Meet Rose Rohr. She chairs the Jones County Historic Preservation Commission which, with the help of a passionate group of past and present county residents, proved in 2006 that no preservation project is impossible – not even restoring and then airlifting a 127-year-old bridge 15 miles upstream from its original location.
Built by the King Bridge Company in 1879, the 296-foot Hale Bridge replaced a flood-prone wooden bridge that originally connected the northern and southern halves of the Hale Township in Iowa. Spanning the Wapsipinicon River with its curved wrought iron trusses, the bridge spurred economic development in Jones County by providing safe and reliable access to the rail depot in Hale Village.
By the 1990s, however, the bridge had seen better days. The floods of 1993 that ravaged much of the Midwest, including the entire state of Iowa, caused significant damage to the Hale Bridge and, despite repairs, the bridge was closed by county officials in 1997 due to deterioration and other structural deficiencies. In 2002, demolition seemed all but inevitable until a call to save the bridge came from local residents. With its future still uncertain, the Hale Bridge was removed by a crane in 2003 and transported via trucks to a resting area in a nearby field.
It was now or never for Rohr, her organization, and a growing coalition of Hale residents to raise the money needed to refurbish this once-great bowstring bridge.
"At first, relocating the Hale Bridge seemed like such a tremendous challenge," Rohr said. "But three words come to mind when I think of preservation: patience, passion and persistence."
In the subsequent years, the restoration effort received considerable financial support from individuals and groups in and outside of Jones County, including the first $2,000 for the project which was donated by the bridge's original manufacturer. The Jones County Historic Preservation Commission also received $445,000 from federal, state and local government sources, including the Iowa Department of Transportation.
With each dollar earned, another section of the bridge was repaired, sandblasted and repainted. On March 8, 2006, a crowd of several hundred gathered to watch a once-in-a-lifetime show as two Army National Guard Chinook helicopters transported the three spans of the Hale Bridge – the largest weighing in at 19,600 pounds, just 400 pounds below the helicopters' carrying capacity – one by one onto new piers in Wapsipinicon State Park. The airlift, which was taken on by the Army National Guard as a training project, was documented and viewed by millions on The History Channel's Mega Movers.
Now settled in its new home, the bridge serves as a dramatic entry into the state park. The historic structure, which attracts thousands of visitors annually and has become a popular host venue for weddings, has also been relisted on the National Register of Historic Places after having to be removed to allow for its relocation.
It has been said that the greenest building is the one that is already built, and that same logic applies to America's extensive stock of historic bridges. Unfortunately, not all of these structures that offer a glimpse into our county's transportation past are given another shot like the Hale Bridge. “The Hale Bridge project brought the issues of saving and reusing historic structures to life throughout the town, county and region,” Rohr said. “I believe the partnerships involved in this project and the tremendous number of people from all over who supported should serve as a reminder to all of us to take another look around at the structures we already have.”