The Flood Under Eureka Bridge
North Raccoon River, Greene county, Iowa
As the snow and ice on the North Raccoon River began to melt in late March of 1912, flooding became inevitable. And while the bulging North Raccoon might have been predictable, the people of Greene County were in for an unpleasant surprise. On March 30th, the Eureka Bridge—a key connection between the east and west banks of the North Raccoon River on the “trans continental highway”—was destroyed.
Around five in the afternoon on March 30th, the iron bridge was torn apart “when a cake of ice, probably 50 to 75 feet square and two feet thick, struck upon the east side of the mid river abutment. The huge jam pushed the pier to the west, probably two feet or more, and let the iron span drop into the rushing waters beneath. It was swept downstream, the iron framework finding lodgment against the old mill dam, while the timbers were carried away by the flood.”
The Eureka Bridge, named after the nearby Eureka Mill it was destined to crash into in 1912, had its first incarnation in 1871, when it was constructed out of wood. In 1888, it was replaced by the iron bridge that was ruined in 1912. Prior to its icy fate, in 1909 or 1910, the bridge was reinforced with a new pier at mid-river. It was this new pier that the ice-chunk ran into. The Jefferson Bee reported, “The splendid piece of workmanship, however, could not prevail against the fearful crush of ice and the heavy weight of waters.”
In 1912 a reinforced concrete bridge was built to replace the iron one that was destroyed. It opened to traffic on December 30th of that year. The new bridge was celebrated for its design, which included five supporting arches under a 422-foot long bridge. One writer describes the bridge’s features: “a multi-span, earth-filled, arched bridge of reinforced concrete with paneled detailing on its closure walls and guardrails.”
“Construction was labor-intensive and required a large crew of men, using steam power for sawing, hoisting, and pile driving. About 1,600 cubic yards of earth were excavated from the west bank of the river to fill the voids about the arches. This excavation also straightened, widened, and channeled the river so that it would pass under four of the new bridge’s arches instead of just its two eastern ones. This reduced the power of the river at this point and relieved water pressure on each of the bridge’s piers.”
The Eureka bridge was rebuilt just a year before the trans-continental highway became known as the Lincoln Highway in 1913. At the time it was the largest cement bridge on the route.
The Lincoln Highway was the United States’ “first cross-continental thoroughfare,” described by one historian as “an assortment of existing turnpikes, wagon roads, and established trails between New York City and San Francisco.” By the end of the roaring twenties, the Lincoln Highway “had matured into a (mostly) paved, well-marked, and highly promoted highway.”
In 2008, “the bridge was functionally obsolete and structurally deficient,” mainly because it was ten feet under the required thirty-foot width required “by the Iowa Department of Transportation for farm-to-market paved roads.” It was debated as to whether a new bridge should be built or the old one restored, and eventually decided that restoration was the better choice, both economically and historically. Rehabilitation of the bridge was completed in 2011.