Endangered: Red Bridge, Monroe

Preservation Iowa’s 2017 Most Endangered Buildings: Red Bridge, Monroe (Jasper County)

Red Bridge is a Warren Truss bridge built in 1892, costing $3515.34. It spans South Skunk River south of Reasnor in Fairview Township, Jasper County. The bridge functioned as built until it was extensively damaged by flooding in 1947. The county then replaced one of the structure’s original steel cylinder piers with concrete and added a pony truss approach span.

Before the creation of Highway 14 in the 1910s, Red Bridge connected Newton with Monroe and Pella.

Endangered: Red Bridge, Monroe

Before the use of iron and concrete, bridges were narrow and supported by wooden pilings filled in with earth and stone. The Skunk River’s ribbon-like course made building bridges over it both costly and risky. In the nineteenth century floods regularly washed out county bridges, making it impossible to travel through Skunk bottoms. The Flood of 1881 washed out all the highway and railroad bridges between Colfax and Monroe, stopping travel for over a week. The completion of Red Bridge in 1892 would have been welcomed by local residents as a secure way to travel through Skunk River bottoms.

The Warren truss configuration was developed in the 1840s, but by the late nineteenth century it was superseded by the Pratt truss configuration. The reasons for this probably relate to the versatility of the pin-connected Pratt for different span lengths and its easier erection using false timberworks. Although Warren trusses later superseded the Pratts when the State Highway Commission developed its standard bridge designs in 1913, Warren trusses were rarely built in the nineteenth century; only a few pin- connected examples of this structural type were ever constructed in Iowa. All but a handful of these have subsequently been razed. The Red Bridge is thus technologically significant as an intact example of this exceedingly rare structural type. Although substantially altered by the addition of the pony truss approach span, the bridge is an important and uncommon remnant of early Iowa transportation.

Currently, the bridge is inaccessible, impassable, vandalized, weakened by floods, and at risk of collapsing into South Skunk River. The cement substructure has been compromised by a large deposit of driftwood from the Floods of 2008 and 2010, which also caused the bridge’s approaches to completely erode away. The wooden substructure is rotted and cannot support the bridge’s weight for much longer. Another large flood may wash the bridge from its pilings and destroy it. In addition, it has not been maintained or monitored by the county since 2004, when its roadway was downgraded to Level C status. It sits behind a locked gate. The bridge’s traveling surface is impassable, missing many wooden planks. Vandals set fire to some of the planks and left a large hole in the bridge’s center. The guardrail is bent in several places. The distinctive red color is faded to a brownish color. Despite the threats to Red Bridge, its superstructure remains aesthetically pleasing and in a good state of preservation.

Red Bridge is the last remaining historic truss bridge in Jasper County. In the last twenty-five years, the Supervisors have scrapped several truss bridges and replaced them with concrete structures. Red Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

At present, the plan to preserve the bridge involves relocating it to a newly established park within the city limits of Colfax, also in Jasper County: Quarry Springs.

Preservation Iowa’s Most Endangered Property program was started in 1995 and implemented to educate Iowans about the special buildings and historic sites that are slowly and gradually slipping away from us.  In the past 20 years, Preservation Iowa has designated over 140 archaeological sites, churches, landscapes and a variety of other buildings.

The full list of Preservation Iowa’s 2017 Most Endangered Properties includes: