8 votes

Bunker Mill Bridge


Photo taken by Nick Schmiedeler in October 2019


BH Photo #458356

Bunker Mill Bridge 

Written by Jason Smith

Spanning the English River southeast of Kalona, the Bunker Mill Bridge exemplifies a work of art that was built and/or rehabilitated by more than one bridge builder. The bridge was built in 1887 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, OH with assistance of George E. King, who had already started his business in Des Moines. It is one of only a handful of bridges that were built by a father-son duo, for the King Bridge Company was still being run by Zenas King. Built of wrought iron provided by Zenas King and the Phoenix Iron Company, construction of the bridge was completed in May 1887 and Washington County agreed to pay $3487 for the 120 ft. through truss span plus approach spans totalling 170 ft., although King received just under $2900 in reality.

In 1909, the county contracted with Iowa Bridge Company in Des Moines to rehabilitate the bridge at the cost of $1325. While it is unknown why or even how it was done, the rehabilitation work included replacing iron parts with that of steel and reinforcing the Town lattice portal bracing with M-frame portal bracings, making the bridge one of only a few remaining in the country with more than one portal bracing on each end. The bridge continued its service to cars and pedestrians alike for the next 95 years, and was even featured in the Hallmark film Harvest of Fire, filmed in 1997. The bridge was closed to traffic in 2004 but remained open to pedestrians and fishermen who enjoyed crossing the structure and enjoying the stories that occurred at or near the crossing.

Sadly, the bridge was severely damaged by arson on the morning of 12 August 2013, with the bridge plankings charred, closing the bridge to all traffic. This unfortunate event scrapped the plans that had been made to restore and reuse the bridge as part of the bike trail connecting Kalona and Richmond. The county had already started plans to demolish the bridge when a private group stepped in, expressing their interest in purchasing and restoring the bridge.

The Friends of the Bunker Mill Bridge, in cooperation with the North Skunk River Greenbelt Association, purchased the bridge from the county on 10 October, 2013 at the cost of $1 while the county relegated its $80,000 originally set for removing the bridge for restoring the bridge. With the bridge in private hands, the next step will be to investigate the needs of the bridge to determine what needs to be fixed and replaced, before carrying out the actual restoration process. Cost for restoring the bridge is estimated at $460,000 but is expected to decrease pending on the outcome of the structural survey to be carried out. It is hoped that the bridge will be restored in a couple years' time with a long-range plan of realizing the original project of using the bridge as part of a bike trail connecting Kalona and Richmond.

As mentioned in an article produced by the Bridgehunter's Chronicles, Purchasing the bridge is half the battle. The second half is doing the actual work, which has received enormous backing from the county and elsewhere. If you wish to contribute to restoring the project, please click on the link for more details: http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2013/10/11/bunker-mill...

Source of bridge's history: Fraser Design and HessRoise Survey conducted in October 1992


Pratt through truss bridge over English River on Nutmeg Avenue
Kalona, Washington County, Iowa
Open to pedestrians only
Built 1887; M-frame portal bracing was added to the Town Lattice portal bracing in 1909.; Closed to traffic in 2003; Damaged by arson in 2013; Restored 2013-2017
- George E. King Bridge Co. of Des Moines, Iowa (1887 Original Construction)
- Iowa Bridge Co. (1902-193X) of Des Moines, Iowa (1909 Rehabilitation)
- King Bridge Co. of Cleveland, Ohio (1887 Original Construction)
- Phoenix Iron Works of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania (Iron Manufacturer)
- Schiffer Group Inc. of Traverse City, Michigan (Restoration Engineer)
Pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Town Lattice and M-frame portal bracing.
Length of largest span: 118.1 ft.
Total length: 290.0 ft.
Deck width: 13.5 ft.
Vertical clearance above deck: 11.6 ft.
Eligible for the National Register of Historic Places
Also called
Kalona Bridge
Nutmeg Avenue Bridge
English River Bridge
Old River Bridge
Approximate latitude, longitude
+41.46815, -91.68838   (decimal degrees)
41°28'05" N, 91°41'18" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
15/609526/4591558 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Land survey
T. 77 N., R. 7 W., Sec. 17
Average daily traffic (as of 2010)
Inventory numbers
IA 337570 (Iowa bridge number)
BH 14665 (Bridgehunter.com ID)
Inspection report (as of March 2011)
Overall condition: Poor
Substructure condition rating: Serious (3 out of 9)
Deck condition rating: Poor (4 out of 9)
View more at BridgeReports.com

Update Log 

  • December 29, 2020: New photo from Luke
  • October 16, 2020: New photo from Luke
  • May 23, 2020: New photo from Luke
  • October 15, 2019: New photos from Nick Schmiedeler
  • January 23, 2017: Updated by Julie Bowers: Bridge has been opened.
  • May 18, 2016: New photos from Patrick S. O'Donnell
  • April 4, 2016: Updated by Jason Smith: Updated the status of the bridge and included article
  • July 24, 2014: New photo from Julie Bowers
  • June 2, 2014: Updated by Julie Bowers: changing status updates.
  • February 21, 2014: New photos from Jack Schmidt
  • October 14, 2013: Updated by Jason Smith: Added categories "arsoned", "Privately owned"
  • October 12, 2013: Essay added by Julie Bowers
  • October 11, 2013: Updated by Julie Bowers: status update to new owners.
  • October 1, 2013: Updated by Julie Bowers: keeping it real for data validity. verified by NASA.
  • September 30, 2013: Updated by Jason Smith: Fixed typo
  • September 28, 2013: Updated by Jason Smith: Added category "Wrought iron"
  • September 28, 2013: Updated by Julie Bowers: new owners almost in place.
  • September 16, 2013: Updated by Jason Smith: Updated information on the bridge
  • September 7, 2013: Updated by Julie Bowers: where is the proof for iowa bridge co?
  • September 1, 2013: Updated by Luke Harden: Removed drivel from the description box.
  • August 12, 2013: Updated by Luke Harden: Added category "Phoenix Iron Co."
  • October 26, 2012: Updated by Jason Smith: Added categories "Town lattice portal bracing", "Pin-connected", "English River (Iowa)"
  • August 7, 2012: Updated by Jason Smith: Updated the information on the bridge
  • July 12, 2012: Updated by Nathan Holth: Bridge to be rehabbed. Added exact closure date, and added common name.
  • September 6, 2011: Updated by Jason Smith: Added information on the bridge
  • July 18, 2011: Updated by Jason Smith: Bridge is still standing



Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted April 19, 2018, by Anonymous
Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted April 8, 2017, by Art S (asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)

Another hiccup:


KALONA, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Washington County supervisors have voted to close a road that leads to a historic bridge.

The Bunker Mill Bridge south of Kalona, Iowa on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. The road in front of the fence is the one the owner has requested Washington County close. (Dave Franzman/KCRG-TV9)

There was short discussion before the supervisors voted 3-2 to pass the resolution. The Bunker Mill Bridge is in Kalona over the English River. An arsonist burned it down in September of 2013. Bridge supporters spent the better part of three years rebuilding and trying to preserve the 130-year-old bridge.

"Why would you close the road? It doesn't benefit anyone but that land owner" said Scott Allen of Kalona.

That's what some residents said about a decision to close part of a road leading to the Bunker Mill Bridge.

"I was very disappointed and shocked. I think it was a very bad decision. They're elected officials but they are not following what the electorate wants" said Steve Maxon of Wellman.

Now cyclists, hikers, and the Amish community can't use the renovated bridge.

"It's got a lot of historic value and it goes through a very environmentally interesting area up there in the northern part of the county" said Maxon.

The chairman for the board of supervisors said closing the road south of the bridge will save taxpayers money

"Currently we would have to keep maintaining that road. Once we give it back to the property owners we no longer have to maintain that road" said Richard Young, the chairman of the Washington County Board of Supervisors.

One man with property near the bridge wanted part of Nutmeg Road closed because more people are trespassing and leaving trash. Young said it will keep troublemakers off private property.

"There's a lot of people that are trespass down there, ride their four wheelers, they dump garbage down there" said Young.

Maxon said what's most disappointing is that so much time and money to fix the bridge essentially went to waste.

"That's very frustrating. Very frustrating indeed because the bridge is stronger than ever. It's been fixed up so it'll hold more than it ever would have originally" said Maxon.

But the fighting is not over yet. Some residents have filed a lawsuit against a non-profit that has put a fence around the bridge. The county hasn't said when the road leading to the bridge will close.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted January 23, 2017, by Robert Elder (robertelder1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Great news indeed! I hope to visit someday.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted January 23, 2017, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Thank you Luke, couldn't have done it without you!

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted January 23, 2017, by Luke

Well done Julie. Glad to see it not turned into scrap.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted January 23, 2017, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Soft opening of Bunker Mill Bridge this past weekend. With the help of locals we installed the rail that would allow the gates to come off. So just over three years for Phase 1 with Parts 1 & 2. Lots of volunteer hours here, lots of donations. Signage will be installed to recognize donors real soon. Thanks to all everyone that had a hand in, can't do it without that kind of support. These projects are expensive, and they take a long time. This was our first to save as owner / contractor. We learned a lot, hope you all enjoy the fruits of the labor by the entire team at Workin' Bridges with BACH Steel and Schiffer Group Engineering on the team.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted April 4, 2016, by Jason Smith (flensburg [dot] bridgehunter [dot] av [at] googlemail [dot] com)

Here's a press release and update on the almost finished project with a lot of pics and cool videos. Enjoy! :-D Link: http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2016/04/04/bunker-mill...

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted March 21, 2016, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Whoa!...Trippin' with the pix Jules!!

Looks like it is coming along nicely...And good to see Nels without his leg in a cast! Although I don't think it slowed him down much on the Piano Bridge!

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted March 21, 2016, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

And I'm going to post these too because they tell a story in an art format that pulls out some details in a very cool way. They were taken and imaged by one of the volunteers who also works with IDOT for his day (and night) job. There are more so I did choose. It is hard work and my new Amish friend said to me, "it was hard work, but such an accomplishment". We are very grateful for their magic tricks for taking them off, and committing time and man power to putting them back on. It was community bridge building.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted March 21, 2016, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

You can trust us with your bridge dreams. Here with BACH Steel (Derek, Andy, Nels, Lee) pictured, our engineer Jim Schiffer, P.E. of Schiffer Engineering Inc. and me, the person you generally talk with first. There are more, they know.

There are more photos and videos from many perspectives at KoolProjects.com, as well as Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge on Facebook.

It takes passion and dedication to detail, these are big projects, this makes it look easy. Insurance, qualified contractors, nonprofit status, contractor and corporation.

The thing is: this is an in-kind restoration utilizing steel stringers that helped us level the approach to the bridge, we took off the detail signage revealing that M (yes we are keeping it, going to need some heat straigtening) I wanted part of it gone to reveal that King underneath remember and got schooled on that part of the historicalness (my word) by Jason and Luke.....(--), the signage is cast from the original that is at the Kalona Historic Village by Max Cast and hung by BACH Steel before they left this time. Workin' Bridges is the contractor and rented that big equipment, pushed the camera button, organized delivering Amish while Scott organized that great Iowa food, and we got it crossed with 3" white oak planks plained about six miles away. This crew was able to work with the Amish crew who worked with the English

We still have railing to create - both cast bars with donor names and normal laced railing (donations of railing or money are accepted) and the south approach bearing wall dug out and rebuilt back to the lime stone where it will protect the shoes, pins and eye-bars from debris. Old Mill Marketplace is headed to the south side (out of the flood plain), Earth Day will be for clean up and the opening of the bridge, most likely on May 17th, the first Almost Acoustic Tuesday (in this case it is Slew Grass and they are always acoustic)....the community has come together and we helped.

We had fun.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted March 19, 2016, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

There are ways and means to get it done. For me it starts with BACH and we fill in the other parts with lots of hands and lots of heart. It's about community that can be built around a bridge and we are grateful to so many who, like me, call it mine. Ownership by all is key. We got across.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted March 17, 2016, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

The sign.. cast by Max Cast. Hung by BACH.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted March 17, 2016, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Signage. Inkind restoration. Community.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted March 16, 2016, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

We have crossed the English.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted March 15, 2016, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Work has begun to cross the English by Wirkin' Bridges and BACH Steel. The friends are very happy there wait is over.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted May 7, 2015, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Didnt get the grant but we are going to have fun this summer....

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted May 7, 2015, by ArtS (asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)
Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted July 3, 2014, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

For a group of friends that has lost a bridge before this picture sent by text was a welcome relief. Photo by Scott Allen. The yellow thing is the port potty that got hung up on the hitching rail. THE BRIDGE is not downstream, and our shack marketplace will just have to dry out and a plan to move it figured out. Though the way this water came up after 9" of rain and more in the watershed I'm not quite sure if it could have. That plan will now be in place so hopefully we won't have to see this anymore. right?

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted February 24, 2014, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

I don't have to post the press we got last week. This community raised so much money for their bridge, just not enough to get stringers and planks put on. Much care was taking by Workin' Bridges and Nels Raynor of BACH Steel. To see all the photos you can go to Flickr for sets of different projects. I enclose just one of the installation of the vertical posts that we hot riveted under Nels direction.

www.bunkermillbridge.org has a ton of photos of the project uploaded as well.

While we were not ready quite to give up the construction work, we know we are well positioned to finish in the late spring, into summer, working up the plans for the approach repairs to be done at the same time.

The signs were cast, the donor appreciation is going into V-Laced railing with cast flat stock. This town rocks and we look forward to better weather.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted February 23, 2014, by ArtS (asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)
Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted January 8, 2014, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Max Cast's Doris Park and Steve Maxon described for the camera the process to be used to cast the original King Iron Bridge Co., Cleveland, O. sign for the Bunker Mill Bridge.

They have offered, and if we get permission, to sell aluminum versions. We will see where that goes.

The original sign will go back to the Kalona Historic Village and two signs will grace the portals with iron, once again.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted December 27, 2013, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Images from the construction site for the restoration of the bridge can be found at www.bunkermillbridge.org.

We will start to have video up on You Tube soon. It is our job to educate. W'B believes in the apprentice training. In order to become master at anything one has to do it. Many times I watch Nels let "crew" do the work, even when he would rather do it themselves, in order to give them that feeling and the experience they need to move these projects forward.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted December 22, 2013, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Yes he is Tony. He asked about you the other day. We are on holiday now but the eye-bar extra's were installed and the rollers were exposed....full of clay and mud. I'm sure I have a photo somewhere. We put them back with a teflon bearing plate attached to the original plate under the rollers. She straightened out and it was really a great day with a great connection between the operator/owner Jim Townsend of Townsend Crane (they do the odd stuff) and Nels with stories going both ways. The crane didn't budge, the portal lifted with a crack, they said it was a growl on the other side, and by the end of the day the load out was over.

It was cool. An interview during ice delay here..... http://www.cbs2iowa.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/ka...

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted December 21, 2013, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Nels is a Bridge-restoring Beast!

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted December 20, 2013, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Yeah, it's a King Iron Bridge Co. pratt truss rehabbed .... now being restored. Here's Nels Raynor....in his own words.


Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted December 18, 2013, by Art S. (Asuckewer [at] knite [dot] co )

Congrats to you and Nels! In light of the $60K budget gap, what is your best guess at a timetable to completion


Art S.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted December 18, 2013, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)
Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted December 1, 2013, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Purchasing the bridge was all of the battle. Then the community was able to do the work that it can. Fastest bridge restoration ever? Fastest, done with all standards and thinking in mind.

No hype, just hard work. It is because NSRGA/Workin' Bridges/FBMB are the owner/contractor/friends team. Nels Raynor and Jim Schiffer are a great team to work with. Add the local contingent and we have a success story being revealed.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted October 11, 2013, by Jason Smith (JDSmith77 [at] gmx [dot] net)
Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted September 16, 2013, by Jason Smith (JDSmith77 [at] gmx [dot] net)

Update on the Bunker Mill Bridge in Iowa. http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2013/09/16/bunker-mill...

Two very important events to keep in mind: Board of Supervisors Meeting on 17 September and the first of (hopefully) many fundraisers on 19 September. More details in the link above!

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted September 7, 2013, by Anonymous

AMS USA is the mill mark for Arcelor-Mittal Steel. They were formed from French (Arcelor) and Indian (Mittal) steel companies, and have bought a number of mills in America over the last few years.

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted September 5, 2013, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

If anyone could talk their way outta something Jules... I bet it would be you! ;-)

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted August 13, 2013, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

So the Fire Chief says it's not possible now to use the bridge as part of the proposed trail system. It's an iron bridge and all that burned was the wooden deck... So put a new deck on it and use it!!!

If it is going to be subject to derelicts setting fire to the deck, then put a metal grate deck on it. Let's see em' try to burn that!

Bunker Mill Bridge
Posted August 12, 2013, by Luke Harden (lukemh9 [at] gmail [dot] com)
Kalona (Nutmeg Avenue) Bridge
Posted September 6, 2011, by Anonymous

Nice pics. The top part in #10 looks like it says Phoenix Iron Co.