Not included in the tour of Bertram (Iowa)’s historic bridges but worth noting is this bridge. The Blaine’s Crossing Bridge spans Big Creek between Highways 151 and 13 and Bertram. The Pratt through truss bridge can be seen clearly from the main highway, as the crossings are only 600 feet apart from each other and viewing the bridge from a distance, it appears to be a tall bridge- roughly 18 feet in height from the top chord to the river bed. Despite seeing the bridge from that distance, access to the structure is almost impossible unless either negotiating with property owners or having a camera with a lens that can enable a person to take close-up photos from a distance. During my visit in 2011, I chose the second variant, taking some pictures from a nearby gravel road (Cedar Woods Road), thus finding out the bridge type, the portal bracing and whether the connections are pinned or riveted. Judging by the photos taken (which can be seen here), the bridge is a pinned connected Pratt, with A-frame portal and strut bracing, and has seven panels. Dave King, another bridge photographer took the first option of getting up close to the bridge (but probably not before talking to the nearby home owners about it first) and looking at the details of the bridge during the winter months (his photos can be seen here as well). There, one can take some assumptions about the bridge’s dimensions. As the truss bridge has seven panels, it is between 120 and 140 feet long with a 15-17 foot width, this not including the fact that the original bridge decking has long since been removed. Also noteworthy is the eye-loop connections of the vertical beam at the outermost panels, which is a rare feature for a truss bridge.
What is known about the bridge is that it was used for local traffic for many years before the US 151/13 bypass supplanted it in 1965. Yet it is unknown whether this bridge used to serve main traffic between Cedar Rapids and Dubuque via Bertram. According to known sources, US 151 used to run through Cedar Rapids via Marion, located three miles east of the bridge. It was originally known as US 161, which ran from Keokuk to Key West, the southernmost suburb of Dubuque. It had been in service from 1926 until the US government decommissioned it in 1938, replacing it with US 151, which had run from Manitowoc, Wisconsin to Dubuque, and US 218, which had previously ended at Vinton but was later extended to Keokuk. Today, US 151 terminates at I-80 near Williamsburg, while large portions of US 218 are part of the Avenue of the Saints between Charles City and Cedar Falls and again between Cedar Rapids and Donnellson, following its original route from Minnesota until its termination at Keokuk. It is possible that before the highway was designated in 1926 that this bridge had provided direct access between Cedar Rapids and Central City/Dubuque via Bertram, yet when US 161 was assigned in 1926, the road was realigned to the west so that it went through Marion instead of Bertram. Should that be the case, then the bridge was nothing more than a crossing that provided local access to Bertram until US 151 was bypassed around Cedar Rapids and Marion, and the highway was realigned closer to Bertram.
Despite the theories and speculations on how much traffic Blaine’s Crossing once had, there are no known records of the bridge’s existence to date. It was not even mentioned in the state and national bridge inventories, nor was it listed in any of the historic bridge surveys conducted by the state, which makes this bridge open to many questions for discussion. This includes, among other things, when the bridge was built, who was the contractor for the bridge, how much it cost to build it, whether the bridge is in its original location or if it was imported from elsewhere, etc. Judging by the pinned connections and the use of A-frame portal bracings, it appears that the bridge was built between 1890 and 1910, before the introduction of state bridge standards. As the roadway has been removed and because of issues of private property, it is impossible to have a closer look at any inscriptions on the bridge parts, which might be helpful; namely the steel fabricator that produced the bridge parts before transporting it to its final destination via contractor. Therefore the owners on both sides of the bridge would need to take the time to examine the bridge and provide any historian interested with the details. This in addition to going through what records are available in Cedar Rapids at the museum and highway engineer. In the end, it is unknown whether the information is useful.
Therefore the bridge is wide-open for discussion. Any stories and information? Send them to the Chronicles at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and any information will be added to what is known so far.
Blaine’s Crossing is the bridge that caps off the tour of the Bridges in and around Bertram, as it has many questions that need to be answered, some of which are important for the history of Bertram and the region east of Cedar Rapids. By answering them, we will know more about how the bridge and US 151 go together, whether it was once a major crossing or just a local one that had once served Bertram until in the late 1960s.