to my further interest in historic bridges in the state. The unfortunate part was not having a chance to meet him in person and thanking him for what he done for the state and for the people who are interested in historic bridges.

Ely Street Bridge in Bertram in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2013

James Hippen passed away at his home in Decorah on 24 February, 2010, leaving behind his wife and personal assistant in his research on historic bridges, Elaine, and two children, Ben and Susan.  On 9 August, 2013 a dedication dinner and presentation honoring Mr. Hippen took place at the General Store and Restaurant in Stone City, located west of Anamosa. There, Elaine and former county engineer of Fayette County, Bill Moellering spoke about his work and successes in front of many pontists and family members. Some of the best stories that were mentioned include a joint effort to keep many of Fayette County’s historic bridges in place while replacement bridges were built alongside of them, including the West Auburn, Dietzenbach Bottom and Quinn Creek Bridges because of the cost to demolish them were too high, along with the historic value of the structure themselves. These bridges were profiled in a brochure which can be picked up when visiting the county.  But the grandest story came when Jim himself photographed a tractor and plow crossing one of the Marsh arch bridges in western Iowa- and barely making the width clearance! That picture is featured on the back of the book, bearing its name. The photo stressed the importance of compromise between having a functional bridge that fulfills today’s traffic standards, while maintaining the historic integrity of the vintage bridges, even if it means reusing them for recreational use only.

West Auburn Bridge in Fayette County. Photo taken in 2011

Mr. Hippen’s work has served and should be serving as a signal for many states to look at their historic bridges and find many ways to save them, no matter what the costs and efforts are needed for the compromise to work. This has led to Iowa having the fifth largest number of historic bridges built before 1950 in the country, behind Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. His passion for history has rubbed off on many people, encouraging them to engage in efforts to discover history in their own domain and preserve it for future generations to come. Because of his tireless efforts to the very end, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has presented the Lifetime Achievement Post Humus to the history professor at Luther College, who left a legacy for many of us to see for many years to come.

Author’s Note: Some more profiles of the county’s bridges will be presented in the Chronicles in the near future. This includes the disappearing bridges of Winneshiek County, and a tour guide through the bridges of Linn County, just to name a few.

 

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