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Former Engineer Seeks to Preserve Historic Bridges of Northeast Iowa
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Former Engineer Seeks to Preserve Historic Bridges of Northeast Iowa

WEST UNION – A handful of historians here hope to see the preservation of historic bridges in Fayette County, even though most are closed to load traffic.   Retired Fayette County Engineer Bill Moellering, who served from 1964-2001, said the bridges not only represent local history, but are examples of unique architecture dating to the late 1800s.  

Moellering says he wishes a bowstring bridge that spanned the Turkey River at Elgin until 1952 would have been preserved even if it had to be replaced with a newer, stronger structure. The bridge, he said, was an example of the work of Squire Whipple, whose bowspring overhead trusses with curved upper chord of cast-iron, were built throughout the U.S. for spans of less than 200 feet.  The city of Decorah preserved one of the last bowstring bridges in the area, in a park that is parallel to Highway 9 at the city's east limits. Part of the former engineer's interest in preservation stems from a tour of historic bridges in Eastern Iowa last summer.

After hearing someone had made a bid to purchase a closed bridge near Clermont, he met with county supervisors, asking them to preserve the historic bridges in the county that remain. "I sure would be sick if that were taken out of Fayette County," he said of the bridge. "It's the only one of it's type." The Quinn Creek King Post through truss bridge was replaced with three pipes several years ago while Moellering was engineer. Built in 1885, it was only forty feet in length, but today, it could be the only one of it's type still standing, he said. Other bridges with historic significance, but closed to load traffic, include the West Auburn Bridge, (a Whipple Truss design); two Pratt bridges over the Volga River and located within the Volga River Recreation Area and a Camelback bridge at Eldorado. "Without a live load, these bridges should stand another twenty-five to thirty years," said Moellering. "These bridges have withstood hundred-year floods."

He did suggest they be inspected every couple of years, however. In Eldorado, the camelback bridge, although closed to vehicles, serves as a connection to the church cemetery, by pedestrians. There has been a wedding at the bridge. The architecture of several of the bridges serves as a frequent back drop for area photographers, and Moellering suggested the sites might be popular with picnickers. Also of interesting design is the Railroad Trap bridge over the Volga in Dutch Murphy Hollow, between Fayette and Wadena. That bridge is still in use. Along with preservation of the historic structures, Moellering told the board he hopes to write a book on the history of bridges in Fayette County.  Board members made no comment on Moellering's request for continued preservation of historic bridges in the county. They did encourage the retired engineer to move forward with recording the county's history of bridges in a book.


*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.

  1. granjan
    If you would like to see pictures of these bridges they are at the Fayette County Historical Center in West Union. Bill has a nice display:)
  2. Julie Bowers
    Hey, that was us that wanted to SAVE that bridge Mr. Moellering is talking about. I was the one who asked him. It was sitting in the middle of a field, bypassed and we thought it was in danger. We have tried to save other bridges in Winneshiek County and failed. The Upper Bluffton Bridge was a huge mistake to tear down when it was sitting on land and just needed 10,000 to dismantle and save. Now you are facing Gilliece Bowstring removal and Fort Atkinson bridge removal. We are actively trying to find new homes for both of those bridges. Just as we are saving other bridges in Iowa like Bunker Mill Bridge which is in restoration as we speak. In Pennsylvania we are looking at moving a bridge to preserve it. It is high time that N.E. Iowa take steps to preserve their bridges. We at NSRGA and Workin' Bridges are trying our best. It's unfortunate that Mr. Moellering didn't understand that, but I applaud anyone who stands up to save their bridges. I was happy to hear he went straight to his supervisors and more light will be shed on the work that he has done to preserve those bridges. Perhaps he needs to talk with all Iowa county engineers.....there's some education to be done there. Julie Bowers Executive Director NSRGA / Workin' Bridges 641.260.1262
    1. Janell Bradley
      Janell Bradley
      Thanks for your response, Julie! At the time, Fayette County lost one engineer, then had an interim, & now has a full-time, new appointee. He'd asked what was going to be done with the bridge but got no answers back then. He was hoping it wasn't just going to be dismantled. He will be happy to know this additional information. Glad to pass it along AND to know of your efforts!!!
  3. Mamabear
    Nice story, very interesting to learn about! I am very happy to hear about people who are interested in preserving historic places. Along those lines, you might enjoy my post about Aase Haugen, a woman ahead of her time, and another historic place (part 2 about the building itself is coming soon), that her vision created.

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