The Folsom Toll Bridge.
In our earlier post, we introduced you to Gilman Folsom. A native of New Hampshire, Gilman came to Iowa City in 1841 to practice law, but ended up accomplishing so much more in life. In 1843, he married Emily Arthur, daughter of Pleasant Arthur, and it was through this life-long relationship, Folsom became involved with his father-in-law’s work:
Helping people get across the Iowa River.
In the earliest days of Johnson County, the only way to cross the river was swimming, walking on the ice, or paddling a canoe. Author Ruth A. Gallaher gives us this reminder…
But by 1840, competition in the flatbed ferry business was starting to stir. On March 6, 1840, Andrew D. Stephen was granted a license to keep a ferry boat at the point where the “National Road” crossed the Iowa River. According to a map of Iowa City, published in 1839 (see below), this crossing point was where the present-day Iowa Avenue bridge stands. But Mr. Stephens failed to establish a ferry in due time, so the license was given over to John D. Able (October 13, 1840), who established his ferry crossing “where the upper wagon bridge now crosses the river.” (Benjamin F. Shambaugh in his book, Iowa City: A Contribution to the Early History of Iowa)
While records show that John Able was “able” to get things off the ground (or, in the water, so to speak), apparently his last name was not appropriate, because…
Which now brings us to Gilman Folsom’s father-in-law, Pleasant Arthur…
By the early 1850’s, people were clamoring for a bridge of any kind. Iowa was growing quickly, and the California Gold Rush was bringing a multitude of people to town via the National Road and they needed a quick and safe crossing of the river.
By this time, Gilman had taken over Arthur’s ferry business and was ready to answer the call.
In March 1853, Enos Metcalf received a license to build a toll bridge across the Iowa River but construction did not occur until several years later. In May 1853, Gilman Folsom, took out a similar license to build, and by 1854, Iowa City had its very first toll bridge located at the National Road crossing. At first, Folsom’s bridge was a pontoon (floating) bridge which was then replaced with a wooden structure in 1856. By that time, Enos Metcalf had finally built his own wooden toll bridge just south of the present day Burlington Street bridge.
In 1859, a public free bridge was approved (at Burlington Street) and was completed in 1860. A wooden structure and poorly constructed, the bridge partially collapsed in October 1863 when a herd of oxen panicked while crossing, leaving citizens with no bridge to cross the river! Both Folsom’s and Metcalf’s toll bridges had shut down and fallen into disrepair when the “free” bridge opened in 1860. It was during this time of bridge reconstruction (1863 -1864) when Gilman Folsom revived his toll bridge, making it once again, the only bridge over the Iowa River.
And while this temporary loss of the “free” bridge looked to bring an uptick of revenue to Folsom’s pockets, know that his generosity showed up as well…
By 1864, as the Civil War was ending, repairs were finally made and the “new” Burlington Street free bridge was reopened, made partly of wood and partly iron (pictured below from the 1868 bird’s eye map of Iowa City).
So what happened to the Folsom toll bridge?
As we discussed earlier, The Folsom Toll Bridge was located at the foot of what is today Iowa Avenue. In the early 1850’s, would-be prospectors gathered here, at the foot of Iowa Avenue, in tents and wagons as they’d wait to ferry across the river on their way to California looking for gold. By 1876, a new iron bridge replaced the Folsom bridge, and being the nation’s centennial year (1776-1876) the new bridge was called The Centennial Bridge. In 1916 a new steel bridge replaced it, and is now called the Iowa Avenue Bridge. Click here to read more about the history of the many bridges that cross the Iowa River.
Today, the land just west of the Iowa Avenue bridge (where the Folsom home was located) is called Folsom Hill and the Nursing Building stands there today. Here’s a couple of B&W pictures taken by Fred Kent in 1939.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.