9 votes

Cowley Bridge



The Cowley bridge is a Bowstring Arch Truss bridge built by the King Iron Bridge Co. in 1878. It is about a mile and a half north west of Kelso on the Elk River. The bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo taken by James McCray


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BH Photo #111675


The technical design is a Bowstring tubular arch, with the top chord tubular rather than being formed with channels, typical of Bowstring arches. The bottom chords are paired eyebars that are circular as they pass through a plate at the abutment where they are threated and secured by nuts on the outside.


Bowstring through truss bridge over Elk River on West Stevens Creek Road
Lincoln County, Tennessee
Open to pedestrian traffic only
Built by the King Iron Bridge Co. in 1878 for $8,000, the only Bowstring truss bridge in the state of Tennessee. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
- King Bridge Co. of Cleveland, Ohio
Bowstring through truss
Length of largest span: 171.0 ft.
Total length: 170.5 ft.
Deck width: 13.8 ft.
Vertical clearance above deck: 14.5 ft.
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on January 4, 1983
Also called
Kelso Bridge
Approximate latitude, longitude
+35.13806, -86.46861   (decimal degrees)
35°08'17" N, 86°28'07" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
16/548408/3888482 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
695 ft. above sea level
Inventory numbers
NRHP 83003046 (National Register of Historic Places reference number)
BH 36244 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • May 2, 2019: New photos from Debbie Racka
  • June 16, 2011: Updated by Calvin Sneed: Updated specifications from King Iron Bridge Company records
  • June 13, 2011: Updated by Nathan Holth: Added Name and Dimensions
  • June 13, 2011: New photos from Calvin Sneed
  • July 13, 2008: Updated by James McCray
  • February 10, 2008: Added by James McCray


  • James McCray - jamesinslocomb [at] yahoo [dot] com
  • Calvin Sneed - us43137415 [at] yahoo [dot] com
  • Nathan Holth
  • Historicbridges.org - by Nathan Holth
  • Debbie Racka


Cowley Bridge
Posted May 22, 2020, by Jessica Schmidt (jessicaschmidt1015 [at] gmail [dot] com)

I camped out the last 2 days right beside Cowley Bridge. I believe the road to the bridge has a gate because the road has been wash out severely from all the floods we have had in the last few years. Plus, high school kids like to throw parties down by the bridge without permission. He has put some cables up on his side of the bridge recently because people are riding 4 wheelers over the bridge and the road is washed out just before the bridge on his side. I'm guessing its so no one gets hurt. I took several pictures so I will try to post them.

Cowley Bridge
Posted May 2, 2019, by Debbie Racka (debbie811123 [at] gmail [dot] com)

April 30, 2019 Came across Crowley Bridge by surprise. According to the GPS we should've been able to cross but a pile of rocks blocked the bridge. Fascinating bridge - metal work didn't seem to be in great condition but the roadbed was solid for walking across. Many thanks to everyone that posted photos or info about the bridge.

Cowley Bridge
Posted September 16, 2013, by Clark Vance (cvance [at] dogmail [dot] com)

Checking the GIS http://tnmap.tn.gov/assessment/ it is clear that the state and county consider the roads and bridge to be government property.

The county may be cooperating with a nearby landowner to help the county ensure the bridge is closed but I see no evidence that the right of way has been converted to private ownership.

Cowley Bridge
Posted September 16, 2013, by Chambers Williams (chambers [at] auto-writer [dot] com)

Correction: The locked gate is at the south approach to the bridge, and it is the landowner along the road on the south end who has blocked the bridge. The road to the north end (West Stephens Creek Road) is open right up to the pile of rocks blocking entrance to the bridge.

Cowley Bridge
Posted September 16, 2013, by Chambers Williams (chambers [at] auto-writer [dot] com)

There seems to be some controversy/confusion over ownership and control of this bridge. Some adjacent landowners say it still belongs to the county. But a man who runs a canoe trip service and owns some property adjacent to the bridge has put up a locked gate on the road leading to the north end of the bridge and posted it as "Private Property." He also has piled up lots of rocks to block both ends of the bridge. Other landowners are upset, but are doing nothing about it. One says he used to drive his tractor over the bridge -- which is in great condition -- to get to another part of his land, but of course can't do that now because of the approaches being blocked and the gate locked. I will be looking into this issue.

Cowley Bridge
Posted August 23, 2013, by G.C. Williams (Gchambers3 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

The landowner has dumped big loads of rock at both ends of the bridge to keep people off, even though the bridge and deck are in great shape. The gate at the start of the road leading to the bridge is locked, as well. This is a man who runs canoe trips on the river and uses a spot next to the bridge as his take-out spot for the canoes. Very unfortunate.

Cowley Bridge
Posted June 19, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Wow, those pictures are very telling. Rod use is totally different than any that I have looked at. Mr. King kept designing. From the Springfield with no lattice to lattice on the outrigger struts in 1878....love the craftsmen's record.

Looks like the eyebars need a little tightening up. Could be slippage at the feet, we've seen that in the Springfield Bridge.

Cowley Bridge
Posted June 17, 2011, by Matt Lohry

The Kern Bridge in Blue Earth County, Minnesota, is the longest single-span bowstring in the U.S., at 190 feet. Built in 1873 by WIBC, it's the oldest truss bridge in Minnesota.


Cowley Bridge
Posted June 17, 2011, by Nathan Holth (form3 [at] historicbridges [dot] org)

Calvin: Thanks for contributing this excellent collection of photos, particularly the detail and under-bridge photos that make much more clear the unique construction of the bridge including post-tensioned floorbeams.

And as long as the discussion here has been about long bowstring spans (I didn't realize Boner bridge was such a large span) its also worth noting that you have to go to Canada to see the longest known remaining bowstring, a Wrought Iron Bridge Company span of 225 feet http://www.historicbridges.org/truss/blackfriars/

WIBC built a number of 200+ bowstrings in America too according to a company list http://www.historicbridges.org/truss/blackfriars/notes1.jpg, but all are gone today.

Cowley Bridge
Posted June 16, 2011, by Calvin Sneed (us43137415 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Simply had to see this beautiful structure for myself. When I visited to update the pictures and see the specifications, I measured the bridge from abutment to abutment. The exact length is 52.2107 meters, or 171.295 feet. Even the King Iron Bridge Company noted it was an unusually long single Bowstring, with the height at the apex at 19.1 feet.

Cowley Bridge
Posted June 14, 2011, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Boner Road Bridge main span is 161 feet bracketed with ponies that are around 47 feet each.

Cowley Bridge
Posted June 14, 2011, by Robert Elder (robertelder1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Good information as always. The Boner Road Bridge in Warrick/Spencer County Indiana as well as the Austin Bridge in Chanute, KS have spans reported to be 160 feet.

Cowley Bridge
Posted June 14, 2011, by Nathan Holth (form3 [at] historicbridges [dot] org)

The 170 foot measurement is from the historic bridge inventory. It was actually the photos which showed a very long bridge that inspired me to look it up. 170 feet would actually make it the second longest bowstring span in the country, pushing the Freeport Bridge in Iowa with its 160 foot span into third place, where previously it was assumed to be 2nd place.

Cowley Bridge
Posted June 14, 2011, by Robert Elder (robertelder1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

If the 170' length is accurate, then this appears to be the longest single span King Iron Bowstring Bridge listed on this site.