Concrete Filled Spandrel Arch
National Register of Historic Places status:
Buena Vista County
470th Street over Brooke Creek, 8 miles southwest of Sioux Rapids, Section 36, T93N-R38W (Brooke Township)
Located some eight miles southwest of Sioux Rapids in Brooke Township, this medium-span concrete bridge carries a gravel-surfaced county road over a branch of the Little Sioux River. The bridge dates to 1908. That summer the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors contracted civil engineer George K. McCollough to design a concrete dam at the outlet of Storm Lake and reinforced concrete arch structures for this crossing and for an approach to the existing Sioux Rapids Bridge. McCollough delivered the drawings in August for the dam and the two bridges. Two weeks later the county contracted with John E. Quackenbush, a long-time bridge builder from Webster City, Iowa, to build the Little Sioux River structure for $1,448. But after Quackenbush had not started construction by October, the supervisors cancelled his contract and instead hired local builder W.A. Barnes to construct the Little Sioux River Bridge for $1,400. Barnes proved little faster than Quackenbush, however, and it took him until the following September to complete the bridge. McCollough's design for this span and two others had featured a filled spandrel arch with an elliptical profile, similar to the arch patented by Indianapolis engineer Daniel Luten. Two years after the Little Sioux River Bridge was completed, Luten sued McCollough for patent infringement. The matter was referred to the state highway commission, and the agency used this case to bolster its campaign to break Luten's hold on the concrete bridge industry in the mid-1910s.
The Luten lawsuit was a relatively common occurrence in Iowa in the early 1910s, indicative of a major trend in concrete bridge construction in the state at this time. Many of the early concrete arches were built by Des Moines bridge builders N.M. Stark and J.B. Marsh. These two men extensively marketed the arches for which they held proprietary rights--Stark the filled spandrel arch patented by Luten, and March his own open spandrel rainbow arch design. After the Iowa State Highway Commission was re-formed by the state legislature in 1913, the new agency developed a standard filled spandrel arch design of its own. The Marsh/Luten designs and the ISHC standard designs accounted for the overwhelming majority of concrete arches in the state. A few arches were built from other sources, however, in the case of this structure in Buena Vista County, Storm Lake civil engineer George McCollough. This bridge is thus significant for its atypical origins. A well-preserved, relatively early example of its type, it is an important transportation-related resource [adapted from Fraser 1992].