Ottumwa Wabash Bridge

Pratt Through Truss Bridge over Des Moines River
Ottumwa, Wapello County, Iowa

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Name Ottumwa Wabash Bridge
Built By Wabash Railroad
Contractor Detroit Bridge & Iron Works of Detroit
Currently Owned By City of Ottumwa
Length 773 Feet Total, 157 Foot 6 Inch Main Spans
Width 1 Track
Height Above Ground 20 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Pratt Through Truss, Through Girder, I-Beam and Trestle
Substructure Type Stone Masonry, Concrete and Timber Pile
Date Built 1888, Girder added 1973
Traffic Count 0 Trains/Day (Bridge is a Trail)
Current Status Rails to Trails
Wabash Bridge Number 2224
Significance Regional Significance
Documentation Date August 2013 and March 2020
In 1881, the Des Moines & St. Louis Railway built a line from the Iowa/Missouri border south of Moulton to Des Moines.

This line twisted and turned as it went up the state. It served as an important connection to Missouri for the Minneapolis & St. Louis railway company.

The line crossed the Des Moines River near Red Rock and continued north, coming into Des Moines via Pleasant Hill.

The line was quickly absorbed by the Wabash Railroad.

In addition, a branch line served Ottumwa. This line was built in 1881 and abandoned in 1981.

Much of this line was abandoned throughout the 1950s. The bridge over the Des Moines River was sold to Marion County in 1952.
Today, Norfolk Southern uses the line with BNSF. A bridge was built across the Des Moines River near Runnells in 1968.

Located in Ottumwa, this large truss is a signature pedestrian bridge across the Des Moines River.
Built in 1888, the bridge was originally constructed using a quartet of 8-panel, pin connected skewed Pratt Through Trusses, approached by trestle on the south end. These spans sat on stone and timber piers.
The trusses are a unique design, featuring heavy skews and a decorative type portal. The trusses also feature an interesting member, due to the unique skew. As seen below, there is a member that starts in the upper angle of the span and crosses two panels. This design is reminiscent of a Whipple truss.

structural plans
Structural plans for this bridge provided by James Holzmeier and the Wabash Railroad Historical Society, used with permission.

Since the original construction, the bridge has seen occasional updates. An I-Beam span was added on the south approach. An additional alteration came in 1973, when a Norfolk & Western train derailed and destroyed the northern truss. This span was later replaced with a new concrete abutment and a through girder span.
After abandonment, the bridge was left intact. Plans to demolish it almost succeeded, until it was converted to a trail use in 2007. Spearheaded by Wapello County and constructed using exclusively private funds, the bridge is a great example of a public-private partnership.
In 2008, the deck was burned by a vandal. Again, money was raised to reopen this local landmark.
Fortunately, the bridge still remains intact and in good condition. It is recognized as a landmark in the community, and has provided a great connection across the Des Moines River.

The author has ranked this bridge as being regionally significant, due to the unique nature of these trusses as well as the great example of successful preservation.
The photo above is an overview. The photo below shows the portal bracings.

Des Moines River Railroad Bridges
Upstream (Main Channel) DM&E Des Moines River Bridge
Upstream (Side Channel) DM&E Turkey Island Bridge
Downstream Eldon Railroad Bridge

Detail Photos


Source Type


Build Date Structural plans provided by Wabash Railroad Historical Society
Contractor Structural plans provided by Wabash Railroad Historical Society
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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