Our 70th mystery bridge keeps us in Iowa but takes us almost to the other corner of the land of corn and farming, namely Lyon County and in particular, this bridge. While doing some research on bridges in the county many years ago at the Lyon County Historical Society in Rock Rapids, I came across a photo of a through truss bridge, whose span collapsed on one end. My first speculation was that the bridge had spanned the Big Sioux River at the Hidden Bridge Wildlife Area, located seven miles west south west of Larchwood and five miles west of West Central Lyon Schools. The reason behind the speculation apart from the name was because of the roads that led to the river, even though the structure had been removed decades before.
Fast forward to December 2014, when fellow pontist John Marvig visited this bridge, and one can see that the previous assumption was proven wrong. The bridge still stands, but with two spans- both being riveted Pratt overheads with A-frame portals, built using Iowa highway standards- but one of them still broken down and in the Rock River. The bridge is located on what is left of Grant Avenue between the communities of Doon and Lakewood Corner, the latter of which only exists in the history books. Little do the pontists realize is that the now abandoned road and the bridge itself was once part of a legendary railroad that had once traversed through Lyon County but is still talked about today at the museum. That is the Bonnie Doon Railroad.
Owned and operated by the Chicago, Omaha and Pacific Railroad, the railroad line started at Doon, at the junction of the Great Northern Railroad (now owned by BNSF), the line would make an “S-curve” along the Rock River, and after a stop at Lakewood, would cross at this bridge before heading north past farmsteads and cemetaries before stopping at Rock Rapids. A brief description of the trip according to a written account by Galen Lawrence can be found here. The passenger had the option of taking the line further north to Luverne, which required crossing two tracks running through town. The Bonnie Doon line was in operation for 50+ years until the last train travelled it in 1932-3. The line was never properly maintained and was subject to vandalism and derailments. By 1933, thanks to the coming of the automobile and the expansion of the highway system in the US, the Bonnie Doon line was abandoned with the tracks removed. Some remnants of the line can still be seen today along Grant Avenue as well as in and around Doon, which includes two abandoned culverts, remains of the original crossing here at this bridge and some crossings that could not be removed and had to remain.
It is unknown when this bridge at Lakewood was built in its place, let alone what the original Bonnie Doon crossing looked like. Yet given the introduction of the Iowa highway standards for truss bridges beginning in 1914, the two-span crossing was probably brought in during the 1930s as part of the plan to repurpose parts of the Bonnie Doon Railroad line. Whether it was built from scratch or relocated from another place remains unclear. What is clear is given the somewhat straightness of the road and the nostalgia involving this line and its history, the community of Doon and the township decided to repurpose the railroad as a road for travellers and farmers and provide a wider and safer crossing. It basically served as an alternative to travelling K.T. Highway to Rock Rapids, which is today known as US Hwy. 75. According to the US geographical maps, the road continued its service until the end of the 1960s when the north approached was partially washed away by floodwaters. It is unknown when the southern truss span collapsed partially, but the road and the bridge itself were closed off and abandoned by the early 1980s.
The bridge at Lakewood is a mystery in itself because of its association with the Bonnie Doon rail line and the histories that are being collected, especially with regards to this crossing. We have no idea what the original Bonnie Doon crossing looked like when the trains were in service, let alone when the road trusses were installed to replace the railroad bridge. We do know that the current crossing appears to have retained their structural integrity and could easily be repurposed as a bike trail crossing, even in its original place if one wants to revitalize the line as a bike trail. But given the lack of funding for even bridge replacement in Iowa, that project is, at the most, in the pipeline and it could take years until Bonnie Doon comes alive again for cyclists to use.
Do you know more about this bridge? Put your comments in the section below, post them on the Chronicles’ facebook page or send them to Jason Smith at the Chronicles. Information will be updated as they come in.
Rock Rapids was the central hub for railroads between 1880 and 1930 with three railroads passing through the community of 2,300 residents. Apart from the Omaha Railroad, another north-south line passing through was the Illinois Central, which connected Orange City and Sioux Falls, stopping at George, Edna and Beaver Creek (MN). The Rock Island Railroad was the lone east-west line going through Rock Rapids, connecting Sioux Falls with Estherville, stopping at Little Rock, Larchwood, Lester and Granite. Each one had a bridge crossing the Rock River. After the ceasement of the Bonnie Doon Line, the Rock Island abandoned its line through Rock Rapids in 1972 and eventually went bankrupt in 1980. The Island Park Viaduct, located east of the Historical Society and was part of the Rock Island line was converted to a bike and pedestrian crossing in 2008. The Illinois Central line was abandoned in 1981, but its crossing is still being used by the local public works facility. Eventually it too will become a bike trail crossing because of its proximity to a nearby park.
The Chronicles would like to thank John Marvig for discovering this bridge and bringing the topic on Bonnie Doon back to life.