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Chambers Ford Bridge

Chambers Ford Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: August 10, 2013

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
380th Street Over Iowa River
Rural: Tama County, Iowa: United States
Structure Type
Metal 9 Panel Pin-Connected Pratt Through Truss, Fixed and Approach Spans: Metal Stringer (Multi-Beam), Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1890 By Builder/Contractor: Clinton Bridge and Iron Works of Clinton, Iowa and George E. King Bridge Co. of Des Moines, Iowa
Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
159.0 Feet (48.5 Meters)
Structure Length
345.0 Feet (105.2 Meters)
Roadway Width
15 Feet (4.57 Meters)
2 Main Span(s) and 2 Approach Span(s)
Inventory Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

This bridge no longer exists!

Bridge Status: Demolished and replaced.

View Archived National Bridge Inventory Report - Has Additional Details and Evaluation

This bridge has a somewhat unusual history. Its westernmost span was built in 1890 by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works. Apparently at this time a crude approach system was also built. By 1903 that approach system deteriorated and another Pratt truss span was built by the George E. King Bridge Company. In 1938 unknown rehabilitation took place. One of the approach spans is resting on what looks like an end post or vertical member salvaged from some other truss bridge.

The 1903 span is a traditionally composed example of a pin-connected Pratt truss bridge. It appears to retain good historic integrity. The 1890 span is in sharp contrast highly unusual and untraditional in many aspects. It includes sway bracing that at the bottom has a pipe running between vertical members, which is a highly unusual detail. Also unusual is the way the floor beams are connected to the truss. They are not hung from hangers as was typical at this time. Instead, special pins just for the floor beams (separate of the bottom chord connection pins) are built into the vertical members so the floor beams are essentially pin-connected to the truss. The bridge does not use the traditional cover plate for the top chord and end post, and instead has v-lacing on the top, giving the bridge a distinctive appearance.

The bridge rests on riveted caissons (sometimes called Lally columns). Under the deck at the caissons that hold both truss spans in the middle of the river is an unusual bracing (partly falling off) that looks like a portal brace, but appears to be some sort of brace for under the bridge. It is an unusual detail of unknown purpose.

This highly rare and significant bridge has been abandoned. It should be given a high preservation priority, whether it is preserved here, or relocated and reused elsewhere. Both spans would make great bridges for pedestrian use on trails and in parks. However, Tama County has said they want to replace this bridge. If the replacement project were to include the relocation and preservation of this bridge's spans in a new location that would be fine. However it is likely that the county plans to demolish this bridge. This would be a devastating loss to Iowa. It is unclear if the county even considered rehabilitation of this bridge for continued vehicular use.

Information and Findings From Iowa's Historic Bridge Inventory

Discussion of Bridge

In April 1890 the Tama County Board of Supervisors received a petition from S. Wyman and other citizens of Salt Creek Township for a permanent bridge over the Iowa River southeast of Chelsea. The supervisors visited the proposed site, known locally as the Chambers Ford, the following month. They agreed to construct an iron bridge at this point if the citizens would "procure a right-of-way for said bridge and build all necessary trestle work on said right-of-way and all approaches to said bridge." The County Auditor subsequently solicited bids for the bridge's erection, and on July 11th a contract was let to the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works of Clinton, Iowa, for a single-span, pin-connected Pratt truss. Apparently completed later that year, the Chambers Ford Bridge functioned in place with only maintenance-related repairs for ten years. By the turn of the century, however, the original timber trestle approach that the local citizens had built on one end had deteriorated beyond the point of repair. In September 1902 the board of supervisors inspected the bridge and met with representatives of bridge firms at nearby Belle Plaine. A contract for the repair work, which included the erection of a new Lackawanna and Jones and Laughlin, King erected the new span during the fall and winter of 1902-03. Work was completed by April 1903, whereupon the county issued a warrant to King in the amount of $3,987. Since that time, the two-span structure has carried vehicular traffic in essentially unaltered condition. The south span is part of the original 1890 structure built by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works, while to the north is the span built by the George E. King Bridge Company in 1903.
With virtually all of the in-state and national bridge companies promoting it, the pin-connected Pratt through truss was the steel bridge of choice for medium-scale crossings in Iowa in the late 19th century. Thousands of such spans were erected on the state's road system during this period of intense bridge construction activity, and today they remain the most populous structural type remaining from the 19th century. The Chambers Ford Bridge is distinguished among these for its staged construction, two-span configuration and well-preserved physical state [adapted from Fraser 1990].

Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes


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Maps and Links: Chambers Ford Bridge

This historic bridge has been demolished. This map is shown for reference purposes only.

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2021 National Bridge Inventory: View listed bridges within 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) of this bridge.

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