What to do with a Historic Bridge: The Monroe Bridge at the Jasper/Marion County Border in Iowa

Photos taken in August 2013

text Author’s Note: This is Part II of the series on the two Skunk River Bridges in Jasper County, Iowa that are threatened with their own demise after being abandoned for some time. Part I dealt with the Red Bridge and can be seen here. This parts looks at the bridge’s southern neighbor, the Monroe Bridge at the county border.

After being turned away at the Red Bridge, our next stop was the Monroe Bridge, located downstream at 126th Avenue at the county borders of Jasper and Marion Counties. Here, we got lucky and not so lucky with this bridge, built in 1899 by the local contractors, Burchinal and Hertzog.  Lucky because the bridge was noticeable in view and we could park near the structure. Unlucky because we could not cross it. After being closed to traffic in 2012, workers made sure that no one crossed the bridge by digging a hole 30 feet long and 15 feet deep behind the abutments, exposing the wooden wingwalls to the extremities. Unless you are an experienced pontist, like Nathan Holth, you don’t want to attempt to jump from the ledge to the bridge in order to photograph it.

Side view of the exposed wingwall after the abutment was dug out to prevent drivers and pedestrians from entering the bridge.

That it unless you have a reliable camera, like the Pentax 300, where you can get some long-distance photos, like I took during our stop there.  The bridge features a 150-foot long steel through truss bridge with Howe Lattice portal bracings, I-beam strut bracings with 45° heel supports, and pinned connections. With the wooden approach spans the total length is 230 feet and the width, 17 feet.  Yet looking at the portal bracings more closely, there are ornamental designs in the center of the bracings, where the two diagonal portions meet forming an X.

This is common among bridges built by George E. King, son of Zenas King who ran the King Bridge Company in Cleveland, Ohio.  King established his bridge building business in Des Moines in the 1890s and was responsible for bridges throughout Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, built between 1890 and 1910. This includes the Green Bridge in Des Moines and the Straight River crossing at Clinton Falls, north of Owatonna in Minnesota.  It is possible that the Monroe Bridge consisted of a bridge previously located somewhere else, but the local contractors brought it here to be erected at its current site.  Yet judging by the design pattern on the portal bracing of the Monroe Bridge, it is possible that the local contractors may have ordered the bridge fabricated by the steel companies in the Rust Belt region, and the ornament was at their discretion.  More information would be needed to support one claim or another.

Close-up of the ornamental feature on the portal bracing.

The situation looks grim for the Monroe Bridge. Already a replacement bridge located 300 feet south of the structure is in the works, and it is unknown whether the bridge will be torn down after the new bridge is opened or left in its place.  As mentioned in the previous article on the Red Bridge, ideally would be to restore the bridge as a bike trail crossing connecting that with neighboring Red Bridge as well as the communities of Colfax, Monroe and Pella.  The other option would be to relocate it to a park in one of the nearby communities within 100 miles of the crossing. This includes the Red Rock Lake area, where some historic bridges are residing, including the Wabash, Harvey and Horn’s Ferry Bridges.  The third option is to give it to the nearby landowners, where they could use it as a private path. As this concept is well received in Iowa, this could be an option to take to compensate for the land lost to the new bridge and road alignment.  In either case, as aesthetically beautiful and historically significant as the Monroe Bridge is, it would be a shame to watch the bridge be reduced to a pile of rubble, when there is a chance to find out more about its history, let alone save it. Since last year, The Friends of the Red Bridge group has been looking at some ideas as to what to do with the neighbor to the north. Perhaps they have some space for the Monroe Bridge as well. Saving both may take hard work and lots of resources, yet in the end, it will save money and a piece of history for others to enjoy. And that is something Jasper County could take pride in.

The author has some more photos taken of the Monroe Bridge, to be seen in the Historic Bridges of the US website, available by clicking here.

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One Response to What to do with a Historic Bridge: The Monroe Bridge at the Jasper/Marion County Border in Iowa

  1. Chris "C J" Johnson says:

    Jason-
    I visited the bridge today- August 5, 2014…
    and will post some updated images of both the replacement concrete bridge
    (the first pier has been poured) and the 1899 Bridge…While shooting at the bridge site I had chance to visit briefly with the farmer and landowner directly to the East of the bridge. Their son currently lives on the century old family farm. He referred to the bridge as The Van Zante ( pronounced Van Zant-e) Bridge, that also being his last name. Mr Van Zante also indicated that the bridge was previously located North of the current site by around 50′-75′ but was pushed downstream by an ice jam many years ago and when it was repaired it was located here. This seems to support your opinion that this may have originally been a George E. King bridge. Sadly-Mr Van Zante indicated to me that the current contractor for the replacement bridge was also contracted to dismantle and scrap the 1899 bridge when the new bridge is completed. Contract calls for somewhere around a 100 working days for completion of the new bridge. C J

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