1 vote

Elkader Truesdell Bridge


Public Domain: Published Prior to 1923

BH Photo #336050


The Elkader Bridge was an iron bridge of Truesdell patent design. It was poorly constructed and suffered badly under the ever increasing loads of this growing community.

In 1888, the Clayton County Board of Supervisors hired M. Tschirgi Jr., a respected civil engineer from the city of Dubuque, to assess the condition of their troubled bridge.

After a thorough examination, he submitted the following evaluation on June 6:

"the superstructure, consisting of four spans of Truesdell design, aggregating 202 feet in length is both faulty in design and in very poor condition to withstand the maximum load usually allowed for highway bridges, and judged by the standard of the specifications for iron highway bridges, it would be condemned."

Tschirgi stated that this type of bridge, even in perfect condition, could only carry 50 pounds per square foot, due to the faulty design of Truesdell.

This bridge in its current condition could fail under even less load. Heeding his advice, county supervisors condemned the old bridge immediately." - HAER No. IA-47


Lost Truesdell Truss bridge over Turkey River on Road
Elkader, Clayton County, Iowa
Replaced by a new bridge
Built 1870; Replaced 1889
- W.H. & L.E. Truesdell of Belvidere, Illinois
Truesdell Truss
Total length: 202.0 ft.
Approximate latitude, longitude
+42.85503, -91.40383   (decimal degrees)
42°51'18" N, 91°24'14" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
15/630407/4745951 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Inventory number
BH 62539 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • July 20, 2021: Updated by Chester Gehman: Entered build date of 1870 per forum note from Ann Marie Rock
  • April 1, 2021: Updated by Chester Gehman: Removed Build date of 1851
  • February 23, 2021: New photos from David Beck
  • August 20, 2015: New photo from Luke
  • August 17, 2014: Added by Luke

Related Bridges 


  • Luke
  • David Beck
  • Chester Gehman - gehmanc2000 [at] yahoo [dot] com


Elkader Truesdell Bridge
Posted July 19, 2021, by Ann Marie Rock

I think the "1867" on the one photograph is actually referring to the Courthouse in the background to the left of the bridge, as the building was begun in the summer of 1867. The bridge was completed in August 1870.

A relative of mine, Harry Powell, spent much of his retirement in the early 1980s poring over old newspapers in the Elkader library and condensing the information down into a narrative about the history of Elkader. He died before he could finish it, but he left some invaluable information behind. Here's what I gleaned out of that narrative regarding the Elkader bridges (taken from different areas of the text).

"Since there was no bridge in Elkader until 1853, the mill company maintained a flat-boat for emigrant use upon arrival."

"In 1840 the public survey disclosed the fact that the Turkey River passed through the county from northwest to southeast, the river was estimated as four chains in width with both deep and shallow areas, and while it was frozen over during the winter months, it could be impassable during the spring thaws when high water inundated the low lying areas. As time rolled onwards it was mandatory that some type of bridge had to link both banks as flat barges and canoes no longer filled the requirements, consequently, in 1851 a wooden bridge became the first structure to be built. The Clayton County Herald at Garnavillo is quoted in their March 14, 1856 issue, "The most serious obstacle in the way of travel within the limits of Clayton County is the Turkey River which has a current of considerable velocity, and is quite difficult to ford, except at very low water level. Crossing this stream are four great thoroughfares, on only two of which are good substantial bridges, viz. - at Elkader and Clermont." There is also reference to the fact that "a substantial bridge was placed over the Turkey River in 1861", but it was not determined that it had been actually placed at Elkader. It was not until August 1870 that Elkader had its first iron bridge spanning the river and ten years later major repair work had to be made on it necessitating it being closed to traffic during the time necessary to make it usable. Nine years later the town authorities finally determined that a new bridge of greater permanence had to be constructed and the present Keystone Bridge now standing was finally completed in 1889."

"The time had arrived when the wooden bridge spanning the river had become obsolete and dangerous, and during May 1870 an iron bridge builder named Dr. Truesdell was brought to Elkader to exhibit his plans to the proper authorities. The cost involved for a double track, and foot passenger bridge, was estimated at $30.00 per foot, or a total cost of $6,000.00 - his specifications and cost were obviously approved as a new iron bridge was completed and in use during August 1870."

"It was a red letter day for Elkader on August 15, 1889 when the new Keystone Bridge was completed and considered at the time to be the finest stone arch bridge west of the Mississippi River, the problems that had been faced with the wooden bridges, and the one of iron were now over. The Board of Supervisors had settled on the construction of a stone arch bridge as the location was suitable, it would be permanent, and it would wipe out the heavy annual expense of replanking the floor of either the iron or wooden bridge. In addition, Cole's quarry near town afforded an inexhaustible supply of the finest magnesium limestone free from all imperfections. A contract had been awarded to Byrne & Blake of Dubuque for a total of $13,000.00, initially, but the final total came to $16,282,49 with the largest additional expenditure of $1,584.60 being allocated for extra wing walls. Facts concerning the amount of stone used and the weight involved was printed in the August 22, 1889 issue of the local paper."

Elkader Truesdell Bridge
Posted April 2, 2021, by Chester Gehman (gehmanc2000 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Mr. Beck:

Thank you for responding to my forum entry. I would accept a build date of 1870 except the note on photo #1 has a date of 1867! I believe a date between 1861 and 1867 is correct.


Elkader Truesdell Bridge
Posted April 1, 2021, by David Beck

The iron bridge of Truesdell design in Elkader was built in 1870. The two bridges before that were built 1851-1853, a wooden structure with bents supporting the bed and another in 1861 another wooden structure with piers and abutments.

Elkader Truesdell Bridge
Posted April 1, 2021, by Chester Gehman (gehmanc2000 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

I believe the 1851 build date for this bridge is in error.

According to the HAER document, IA-47 for the Keystone Bridge,its successor, "In 1851....the construction of city's first bridge, an iron truss.." does not specifically name a Truesdell Bridge until the next paragraph. They were probably two different bridges.

A search of the US Patent Office files (www.uspto.gov) shows L.E. Truesdell was awarded 4 patents; 1856 (A Lattice Bridge) 1858 (the familiar Truesdell truss) 1859 (truss bridge connections) and 1870 (a type of bridge clamp.)

Therefore, I doubt Truesdell Patent Truss bridges appeared much before 1858. If 1851 was a typo, 1861 makes more sense. We don't know when Truesdell left Warren, Mass and went to Illinois, but in 1863 A.D. Briggs of Springfield, MA took over Truesdell patent business for New York and New England, and bridges in the west were contracted to W.H. & L.E. Truesdell of Belvidere, Illinois.