Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The bridge to nowhere

Still chasing autumn, I walked out to the bridge to nowhere Tuesday afternoon --- interested, too, in the condition of another of Lucas County's remaining iron pony truss bridges. 

Although this old bridge still crosses the Chariton River, it's used only by hikers and hunters nowadays and if you plan to see what's beyond it, you're going to have to walk the plank.

The bridge seems remote, here on the original route the main road south out of Chariton used to take,  but it's actually not far south of the fence that separates the south boundary of the Chariton Cemetery from the bottomland beyond --- public land that is part of the Chariton River Greenbelt.

The driveway into the parking lot that provides access to the area is just beyond the south cemetery drive --- opposite the Sheltons' driveway --- but if I were you I wouldn't plan on driving in with a low-slung vehicle. Once in the parking lot, walk west beyond the barricade, then angle southwest to the bridge.

I can't say how old this bridge is, but do know that a new iron bridge was placed here during 1885. The area is subject to flooding, however --- hard on bridges --- and whether this is it, or not, I don't know.


There have been three roads south out of Chariton since the city's earliest days --- the Blue Grass Road leads southeast; the southwest road, once called the "Garden Grove Road" and then the "Derby Road," now is known less harmoniously as the "Dump Road."

The route due south, however --- into Benton Township and eventually Corydon --- now is Highway 14 and cuts straight south across the river bottom to Pin Oak Marsh and beyond. That didn't used to be the case, and the road originally turned west where the cemetery ended, then meandered southwesterly across the bottom before rising to the ridge beyond. There, it connected with the road (now dead-end on both ends) that leads down the ridge parallel to Highway 14 but a half mile west. 

The map here dates from 1912 and you can see the route of the original road. The road meandered so that it would need to cross the Chariton River only once in order to reach high ground. River meanders in the path of a due south route would have required at least two and as many as three bridges and a longer grade to raise the bed above marshy ground.


Beginning about 1915, however, there was considerable pressure on county supervisors from property owners south of town --- with Samuel Neptune among their leaders --- for a more direct route into town, the route now followed by Highway 14.

That plan involved digging a new channel for the river from the area southwest of the cemetery to the current river crossing, cutting off those pesky meanders.

During November of 1917, county supervisors approved the plan 2-1 with opposition coming only from supervisor Fred J. Yengel, whose family owned property to the east of the new route and opposed it.

World War I interfered with construction plans, but by August of 1919, The Chariton Leader was able to report in its edition of the 28th that, "Samuel Neptune says that he and Thomas Gooken crossed over the Chariton river on the new bridge, Wednesday. This road has been established after four years of work and litigation. S.C. Hickman says that it should be named the 'Neptune Way.' "

The old route continued in use for a number of years, shown as passable on transportation maps into the 1930s, but was eventually abandoned because it was not used often enough to justify maintenance. 

Today, the old river bridge is still in decent repair, but the south approach has washed away and those who wish to walk beyond must cross on a plank in order to do so.

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