Bridge tear down marks end of a century

By Connor Hopkins

Kayakers, tubers use caution near Hutchinson Bridge in upcoming weeks

On July 1, crews finally began work on removing the Hutchinson Bridge. The bridge, built in 1911, was closed in 2018 following inspection by Winneshiek County Engineer Lee Bjerke. Located on Scenic River Road, the bridge spans the Upper Iowa River between Decorah and Bluffton. In a vital place on the Upper Iowa, it is a convenient access point to Hutchinson Farms, the eponymous campsite and family farm within view of the crossing.
Replacement was deemed necessary due to corrosion and wear of the abutments and bearing points of the bridge. In 2018, Bjerke deemed the bridge “no longer safe”, and put forth the project to replace it. Now, three years later, construction is ready to begin. Work began last week on the removal of the bridge, with equipment being moved in to handle its demolition. The first step of removal: handling the wild parsnip in the area so that crews can safely maneuver around the base of the structure.
Once the base is clear, crews can safely move in and begin disassembling the bridge, beginning by removing the wooden planks that comprise the floor. After that, it is a matter of safely removing the metal beams and cables that form the rest of the bridge. Workers on the site noted they aren’t quite sure when the bridge would fully be down, with one offering that it could be as soon as the next two weeks. A concern to the crew was traffic on the Upper Iowa River moving through the area, as that stretch is a popular spot for kayaks, canoes, and tubes.
In its 110-year lifespan, the bridge was visited by many, and became a fun spot for local youth to swim beneath, meet up at, and even jump off of – with mention of a rope swing frequenting nostalgic conversation about the site. Kris Blegen Hess wrote on Facebook, “I have lots of good memories of riding horses across the bridge and playing in [the] river”.
Initially, this bridge was built by Clinton Bridge and Ironworks of Clinton, the same company that built the North Bear Creek and original Lower Bluffton Bridges in Winneshiek County. The plaque situated at the base of the structure named G. Cooper, K. Knutsen, O. Selnes, M. Jones, and G.A. Meyer as construction supervisors. Set beside the now-Hutchinson farms, the bridge has been known by many names, including Henry Bridge (as it is discoverable on the website, Bridge #9, and Rakeop Bridge.
The bridge itself is an eight-panel Pratt Through Truss bridge, meaning it uses straight beams in a truss (connected elements usually forming a triangular unit). What makes it a Pratt truss are its diagonal beams that slope down toward the center in conjunction with straight beams. One series of diagonal and straight beams makes one panel, of which this bridge has eight, making it an eight-panel Pratt through truss bridge. 
In its years, the Hutchinson Bridge has served as an entryway to the Hutchinson family farm and campground. Without it, the interruption of Scenic River Road forces traffic to travel around Decorah to Bluffton Road, which is a much longer trek for visitors traveling on Route 52. Via its replacement, that entry point will be restored, albeit with less history behind it.
The new bridge will be handled by Brennan Construction of Lansing. There is not yet an estimated completion date. Brennan was awarded the project with the low bid of $994,507.70 in March.

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