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