15 votes

Upper Bluffton Bridge


Side view

Photo taken October 2005 by Jason & Birgit Smith

BH Photo #101933

Street View 


In the 1870s Winneshiek County embarked on an ambitious bridge construction program, in which many of the earliest wooden structures were replaced with more substantial iron spans on stone substructures. Beginning in 1873, the county, under the direction of bridge commissioner George Winship, built several bowstring arch-trusses, most of which were supplied by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company, of Canton, Ohio. By 1880 the county had erected a total of 32 iron bridges, all built under Winship's supervision. That year the county contracted with WIBCo for two medium-span bridge superstructures. The first was the Lawrence Bridge. The other was a 166-foot-span Pratt through truss replacement structure for the Upper Bluffton Bridge, placed over the Upper Iowa River on existing abutments. Costing $2,831.23, the Upper Bluffton Bridge featured a pin-connected Pratt truss based on patents held by David Hammond, WIBCo's president. The Upper Bluffton and Lawrence Bridges marked a watershed for bridge building in Winneshiek County. The county supervisors had contracted for small-scale, all-iron trusses in the 1870s (Pratt half-hips and bedsteads, primarily), but these two trusses marked the first time that the county purchased longer-span trusses instead of bowstrings for rural crossings. The bridges presaged the building trend in the county for the rest of the 19th century. Winneshiek County continued to build iron, and later steel, trusses on its rural roads in the 1880s and 1890s. This change in character of bridges occurred well within the mainstream of state and national trends, for after the 1880 bowstring was specified increasingly less frequently for roadway crossings. WIBCo, at the forefront of bowstring innovation in the 1870s, was also a leader in the shift toward other structural configurations a decade later. David Hammond foresaw the decline of the bowstring in the mid-1870s, as his company was reaching its zenith on the basis of bowstring sales, and he directed his patent activities more toward straight-chorded trusses after that point. WIBCo maintained an extensive catalog of bridge types that ranged from the exotic to the commonplace. With its pinned connections and patented Pratt web configuration, the Upper Bluffton Bridge represented the former rather than the latter. It was one of thousands of such pinned Pratts erected throughout Iowa in the late 19th century. The Upper Bluffton Bridge is technologically significant as a very early, well-preserved example of this mainstay wagon bridge type. In Winneshiek County it represented the first time the county used a truss rather than a bowstring for a rural crossings. A local harbinger of prevailing bridge trends, the Upper Bluffton Bridge is a significant transportation-related resource [adapted from Crow-Dolby and Fraser 1992].

This bridge is now offered for sale by Workin' Bridges, a part of The N. Skunk River Greenbelt Association. The final cost of the bridge will include being thoroughly rehabilitated and engineered for the client's use.


Through truss bridge over Upper Iowa River on W. Ravine Road
Winneshiek County, Iowa
Queenpost span is relocated to a nearby property to be used as a driveway; through truss span was scrapped.
Built 1878 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Co.; rehabilitated in 2001; closed to traffic in 2009; queenpost span now private property, through truss span is gone
- Wrought Iron Bridge Co. of Canton, Ohio
Main span: Pin-connected, 8-panel Pratt through truss
Approach: Pin-connected, 3-panel QueenPost pony truss
Length of largest span: 116.1 ft.
Total length: 154.2 ft.
Deck width: 14.8 ft.
Vertical clearance above deck: 11.0 ft.
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on May 15, 1998
Approximate latitude, longitude
+43.40467, -91.91472   (decimal degrees)
43°24'17" N, 91°54'53" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
15/587876/4806326 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Land survey
T. 99 N., R. 9 W., Sec. 9 (Bluffton Township)
Average daily traffic (as of 2001)
Inventory numbers
NRHP 98000458 (National Register of Historic Places reference number)
IA 348810 (Iowa bridge number)
BH 14764 (Bridgehunter.com ID)
Inspection report (as of March 2009)
Overall condition: Poor
Superstructure condition rating: Critical (2 out of 9)
Substructure condition rating: Poor (4 out of 9)
Deck condition rating: Fair (5 out of 9)
Sufficiency rating: 15 (out of 100)
View more at BridgeReports.com

Update Log 

  • April 27, 2015: Updated by Luke: GPS adjustment
  • October 11, 2012: Updated by Jason Smith: Added categories "Town lattice portal bracing", "Wrought iron"
  • July 1, 2012: Updated by Jason Smith: Bridge is partially gone. Through truss span is now scrap metal while pony truss span is now privately owned
  • July 22, 2011: Updated by Luke Harden: Added description
  • July 5, 2011: Updated by Julie Bowers: Trying to save available for reuse.
  • July 1, 2011: Updated by Julie Bowers: Bridge needs new location.
  • June 29, 2011: Updated by Jason Smith: Truss bridge is being replaced while awaiting relocation
  • May 26, 2011: New photo from Clark Vance
  • February 7, 2011: New photos from Benjamin Cole
  • January 30, 2011: New photos from Benjamin Cole
  • June 17, 2010: New Street View added by Ruth Reynolds
  • October 9, 2009: New photos from Jason Smith
  • December 19, 2005: Posted photos from Jason & Birgit Smith



Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted August 12, 2012, by julie bowers (jbowerz)

Such a beautiful concrete bridge replacement here it is

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted August 12, 2012, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

I'm feeling rather queasy right now...

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted August 12, 2012, by julie bowers (jbowerz)

Such a beautiful concrete bridge replacement here it is

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted August 11, 2012, by julie bowers (jbowerz)

Such a beautiful concrete bridge replacement here it is

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted April 26, 2012, by Jason Smith (JDSmith77 [at] gmx [dot] net)

How many days or weeks until the through truss structure is taken apart and scrapped?

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted April 26, 2012, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

The final count down for the demolition of the main span has begun. I am out of ideas. the pony truss has gone to a neighbors so that is good. It's unfortunate because we tried very hard to save this one , for almost a year.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted October 14, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

The DNR has given us time and will work to advertise these spans for alternative uses. Request for Proposals is out in the press and we hope there are some takers.

Attachment #1 (application/pdf; 77,253 bytes)

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted October 7, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

That was thought about when they put in the new bridge but there really is very little room there, and they didn't want the old bridge upstream from the new bridge.

We are so last minute in these efforts that any place they can think to put this span, without destroying it, puts us all a step ahead in preservation. It may not be the best solutions but at least we got to be involved in the discussion, finally, and have put the conversation front and center with all of the counties and conservation boards in Iowa. Then, when these decisions are made, we can start to trust that all viewpoints have been considered.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted October 7, 2011, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Has any thought been given to possibly building new abuts nearby and placing it back over the river as a pedestrian span? Seems like a good thing to have in a DNR property!

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted October 7, 2011, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Has any thought been given to possibly building new abuts nearby and placing it back over the river as a pedestrian span? Seems like a good thing to have in a DNR property!

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted October 7, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

After a meeting with state officials in the Department of Natural Resources on Tueday the fate of the Upper Bluffton Bridge is a little brighter.

It was concluded that the bridge does need to be removed from DNR land where it sits and that it cannot be put up on piers in that spot because it is a floodplain.

They did however promise to help us take on the project and to go further and suggest that all Iowa counties look at their historic bridges as a resource. The REAP coordinator said that many times grants come in needing bridges and they will do their best to publicize the Bluffton bridges for re-use, the bowstring coming up next year that needs a home, and to work with Workin' Bridges to educate planners, engineers, and architects on the uses for these bridges as part of greenbelts, hiking/biking trails, snowmobile access and equestrian potential, as well as keeping them in use for vehicles where appropriate.

Documentary planning for Piano Bridge is ongoing. Any help appreciated. Hidden talents out there, let us know.


Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted September 27, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

The folks in Winneshiek are emailing and I am sending on to the DNR. We have a meeting to set up for next week. I do believe that the bridge has been saved and that something will be done to put it up on piers and create a monument and beacon for the river rats on the Upper Iowa, plus a great viewing spot for the bluffs and an ideal spot to plan a picnic.

I'll let you know more after the meeting. Travis Baker has been very helpful at IOWA DNR.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted September 4, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

For Immediate Release - September 4, 2011

1880 Upper Bluffton Bridge - Waiting

Last Ditch Effort to Save the Historic Upper Bluffton Bridge

GRINNELL, IA — Three months of negotiations on the status of the Upper Bluffton Bridge to retain it on the National Register of Historic Places, plus losing the battle of fundraising has put the Upper Bluffton Bridge back on the chopping (read scrapping) block. Workin’ Bridges was contacted two weeks ago by Lee Bjerke, engineer of Winneshiek County about his concerns that the bridge was still standing on DNR land near the new bridge construction project.

Efforts so far have netted $500 for the dismantle. Brennan Construction did what they said they would do, fly the spans intact off the river. So far we have not had success to find a new owner or use, but that effort is just hampered by not being able to afford to take it down ourselves this summer. “I asked him for a few more weeks”, stated Julie Bowers. “We just haven’t been able to raise any money to disassemble the bridge. We have had the offer to transport it to storage, but we need to pay for that fuel”. BACH Steel needs $10,000 to mobilize 4 men, 2 trucks with welding equipment, the rental of a SkyTrack for disassembly of the top chord and a fork truck to get the pieces on the trucks.

“That’s at least 6 days of motels, food, plus the fuel,” said Nels Raynor, President of BACH Steel, “if I could have volunteered all of our time I would have, but it’s been a tough year.” We are looking for any ideas or volunteers with expertise that could help lighten the expense. If we all pull together we can preserve the Upper Bluffton Bridge until the next use for it can be found. We got into the process too late and all efforts so far have not met with success. But, more calls are coming in every day about these bridges, or stories about these bridges.

Texas Department of Transportation has changed their way of thinking about truss bridges as well, so we are hoping some of the technical engineering concepts will be published about working with old iron and engineering back to vehicular traffic, where there are alternate routes and low daily traffic. It makes sense econonomically. We are also in the planning for the Gilliece (Daley’s) Bowstring Bridge, but we hope to have some of the money come from estimating the move, unlike this time where there was no room in the budget for the dismantlement as were not in on the process from the beginning.

Please contact Julie Bowers with any ideas, comments or questions at 641.260.1262 or jbowerz1@gmail.com. More information can be found at www.skunkriverbridge.org or on Facebook at Workin’ Bridges. Thank you for your support of historic truss bridge restoration and preservation.

Webmaster's note: The photo that was here has been incorporated into the main site.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted August 26, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

The Upper Bluffton Bridge continues to be at risk. If we cannot raise the $10,000 that we need to disassemble and store until we find a new owner, the county will take their pieces and the bridges will be scrapped.

We've tried everything we know how, anybody else got any ideas?

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted July 6, 2011, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

I have seen that feature on several WIBCo. spans....although I wouldn't call it common.

I would refer to it as an adjustable horizontal strut, and figure it was added to stiffen the verticals and keep them aligned.

I believe Nathan has researched WIBCo. and may have additional info to add.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 22, 2011, by Wayne Kizziar (wayne1701 [at] cableone [dot] net)

Hats off to Marty Brennan and the crew at Brennan Construction . Also three cheers for Julie Bowers and Workin' Bridges for helping make this happen.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 22, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Here is a message from the construction company. I have to say I agree. Money is the issue. People talk a lot about saving bridges but when it comes to donating to really make it happen, doesn't happen.

Nels will come from Michigan to disassemble this bridge as soon as possible. Julie


Here is your bridge.

Isn't it ironic that bridge "preservationists" are unwilling to participate unless they are fully compensated for their efforts, yet bridge builders who, perhaps, incur the greater risk and expense are expected to be satisfied with press releases.

Good luck with the rest of your endeavor.

Marty Brennan

Brennan Construction

501 S. Front St.

Lansing, IA 52151

Webmaster's note: The photo that was here has been incorporated into the main site.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 15, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

My meeting update with SHPO..

The Historic Registry offers no protections to bridges. They fall into the category that if you move them they are off the register. This bridge is being moved off it's piers with no place to really go that they would accept.

Because it is off the register it is not elible for HRDP grants, but might be elible for some grants for being eligible to be on the register someday.

This makes it nearly impossible in the current setting to work with historic bridges, because so many need to be moved. This is an area I requested them to ask the KEEPER about. Essentially for the Bluffton Bridge, if anyone wants it will take $10,000 to dismantle properly, making it easier to erect elsewhere. The ROI on getting HRDP grants is becoming less of an incentive to staying on a register.

I also found out that the bulk of the bridges that were put on the Register in the 90s was because of a grant between NPS and DOT's. In Iowa they nominated 218 bridges out of 1000s, and 198 were accepted. They were supposed to keep nominating others as bridges fell down or were lost to the register by moving but time has passed.

Perhaps we need BridgeHunters and HistoricBridges to pull together a database and call it the HistoricRegisterOfFormerlyListedHistoricProperties and let that be the standard.

It seems to me that the collaboration between SHPO and NPS is one of regulations that keep both going. Hmmmm.

I don't know what's next. The bridge is available and there are any number of places where it should go. We think the cost for repair is under $100,000 and that it should go somewhere.

This clarification from SHPO alters Workin' Bridges and we will have to define where and how we can help people in the private sector save these briges.

That's the update. The bridge will still be set aside for sometime as we make more plans and raise more money, awareness and options for going forward.


Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 15, 2011, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

That's awesome Julie!.....You are one tenacious lady!

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 15, 2011, by Robert Elder (robertelder1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

I look forward to seeing those pictures. I crossed this bridge many times when I briefly lived in Decorah (10 weeks). That is a great town!

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 15, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

I will try to post photos later. I'm off to SHPO to work on the permission to move this property/structure. The planks started coming off yesterday. Interesting, they were decked lengthwise, floor beams were flat over iron strigers every 6".

Jason, they still remember you in Decorah..."There was this guy from Germany...".

We had about 50 people at a concert at the Fish/Trout Hatchery and raised awareness and money. And some further ideas on where it should go. I took video on the bridge as many people were out getting there last walks. "We always come here". Us bridge lovers, that's what we do.

Still on track to be saved.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 13, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Thank Brennan Construction. They bought us some time and will take the bridge apart as well as they can and then let us work with it. They may even leave it up until the new piers are in which would give us time with the Registry, SHPO, BACH Steel and my conservation board to find a solution.

So glad that Monday came. I am on my way to Decorah for a fundraiser musical event tomorrow night at the fish hatchery, I will be on KDEC tomorrow at 8:15 am to promote the David Zollo with Sam Knutson opening and we live to dance another day.

Robert, don't hesitate to donate. Every little bit helps. The same for all of you bridge lovers. www.skunkriverbridge.org/donate-online.html

We thank you for your help. This is not an easy business to be in but I refuse to quit before all the cards have been dealt. Don't ya let that deal go down.



Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 13, 2011, by Robert Elder (robertelder1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

That is too bad - I was planning on contributing to this project - not that my contribution would have been the difference, but still...

I know that we can not preserve every bridge, but I was hoping that we could save this one.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 12, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Sorry Bridge Lovers.

SANS Cash we were unable to mobilize BACH Steel to come to Iowa to save this bridge. We have one more day but I have come to the conclusion that the battle is nearly over on this bridge. I will be on site to take those last photos and to do a BLUES FOr BLUFFTON muscical event.

I am so sorry. There has to be a better way to find money than begging bridge lovers, but the only people who posted money to our pay pay system were my college friends. Imagine if we all worked together $10 at a time to save a bridge. I think we could do it. Me I've put in thousands and so has Nels. We just don't have the cash flow.


Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 2, 2011, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Fantastic work in saving this landmark Julie and Nels!

And kudos to the contractor for his help!

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted June 2, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

GREAT NEWS. Collaboration between Brennan Construction and Workin' Bridges has been agreed upon - work has commenced to work out the details. Brennan will assist BACH Steel in the disassembly of the Upper Bluffton Bridge. We are working with SHPO but tentatively the bridge will have to go to Millgrove Access where we intend to install it at the gate area to cover where the river likes to run through. The Historic Register requires a place for a listed bridge to go. Unless, of course, anyone has a better offer for this bridge. Winneshiek County is also helping. This may be a precedent. What a cost saver when pulling a bridge, those cranes are the most expensive component to this effort. Thanks to Marty Brennan for his foresight and willingness to work with us before this structure is destroyed - scheduled for June 14.

Can you bridge hunters help us?

Donations to help with the removal and disassembly, estimated to cost barebones with travel, time, people around $10,000. If you would like to help this is a tax write-off. This is the time where WE can make a difference. It's easy. www.skunkriverbridge.org. NSRGA is a 501(c)(3) corporation. All donations are acknowledged, legal, and gratefully excepted. Thanks.

Julie Bowers

Executive Director

NSRGA / Workin' Bridges


Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted May 25, 2011, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Rubber meets the road deck here. The bid has been let to take this bridge out. Workin' Bridges can step in with a proposal to try to take the bridge off and find a home for it, but we need money or the next client real soon. Any ideas out there in bridge lover land?

Give me a call at 641.260.1262.



Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted October 10, 2009, by Anthony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Hopefully Iowa will come through and save this beauty. It would be best to leave it in the scenic location it now serves, but that might be wishful thinking. The Endpost-upper chord connection caps still exist on this span, where they are missing on most of the few remaining examples.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted October 9, 2009, by Robert Elder (robertelder1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

Decorah has such a great network of hiking and biking trails. It would be nice if this bridge could be relocated there. I can think of a couple of places where a pedestrian bridge over the Upper Iowa would be useful if an easement and funds were available.

This is one of the most interesting Pratt trusses I have ever encountered. Note that this bridge features additional members not normally found on later trusses.

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted March 14, 2009, by anthony dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

They should try to relocate the road down from the bridge. It is a rare bridge in an incredible location, and it should stay put. Better yet just rehab it!

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted March 14, 2009, by Jason Smith (JDSmith77 [at] gmx [dot] net)

Some bad news on the part of the bridge. I just received word that the Upper Bluffton Bridge was closed to traffic permanently for there was significant weakening of the carrier beams on the deck. The closure is now permanent and replacement plans are underway. It is very likely that the bridge will be demolished unless someone claims it for recreational purposes.

14 March, 2009- JS

Upper Bluffton Bridge
Posted November 13, 2006, by Annette Mather (amather [at] apolloboise [dot] com)

I have fond memories of this bridge. My grandmother lives on a farm about 1/2 to 3/4 mile of this bridge. When my cousin Luke and I would stay at her house, we'd always go through the back pasture to the Upper Iowa River. When the water would get too deep, we'd get on the road. On the road, we'd try to go to Bluffton, looking for mischief. Bluffton was about 3 miles away. It was always a long walk on the way back to Grandma's. The bridge was usually our turning around point.