No doubt about it, Iowa City is a river town. And today, there’s nothing more relaxing than a leisurely stroll along the Iowa River, taking in all the beauty of our fair city. But for the first twenty-five years of Iowa City’s existence (1839-1864), finding a way to get over that same beautiful river was quite the problem.
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 (see red line on map below). 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…
As it turned out, Pleasant Arthur, who purchased John Able’s ferry business, gave it over to his son-in-law, Gilman Folsom, before he died in 1845.
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 (the present-day Iowa Avenue bridge). At first, Folsom’s bridge was a pontoon (floating) bridge (see above) 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. For more on this Folsom toll bridge story, click here.
The oldest “public” bridge in Iowa City, was approved (at Burlington Street) in 1859 and was completed in 1860. A wooden structure (like the toll bridges that preceded it) and poorly constructed, the bridge was wildly popular, putting the older “toll” bridges out of business. But disaster struck when the bridge partially collapsed in October 1863 as a herd of oxen panicked while crossing. With the toll bridges in disrepair, this left the citizens of Iowa City with no bridge to cross the river! Fortunately, businessman, Gilman Folsom, came to the rescue, re-opening his toll bridge until repairs could be done. Read more here.
(P-0198) (P-0065) Circa 1910 – the “third” Burlington Street Bridge, Dam & River Road.
Around the turn of the century, Terrell’s mill dam (north of Iowa City) was dynamited and replaced in 1905 with a new dam and water power plant further downstream, adjacent to the Burlington Street bridge.
The original M&M Bridge crossing the Iowa River was a single-track deck truss (built circa 1859-60), and is pictured in this 1868 bird’s eye map of Iowa City (bridge on the right). When the railroad came to town (1856), Iowa City was the “end of the line” for those wanting railroad access to the West. Not until four years later (1860) when M&M built this bridge could a train venture further west than the Iowa River.
Below are re-construction pics from 1901, plus what the bridge looks like today…
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 long “out-of-service” Folsom bridge, and with it being the nation’s centennial year (1776-1876), the new bridge was called The Centennial Bridge.
The CRANDIC (Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railroad) was one of many interurban railroads in Iowa. Beginning passenger operations in 1904 (through May 30, 1953), the CRANDIC was an electric railway running 13 trains daily, with each trip taking 75 minutes.
(M-0007) CRANDIC Railroad Patch, (M-0008) Tickets, (P-0078) CRANDIC Train Car-circa 1940s-1950s.
(L-0065a/b) The CRANDIC depot (above) in downtown Iowa City – circa early-1950’s. (P-0289) When trolley service between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids ended in 1953, CRANDIC #118 was sold to The Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine. This 1978 postcard (below) features the old girl. For the complete story – visit the museum’s website.
The Ryerson (Benton Street) Bridge was located just south of the city near the site of the Ryerson Mill. At a meeting in December, 1901, the county supervisors decided to accept the bid of the American Bridge Company to erect an iron bridge at this point on the Iowa River, the price being $10,450. The Ryerson Bridge opened in 1904.
In 1909, the Iowa River’s landscape changed with the construction of the Park Road Bridge, which for the first time directly linked the city on the eastern side of the river to the park on the west. It provided wagon, auto and trolley car traffic access to the newly opened Manville Heights area. Click here to read more about the new City Park that opened in 1906.
(M-0009) Trolley cars ran on the Park Road Bridge, followed by city buses, all provided by the Iowa City Coach Company.
Between 1917 and 1930 little occurred along the Iowa River except for the completion of the innovative Burlington Street Bridge in 1915, replacing the 1860 steel arch bridge. During this time, the area along Riverside Drive north of Iowa Avenue consisted of abandoned quarries. Most of North Dubuque Street was much the same and the limekilns still operating near the Mayflower dorms.
In 1930, the Iowa Memorial Union Walking Bridge (pics above) was added. And within the last few years, as Iowa City recovered from our devastating 2008 flood, the Park Road Bridge has been re-built (see below) in 2018.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.