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Taylor's Ford Bridge

Taylor's Ford Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Bridge Documented: July 2, 2009 and October 16, 2021

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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Nolen Avenue Over Wapsipinicon River
Rural: Buchanan County, Iowa: United States
Structure Type
Metal 14 Panel Pin-Connected Bowstring Through Truss, Fixed and Approach Spans: Metal Stringer (Multi-Beam), Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1872 By Builder/Contractor: Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
143 Feet (43.6 Meters)
Structure Length
271 Feet (82.6 Meters)
Roadway Width
15.7 Feet (4.79 Meters)
1 Main Span(s) and 4 Approach Span(s)
NBI Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

This bridge was originally part of a two-span bowstring bridge that served Main Street in Independence, Iowa. One of the two spans was relocated to this site in 1891 to serve as the main span for a new Taylor's Ford Bridge.

They Taylor's Ford Bridge is significant as an early surviving example of a Wrought Iron Bridge Company bowstring that also retains excellent historic integrity with remarkably little alterations. In addition, the bridge is significant for its 1891 approach spans, because the supports for the three southern approach spans (the fourth approach span is at the north end) are iron bents that consist of built-up beams similar to those seen on pin-connected Pratt truss bridges. This form of substructure from this era is relatively uncommon to find remaining today on highway bridges. The main bowstring span sits on equally impressive and relatively tall caissons, which are also called lally columns.

The main bowstring truss span includes typical Wrought Iron Bridge Company bowstring  details as outlined in the original patent. The top chord is a Keystone column. Sway and portal bracing are latticed. There are cast iron connection assemblies on the bridge. The Taylor's Ford Bridge has a different connection detail at the bridge shoe assembly at the ends of the bottom chord than a number of other Wrought Iron Bridge Company Bowstrings. Instead of the two large bolts that hold the bottom chord in place, the bottom chord is connected by a pin. In contrast, the bottom chord segments between the ends are riveted rather than pinned as seen on some bridges.

The Taylor's Ford Bridge has been bypassed and left in place for its historic value. This preservation solution is an easy and cost-effective one that enables vehicular traffic to travel Nolen Avenue without restriction, while also retaining an important historic resource. Also because the bridge no longer carries vehicular traffic, there is no need to alter the original design of the bridge to increase a weight limit. Despite the ease and value of this type of preservation solution, some states such as Pennsylvania refuse to even consider such forms of preservation, instead wasting money on the demolition of a historic bridge next to its replacement.

Brief Overview of Bowstring Truss Bridges

Bowstring truss bridges are sometimes called bowstring arch bridges because they have similarities to both structure types. Beginning with Squire Whipple's Whipple Arch Bridges, such as the Ehrmentraut Farm Bridge, the bowstring truss bridge is the bridge type that began a transition away from wood and stone and began to make metal a common bridge building material. It also began a period of experimentation until a good bridge form was developed, leading to a gradual standardization of bridge design. During this period, numerous bridge companies all experimented with metal, trying to design the best bridge. Each company had their own distinctive bowstring design, including unique and creative design details. These designs were often patented. Most bowstring truss bridges were built in the 1870s. Also during this time, cast iron was still used in addition to wrought iron for the construction of bridges, so many bowstrings built during this period include details such as connection assemblies that are made of cast iron. By the 1880s, bridge companies decided that the pin-connected Pratt truss was a better structure type, and construction of bowstring bridges sharply dropped after 1880. Because of the period in which Iowa was first being settled, a much larger number of bowstring truss bridges were built in the state than in other states. As a result, even today, Iowa has more historic bowstring truss bridges than any other state, although the number of bridges statewide is under 20, a very small number. However, a number of states do not have even a single historic bowstring truss within their borders. As such, while bowstring truss bridges are very few in number in Iowa, they are extremely rare on a national scale. It is imperative that each surviving bowstring in the county be preserved to protect this key period in bridge building history.

Additional Information and Resources

View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Overview Of Iowa's Bridges (PDF)

Historic American Engineering Record created a large and very informative historical overview and context for Iowa's bridges, and it is offered here by HistoricBridges.org in convenient PDF format for easy printing or offline viewing. The HAER source for the documents composing the PDF is here.

View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Discussion of Wrought Iron Bridge Company And Its Bowstrings (PDF)

In its discussion about a single bowstring bridge, Historic American Engineering Record included a detailed description of the Wrought Iron Bridge Company and a general history and discussion of its bowstring truss bridges in general. HistoricBridges.org has clipped this section for convenient viewing in PDF format. The HAER source for the documents composing the PDF is here.

View Bowstring Arch Bridges of Iowa, An Online Book By Michael Finn (PDF)

Michael Finn has composed a concise and detailed overview of Iowa's beautiful historic bowstring bridges. It has been made available for free by Iowa Department of Transportation.

View Historic American Engineering Record's Structural Analysis of Iron Bowstring Bridges (PDF)

Historic American Engineering Record created a large and very informative structural analysis of how bowstring truss/arch bridges function. Everything from basic discussion of the engineering behind the bridges to advanced mathematical equations are available. The HAER source for the documents composing the PDF is here.

Information and Findings From Iowa's Historic Bridge Inventory

Discussion of Bridge

This long-span iron bridge crosses the Wapsipinicon River in southeastern Buchanan County, four miles southeast of the county seat, Independence. The structure was once part of a two-span iron bowstring bridge, which carried Main Street over the Wapsipinicon in Independence. A 1914 county history reported that the earliest bridges in the county, including the Main Street Bridge, "were poorly constructed, cheap affairs and every spring freshet damaged them to a more or less extent, often the loss being entire. It was not until the county began to build all-iron structures, in 1870, that this changed.
In January 1872, the supervisors awarded the contract for the new structure on Main Street in Independence, at $30 per lineal foot, to the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio. Total cost for the two-span superstructure, completed that year, was recorded as $8,772, not including joists and the deck. The substructure cost an additional $11,330. The Main Street bowstrings carried increasingly heavy traffic as the main river crossing in Independence, until they were replaced in 1891 by a heavier structure. One of the original iron spans was relocated that year to a crossing Buffalo Township. The other was moved to Taylor's Ford in Liberty Township and re-erected on iron cylinder piers. The Buffalo Township bridge has since been removed, but the Taylor's Ford Bridge has carried vehicular traffic to the present, with only maintenance related repairs.

As it was building the Independence bowstring bridge, the Wrought Iron Bridge Company was under contract with the county to erect other iron bowstring trusses in Quasqueton and Fairbank. In its extensive dealings with the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in the 1870s, Buchanan County was simply following a regional trend: the bridge company was one of the largest bridge fabricators in America. In addition, its president, David Hammond, distinguished himself as one of the country's most prolific bridge innovators. Documentation shows that the primary superstructural type marketed by the WIBCo in the 1870s was the bowstring arch-truss made up of wrought and cast iron components. The bowstring was the most commonly erected all-metal bridge of the 1870s, owing in large part to WIBCo and its main competitor, the King Bridge and Manufacturing Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Both companies fabricated standardized versions of their own patented bowstring designs. The Taylor's Ford Bridge is thus both technologically significant because it is an early example of a once prevalent bridge design, the bowstring arch-truss, and it is historically notable since it was erected by one of the most prolific bridge builders in the Midwest during this decade, the Wrought Iron Bridge Company [adapted from Hybben, Roise, and Fraser 1992].

Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes

This bridge is tagged with the following special condition(s): Unorganized Photos


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