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West Auburn Bridge

Iowa Bridge Number 153270

West Auburn Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Bridge Documented: June 30, 2009
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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Neon Road Over Turkey River
Rural: Fayette County, Iowa: United States
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1881 By Builder/Contractor: Horace E. Horton of Minneapolis, Minnesota

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Not Available or Not Applicable
Main Span Length
165 Feet (50.29 Meters)
Structure Length
181 Feet (55.17 Meters)
Roadway Width
15.7 Feet (4.79 Meters)
1 Main Span(s)
NBI Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)

Bridge Documentation

View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Documentation For This Bridge

HAER Data Pages, PDF

This bridge is a rare example of a Whipple truss bridge in Iowa. With a large lattice portal bracing and attractive built-up beams,  this is a beautiful bridge that also has significant technological significance. In addition, it is historically significant as the last remaining remnant of the long lost town of West Auburn. The bridge retains good historic integrity. The bridge is seated on caissons, also known as lally columns.

This bridge has been bypassed by a new bridge and left standing for its historic an aesthetic value. Either from removed approach spans or washed out dirt, the bridge has a drop off at the west end, and is only approachable from the east. Iowa's practice of abandoning historic bridges next to their replacement is an excellent one, since it retains the historic bridge, even if preservation money for a full restoration or relocation and reuse is not possible at the current time. The good news is, in its current state, the bridge can continue to exist as an abandoned historic landmark, or if money and interest developed it could be restored in place or in a new location to serve a functional purpose. Leaving a bridge standing keeps the history and possibilities alive, while also preventing the pointless spending of  taxpayer dollars on the cost of demolition. Some states like Pennsylvania refuse to leave historic bridges standing next to replacements, and insist on wasting taxpayer dollars on the demolition of historic bridges that are not in the way of their replacement bridge. Iowa proves that it is possible to leave these bridges standing, and puts states like Pennsylvania to shame.

Information and Findings From Iowa's Historic Bridge Inventory

Discussion of Bridge

In June 1880 the Fayette County Board of Supervisors advertised for a contractor to build the stone substructure for a bridge over the Turkey River in Auburn Township. The structure was called the West Auburn Bridge to differentiate it from another township structure in the area. In September the county solicited proposals for the bridge's superstructure, awarding a contract to design, fabricate and erect the 165-foot all-iron span to Minneapolis engineer Horace E. Horton. Horton completed the West Auburn Bridge in 1881 for a total cost of $7,598.79. Since that time the structure has functioned in place, in essentially unaltered condition.

Configured as a pin-connected Whipple (or double-intersection Pratt) through truss, the West Auburn Bridge is one of only eight such structures known to exist in Iowa. First patented by Squire Whipple, bridge engineer and builder from New York, the Whipple truss was a popular choice for long-span crossings--generally in excess of 150 feet--between 1850 and 1890. The Whipple truss differed from the more common Pratt truss in that its diagonal members extended across, not one, but two panels. By the turn of the century, Parker and Camelback trusses (Pratt trusses with polygonal upper chords) had supplanted the Whipple as the truss of choice for long-span crossings. Accordingly, all of Iowa's Whipple trusses date from before the turn of the century. Two of them--the West Auburn Bridge and the non-extant Hansen's Ford Bridge in Allamakee County--were designed and built by Horace Horton in 1880. Based in Minneapolis in the 1880s, Horton was a brilliant civil engineer whose imaginative and often eccentric bridge designs were well known in the Midwest. Never overly prolific, he designed a number of Iowa's most distinctive structures during this period, a handful of which remain in use today. With its superstructure, substructure and setting all intact, the West Auburn Bridge is an outstanding early example of wagon truss construction in Iowa [adapted from Fraser 1992].

Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes

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