Story Telling - Building the People's History PDF Print E-mail

I got a call this morning from Sherree McNaul from the New Sharon area. She had seen the article in the paper and wanted to add a story to our need for "History" of the area. 

Up and around the curve on River Road, where now pines are the habitat, was the original house of Chalmers Gleason. He had a wife and child and farmed in the area.

After the end of the Civil War three or four Confederate Soldiers were found camping on the shores of the N. Skunk River by area boys (Fleener ? - must research that more). The outcome of finding them was hanging them and leaving them to die. Murdered. When authorities came to question, Mr. Gleason was arrested for the deed. He sat in jail for many months awaiting a trial, although there was no evidence that he could have done this crime.

His wife, with baby in hand, walked to Washington D.C. to plead with President Lincoln  for the release of her husband.

Eventually someone else was found guilty of the hanging of these soldiers and Mr. Gleason was released from jail.

Now there is a story of rural life in the mid 1860s.

More...tell us more! PDF Print E-mail

Please nominate bridges that you think are "at-risk". 

Got a story, tell it here.

email stories and photos to Julie Bowers at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Research & Development PDF Print E-mail

During the crisis research phase, October 4 - mid December 2009, leading experts in historic bridge restoration, the State Historic Preservation Office and the Iowa Department of Transportation officials were happy to help, offering valuable leads to citizens, engineers sympathetic to historic preservation, nationally known bridge restoration experts and contractors experienced with bridges and rivers. Nearly 100 volunteers, spread out across the county, raised seed money, spread the word, and gathered signatures, hoping to find an answer that didn’t require destroying the bridge. The Friends of the Skunk River Bridge banded together and convinced the Poweshiek County Supervisors that our goal to save the bridge was feasible. The Friends continue to provide valuable community support for the North Skunk River Greenbelt Association with fundraising, planning, and as volunteers, through learning from Vern Mesler during restoration.


Poweshiek County Chronicle Republican  10/21

Fate of the 126-year-old McDowell Bridge rests on the efforts of a group of people who enjoy Millgrove Access and want to see the bridge preserved

By J.O. Parker

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The warm fall sun filtered through the trees Sunday afternoon as fried potatoes, slab bacon, cowboy beans and a fresh pot of coffee brewed on a camp fire along the Skunk River bank.

People came and went throughout the day. Some stayed to eat and enjoy a cold brew. Others took walks in the woods or got reacquainted while seated on homemade benches held up by milk crates and old logs.

“It’s such a neat place to come,” said Stevi Ehler of Newton.  “I love the atmosphere. There are so many memories down here, from generation to generation.

Skunk River Sundays are steeped in tradition.  For more than four generations, Poweshiek County residents with bloodlines that reach back to the early towns of Millgrove, Stillwell and Moore’s Station (an old train stop) have been gathering on the west bank of the Skunk River on the second Sunday after the fall frost for food and reminiscing.

“For more than 100 years the Bowers, McFarlands and other pioneers have gone there to fish, hunt and enjoy family gatherings,” said Julie Bowers, 52, a regular at the annual fall event.

But things are changing. The 126-year-old McDowell Bowstring Bridge that crosses the river near where the gathering is held suffered severe structural damage this past winter from an ice dam and fallen tree debris.

The Poweshiek County Conservation Board, caretakers of Millgrove Access where the bridge is located, voted in August not to repair the aging structure at this time.

“Structureal portions were damaged to the point that the bridge is not safe for any type of traffic,” said Mark Vavroch, director of the conservation board.

The bridge was closed to all traffic at that time. Signs and barricades were erected warning visitors of the unsafe bridge. The conservation board also decided to tera the bridge down.

Millgrove Access is located in the southwestern part of Poweshiek County. The bridge has been closed to vehicle traffic since 1989, and is mainly used by horse riders, sports men and visitors to the area.

The bridge was place on the National Register of Historical Places on May 15, 1998.

Vavroch said the conservation board worked closely with the Poweshiek County Engineer’s office in making its decision to close the bridge. The board also visited the site prior to the August meeting.

“We looked at all the options,” Vavroch said, including possibly moving the bridge or restoring it.

Vavroch said one of the board’s concerns was the changing river channel north of the bridge, stating that in a few years it could take the bridge out.

When word started circulating about the fate of the long-standing bridge, Bowers and others began campaigning to save it. Bowers said she spent much of last week calling contractors, bridge experts, and talking with the Iowa Corp of Engineers about the bridge’s fate. She also started planning to hold a musical fundraiser to save the bridge.

Bowers’ father, Dick, 91, of Montezuma, went to the bridge, crawled underneath it along the riverbanks and drew a plan using simple “X” bracing and turn buckles to straighten and strengthen it.

It’s just a little bent, not broken,” said Dick.

Bowers approached the Poweshiek County Board of Supervisors on Monday, Oct. 12, presenting her father’s plans and making a plea to save the bridge.

“We don’t want to change anything, said Julie. “We just want to fix the bridge for future generations”.

The supervisors listened, decided to give Bowers and her group “Friends of the Skunk River Bridge,” a chance to come up with the money to restore it.

“We have delayed the demolition to allow them a chance to investigate other ways to save it, “ Supervisor Ellie Snook said earlier this week.

Noting that the bridge is structurally in poor shape, Supervisor Lamoyne Gaard said that it mont not even last through the winter.

“A heavy ice storm or snowstorm could bring it down,” he said. “there are a lot of complicated issues in trying to preserve it”.

Poweshiek County Engineer Lyle Brehm agreed, stating that the bridge needs lateral bracing over the deck and outside the bowstrings.

“There is at least one crack in a critical location that would cause a sudden failure of a portion of the bridge,” Brehm said.

Brehm said it is possible that there are more cracks throughout the structure, noting that the steel is old and was fabricated under different quality control standards than those of present day.

“Some rivets are gone in the bowstrings because of rust expansion,” he said. “If one of them as failed more of them are waiting to fail. Some of the steel in the bridge is no longer giving strength due to the corrosion and rust.”

Bowers said she is concerned that county officials made no effort to save the bridge from early on. She feels like more should have been done to keep it painted and repaired.

She thinks that $100,000 would be more than enough to save the bridge and fix the shoreline. Brehm said he didn’t have an estimate on the cost of repairing it.

“Our group would be happy to volunteer to keep it painted.” She said.

McDowell Bowstring Bridge

According to historical records at the Library of Congress, the McDowell Bowstring Bridge was built in 1883, towards the end of the heyday of the use of bowstring arch-trusses.

“In the 1860s and 1870s bowstring arch-trusses were used extensively because of their great structural efficiency,” noted information on the Web site. “The 1880s saw a shift towards the pin-connected trusses which offered greater lateral stability. The McDowell Bridge is an excellent example of the work of the King Iron Bridge and Manufacturing Company, Cleveland, a major bridge fabricator of the day who erected thousands of these type of bridges throughout the nation, including hundreds in Iowa. This bridge is also of interest for its use of the King Company’s patented end support piers.”

There are about 20 bowstring bridges remaining in Iowa today.

Skunk River Sundays

As people milled along the banks of the Skunk River on Sunday, many recalled the good times and memories of coming to the area each fall.

Rick Bierman, a Grinnell lawyer, said when he was a kid growing up in Montezuma, he would travel across the bridge with his grandparents to their farm atop a nearby hill.

“There was a tunnel of trees for one-half of a mile west of the river,” he said. “The deer would come jumping across that road and you would see all kinds of wildlife.”

He remembers hearing stories of Indians trapping and fishing on the Ksunk River, a nd of his grandfather walking to the general store at Moore’s Sation to buy penny candy.

Bierman and his first wife were married on the brige in a late Christmas Eve ceremony. The groomsmen stood on one side of the bridge and the bridesmaids on the other. Bierman said he and his wife to be carried lanterns to the middle of the bridge for the ceremony.

“It was cold, so we didn’t stay long,” he recalled.

Chuckling, Bierman said the bridge has lasted a long time, but “I can’t say so much for the marriage.”

Dick Bowers and his wife Doris who have been married 67 years, held their 50th wedding anniversary on the bridge, complete with decorated tables spread across the structure.

Bowers said she knows of people who have spread the ashes of loved ones from the bridge.

“I think the brige should stay,” said Dwayne Kriegel of Grinnell, as he wtched the river roll under the old bridge. “It’s in pretty decent shape, it just needs some tender loving care.”

“This is for everybody, not just me,” added Bowers of the bridge’s fate. “Preserving the bridge should make it a bigger and better resource for all the citizens of Poweshiek County.”

A petition to save the bridge was started Sunday. The group has also developed a Web site at:

“What we are looking for are stories and people who have an interest in the bridge or that area,” said Bowers. “Everybody has stories.”

Bowers can be reach at 641 260 1262 or by e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it