Iowa City Dead Man's Cave

Stone Arch Bridge over Drainage Ditch
Iowa City, Johnson County, Iowa

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Name Iowa City Dead Man's Cave
Built By Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad
Contractor Unknown
Currently Owned By Iowa Interstate Railroad
Length 10 Feet Total
Width 2 Tracks
Height Above Ground 6 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Stone Arch and Concrete Slab
Substructure Type Stone Masonry and Concrete
Date Built Ca. 1880, Widened 1901
Traffic Count 6 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
IAIS Bridge Number Unknown
Significance Moderate Significance
Documentation Date January 2018
In 1852, the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad began construction of a 40 mile route from Chicago to the nearby city of Joliet.
With the first segment completed, the railroad continued constructing another 119 miles of track to Geneseo. By 1854, the remaining portions of track were constructed into Rock Island, Illinois; located on the Mississippi River.

The first bridge across the Mississippi River would be built connecting Davenport to Rock Island in 1856. After a fire and collapse later that year, the bridge was rebuilt and would begin carrying traffic into Iowa.
Later in 1856, the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad would begin construction on a pair of main lines in Iowa. One route went towards Missouri, while the other continued on the straight west trajectory.
The first 55 miles on the western mainline saw the connection of Davenport and Iowa City by the end of 1856. Another 31 miles to Marengo would be completed by the end of 1862.

These two railroads would become part of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad in 1866. The Rock Island later saw the completion of the route to Nebraska.

As traffic continued to build on the line, it was continuously upgraded. The route through Illinois was double tracked in the 1890s, and the route to Iowa City was double tracked by 1900.
However, this double track proved unnecessary and was removed in the 1930s. Because of the Rock Island Railroads poor management, the railroad oftentimes found itself in financial trouble; despite having a solid core of routes.
Between World War II and 1980, the railroad saw even harder economic downturns. Failed mergers and poor money management led to the inevitable downfall of the railroad.
By 1980, the railroad was officially bankrupt for the final time. Trustees saw the liquidation of the railroad, which sold off and abandoned many lines.

However, as this was the core main line of the Rock Island, it saw a positive future. After an earlier railroad failed in the early 1980s, the Iowa Interstate Railroad was formed in late 1984 to operate over track between Ottawa, Illinois and Omaha, Nebraska.
Since its original forming, the IAIS has turned a once dead mainline into a thriving alternative to Interstate 80. Today, this segment is known as the 1st Subdivision.

This small stone arch bridge crosses a drainage ditch at the end of Pine Street in Iowa City.
Originally constructed at an unknown date, likely approximately 1880; the bridge was later expanded in 1901 with a concrete slab span to accommodate a second track.
As a result, the south face of the arch is currently not visible. This significantly detracts from the overall significance of the bridge.
While the date is uncertain for the stone arch portion of the structure, the author is working to find when it was built. It is possible that it could date as far back as the 1860s, or be as new as the 1890s.
Overall, the bridge remains in fair condition. Some pieces of stone are beginning to show signs of serious defects. Lining this structure with a piece of galvanized culvert would be the best way to preserve the bridge.
As for the name, the author looked into how the structure got the name "Dead Man's Cave". Citizens in Iowa City and on Facebook groups were not sure of the origin of the name, but also referred to this bridge as the Diamond Cave.

The author has ranked this bridge as being moderately significant, due to the possible extremely historic nature of this bridge.
The photo above is an overview. The bridge can be accessed from the end of Pine Street.


Source Type


Build Date Estimated
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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