Willow Island Rail Bridge

Through Truss Bridge over East Channel of Mississippi River
East Clinton, Whiteside County, Illinois

Click the Photo Above to See All Photos of This Bridge!
Name Willow Island Rail Bridge
Built By Chicago & North Western Railway
Contractor (Superstructure) Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company of Milwaukee
Contractor (Substructure) Foundation Company of New York
Contractor (Erection) Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Company of Leavenworth, Kansas
Currently Owned By Union Pacific Railroad
Length 1,450 Feet Total, 204 Foot Main Span
Width 2 Tracks
Height Above Ground 25 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Parker Through Truss, Quadrangular Through Truss and Deck Girder
Substructures Type Stone Masonry
Date Built 1909
Traffic Count 75 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use, Scheduled For Replacement
UP Bridge Number 136.65
C&NW Bridge Number 0 1/2
Significance Regional Significance
Documentation Date December 2017
In 1856, the Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad began construction on an 81 mile line connecting Clinton to Cedar Rapids. Prior to this, a bridge had been built across the Mississippi River and the line extended to Chicago.
By 1859, the railroad reached Cedar Rapids. This particular line spurred significant growth in the towns it connected.

In 1860, the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railroad was charted to continue construction west. Construction would start the next year.
By 1866, the route reached Boone and by 1867, it reached the Missouri River. This line became instrumental to the growth of Iowa, connecting more towns such as Marshalltown, Boone and Ames.
Both of these routes became a part of the Chicago & North Western Railway in 1884. The C&NW had already built an extensive network of lines throughout Wisconsin and Illinois, and this route provided a new mainline to the Missouri River.
Running across the geographical center of Iowa, the railroad would quickly see a need for upgrading. The first portions of double tracking came in the early 1890s, primary between Clinton and Cedar Rapids. The entire route between these two towns was double tracked by 1893.
A bypass of Cedar Rapids had been built between 1886 and 1887, and was known as the Linn County Railway. This single track cutoff would immediately become a part of the Chicago & North Western Railway.

As traffic continued to grow on the line west of Cedar Rapids, more double tracking projects occurred. Between 1898 and 1902, the entire route to Boone was double tracked, including both the mainline through Cedar Rapids and around Cedar Rapids.
Throughout the 20th century, traffic along the line continued to grow at a steady rate. The entire route, connecting Chicago to the Missouri River became one of the core main lines for the Chicago & North Western. In addition, the route connected to Omaha and the Union Pacific mainline to the Pacific.

By 1995, the Chicago & North Western was a railroad as strong as ever. As a result, it became noticed by other railroads. Despite several failed merger attempts in the 1970s, a Union Pacific purchase of the C&NW finally became reality in 1995.
Union Pacific sought the line to connect Chicago to the West Coast. Currently, Union Pacific operates this route and sends approximately 100 trains per day over it.
The route between Clinton and Boone is now known as the Clinton Subdivision, and is one of the most important rail lines in the United States.

View an article regarding the construction of this bridge.

This bridge is the middle crossing of the Mississippi River at Clinton.
Comprised of a single Parker Through Truss, eight Quadrangular Through Trusses and a deck girder, this is the largest of the three bridges crossing the Mississippi River at this location.
The nine truss spans contain riveted connections, and rest on stone substructures. The entire bridge was constructed by the Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company of Milwaukee.
Of these nine spans, the main Parker Through Truss span contains seven panels.

Historic Photo
Blueprints of the bridge, from Railroad Gazette: Volume 48 Issue 2

In addition to the current bridge, the old substructures for the old bridge still exist along the north side of the bridge. In addition, the old highway bridge substructures remain to the south.
Due to the impending construction of the new railroad crossing, all major maintenance has ceased on this bridge. The new bridge will sit approximately 100 feet to the south of the existing bridge. Construction will begin in 2021, and end in 2025.
When the new crossing is complete, this bridge; as well as the other two bridges will be removed, ending one of the most unique crossings of the Mississippi River.

Historic Photo
Historic photo of the bridge alongside the previous bridge. Photo courtesy of PhotoLibrarian on Flickr.

The author has ranked this bridge as being regionally significant, due to the large scale truss design and age.
The photo above is an overview from the east end. The photo below is portal bracing on Span #9.

Mississippi River Railroad Bridges
Upstream Sabula Rail Bridge
East Sunfish Slough Bridge
West Clinton Rail Bridge
Downstream Government (Arsenal) Bridge

These Pictures Start at Varying Points in the Series

Detail Photos from December 2017


Source Type


Build Date Reconstruction of crossing
Contractor Missing Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company plaque
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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