The Hoover Houses and Community Structures
Historic Structures Report
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A. Significance

The south Downey Street bridges were an important part of the historic scene and very familiar to the Jesse Hoover family and their contemporaries. In 1911 Tad Hoover wrote of the Wapsinonoc, "flowing a short distance away [from the Birthplace Cottage] under the wooden bridge with a separate foot bridge alongside." [1]

B. Structural History of the Bridges

1. The Vehicular Bridge

In the period between 1875 and 1917 there was a succession of vehicular bridges carrying south Downey Street across the Wapsinonoc. In March 1875 the citizens of West Branch petitioned the Cedar County Board of Supervisors to build "a bridge on Downey Street, near Jesse Hoover's blacksmith shop." [2]

A wooden bridge was accordingly built by the county. It can be seen in the photograph of West Branch, taken by I. L. Miles, from Cook's Hill in the autumn of 1878. [3] This bridge was still in use in September 1885, but it was being poorly maintained by the county. At a meeting of the West Branch Town Council on September 7, 1885, Street Commissioner J. D. Johnson reported that the south Downey Street wagon bridge was unsafe. Although upkeep of the bridge was a county responsibility, the council directed Johnson to procure material and labor for repair of the bridge, provided the total expenses did not exceed $15. There was more work than anticipated, and it cost the town $35.28 to repair the bridge. [4]

Six years later, in June 1891, the county rebuilt its bridge on south Downey Street. [5] In the late winter of 1886, the Town Council had placed a street lamp at the south Downey Street bridge. [6]

In mid-October 1916 the County Board of Supervisors sent a crew into Springdale Township to replace the county bridge on south Downey Street. In 1912, with establishment of a State Highway Commission, funds were now being allotted by the state to enable the counties to replace with concrete the wooden bridges on county roads. These concrete bridges, unlike the wooden bridges, were built in accordance with plans and specifications. Plans for the south Downey concrete bridge are on file in the office of the County Engineer in Tipton, Iowa.

The construction people were on-site on October 19 and began unloading their equipment. Sand and pilings had been on the ground for several weeks. [7] Winter came early in the fall of 1916, and the workmen were unable to pour any concrete before the temperature dropped below freezing. On March 15, 1917, the editor of the West Branch Times informed his readers that "the workmen have been busy this week taking down the forms for the new bridge on south Downey." [8]

Before the month was over, the new bridge was opened to vehicular traffic. The wooden sidewalk bridge, east of the new concrete structure, continued to be used by pedestrians.

2. The Footbridge

The wooden footbridge, which carried the boardwalk across the Wapsinonoc, was replaced in late September 1886. This proved to the editor of the Local Record that our town "is not dead yet, at least the street commissioner." [9]

Flash floods on the Wapsinonoc were always a threat to the footbridge and to the property of those living nearby. On the evening of July 10, 1907, a cloudburst drenched the area north west of West Branch. Within a short time both branches of the Wapsinonoc were spilling over their banks. A number of houses and outbuildings on the "lower flat" were soon surrounded by water. Boardwalks were afloat, and there was a "wild scurrying after chickens, and as the stream continued to rise it became a grave question for the safety of some of the residents." Old timers feared a repitition of the flood of 1876, when a number of West Branchers had been compelled to flee their homes to escape the torrent. But just as the situation was beginning to look very bleak, the Wapsinonoc crested and began to fall rapidly.

When the inhabitants cleaned up after the flood, little damage was reported beyond the displacement of the boardwalks on either side of the Downey Street footbridge and the drowning of a few chickens. [10]

A cloudburst on Sunday night, May 10, 1914, sent the Wapsinonoc spilling over its banks. The flats on either side of Downey Street were flooded. Mrs. Scellers' chicken house was engulfed, and she lost seven setting hens, two old hens, and 19 chicks. The foot bridge on the east side of Downey Street was swept away and considerable damage done to fences and the few remaining boardwalks. [11]

The footbridge was rebuilt, but it was again washed away by a deluge which drenched Springdale Township on Wednesday, September 8, 1915. Early that morning there was a four-inch rain, causing the Wapsinonoc to run bank-full. The sky cleared and the sun came out, drying the roads. About 1:30 p.m. it again clouded up, and by 2 o'clock the rain was beating down. The creek began to rise, and by 4 p.m. the water was over the walks on south Downey, east Main, and 2d streets. The footbridge on south Downey was washed out, and school children living south and east of West Branch had to be driven to their homes in wagons.

Water covered the walks at the city hail and was within two or three inches of the cement bins at the Cedar County Lumber Company, and swept across the floor of Frazee's store to a depth of four inches. About 500 feet of railroad track was washed out near the depot, and until a crew could effect repairs all northbound rail traffic was stopped. [12]

In the week following the record flood, the Downey Street foot bridge was rebuilt by a crew headed by the Street Commissioner.

The footbridge continued in use until July 4, 1937, when it was closed and dismantled. Pedestrian traffic was diverted to the concrete bridge which had carried Downey Street across the Wapsinonoc since 1917. Since then and for many years before, pedestrians had "walked the more or less shaky wooden bridge," and after each cloud burst the piers "were loosened a bit and the structure grew a bit more wobbly."

Mayor T. A. Moore had told Editor Corbin that when the concrete bridge was built, he had been serving as councilman, and, with others on the council, had insisted that the county build the bridge wide enough for sidewalks. The County Board of Supervisors had countered that this would make the concrete bridge too expensive. To obtain the extra funding, the cooperation of the Town Council and adjoining property owners was secured, and the bridge built with raised walkways on each side.

Approaches from the adjoining sidewalks were not built, and for the next 20 years pedestrians continued to use the footbridge. Finally, however, this deficiency had been rectified, and the necessary connecting concrete sidewalks poured. [13]

C. Recollections of the Bridges

1. The Vehicular Bridge

Mrs. Golda Gruwell recalls that the floor of the bridge was of heavy plank. The trusses were of steel. At the bottom of each truss, attached to the roadway, was a heavy plank, positioned "to keep the runaway teams from going through the railing into the creek, on their mad rush to go places."

The trusses were "painted dark red (like old blacksmith shops) not barn red." [14]

Glenn Brown and Ross Sayles reported that the pilings, the ends of which are still visible, supported the roadway (2 x 6 sleepers secured to heavy stringers). On either side of the roadway were built-up steel trusses. Two hanging rods connected each truss with the flooring. [15]

The bridge recalled by Mrs. Gruwell, Glenn Brown, and Ross Sayles is the 1891-1917 structure, while the bridge on this site in the years 1875-1891 had wooden, not steel, trusses. The wooden trusses were similar to those found on the College Street bridge.

2. The Footbridge

Mrs. Gruwell recalls that the footbridge was located 15 to 20 feet east of the vehicular bridge. It was built of wood and was the same width as the boardwalk. The railings were 2 x 4s, with trusses and posts of similar dimensions. The bridge was not painted. [16]

Glenn Brown stated that the footbridge was downstream from the vehicular bridge. On August 26, 1970, he was able to pinpoint the site. The walkway consisted of 2 x 6s spiked to three 3 x 12 stringers. The railings were 2 x 4s with 1 x 6 caps. Ross Sayles' recollections of the footbridge were similar to Brown's. He recalled that it was about 15 feet east of the concrete highway bridge. [17]

D. Photograph of the Footbridge

A photograph, taken while the Wapsinonoc was at flood stage, shows the south approach to the subject bridge, and provides structural detail of the railings and support posts. A copy of this photograph is in this report.

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Last Updated: 28-Jul-2006