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Melan Bridge


Side view from north

Photo taken by Jason Smith

BH Photo #101849


Street View 

Sgnificance of the Melan Bridge 

Written by Janet Landler, engineer, for HAER, 1995

Constructed in 1894, the Melan Arch Bridge marks the first experiment in using the innovative concrete-steel system developed by Austrian Josef Melan. At the urging of a Midwestern contractor, Frederick von Emperger, Melan's representative in America, [von Emperger] designed a 30 foot concrete arch reinforced with structural steel to span a seasonal stream outside of the small town of Rock Rapds in Northwest Iowa.

Although von Emperger's specifications called for 4" I-beams, bent to the elliptical shape of the arch and spaced at 3' intervals, local legend holds that the contractor reinforced the structure with railroad rails to spare expense.

Von Emperger went on to designing several more arches in the United Stats, all with dimensions more impressive than this first modest venture. However, the Rock Rapids bridge remains his most significant work, and the Melan system he introduced there, was adopted widely during the first part of the Twentieth Century for the highway brdges and pedestrian spans.


Reinforced concrete arch bridge within Emma Sater Park near Rock Rapids, just off IA 9
Rock Rapids, Lyon County, Iowa
Open to pedestrians only
Built 1894 under the direction of Frederick von Emperger; relocated 1964
- Frederick von Emperger of Beroun, Central Bohemia, Czech Republic. (Designer)
- John Olsen (Builder)
- Josef Melan of Vienna, Austria (Inventor)
- Paul Kingsley of Strawberry Point, Iowa (Rehabbber)
- William Mueser of Moers, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (Supervising Engineer)
Closed-spandrel arch
Span length: 30.0 ft.
Total length: 30.0 ft.
Deck width: 16.0 ft.
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on October 18, 1974
Approximate latitude, longitude
+43.43253, -96.15456   (decimal degrees)
43°25'57" N, 96°09'16" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
14/730298/4812781 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Rock Rapids
Land survey
T. 99 N., R. 45 W., Sec. 4
Inventory numbers
NRHP 74000797 (National Register of Historic Places reference number)
BH 13931 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • November 29, 2013: New Street View added by Luke Harden
  • September 15, 2013: Updated by Luke Harden: Added category "William S. Hewett & Co."
  • July 8, 2013: New photos from Luke Harden
  • September 10, 2008: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • September 26, 2005: Posted photos from Jason Smith


  • HAER IA-15 - Melan Arch Bridge
  • Historic Bridges of Iowa
  • Jason Smith - flensburg [dot] bridgehunter [dot] av [at] googlemail [dot] com
  • J.R. Manning - thekitchenguy [at] sbcglobal [dot] net
  • Luke


Melan Bridge
Posted April 5, 2011, by Clark Vance (cvance [at] dogmail [dot] com)

The Melan design for concrete arch bridges lost favor 60 years ago but is beginning to be used again. Beautiful pictures of some old and new concrete arches here: www.arch-bridges.cn/conf2008/pdf/349.pdf