Mederville's historic landmark bridge

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The Mederville Bridge, constructed in 1918, is a unique example of an open-spandrel arch design. The bridge is open to foot traffic only and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Kevin Hanson)

By Caroline Rosacker

Mederville, located in Cox Creek Township, Clayton County, was originally called St. Johan. When the town was first mapped out by Louis Reuther and Henry Meder, the town's namesake, a residence and sawmill were already in existence, built by James Beatty in 1854. 

Reuther added a general store, and together he and Meder established both a saw and flour mill. Another businessman, Joseph Unternahrer, opened up a blacksmith shop. 

In 1857, John Nugent became the community's  first educator, and a post office, with Henry Meder as the postmaster, was built in 1870.

Mederville Bridge

The Mederville Bridge,  listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in 1918. The concrete, open-spandrel arch bridge was designed by James B. Marsh, a civil engineer from Des Moines. F.E. Marsh and Company was hired to build the structure at a cost of $17,454.32, including engineering fees.

The Mederville Bridge, often called the Volga River Bridge, was built to replace an existing covered timber Howe truss. The impressive landmark is 156 feet long, and 17.1 feet wide and spans a deep ravine on the north edge of Mederville on Evergreen Road.  

Innovative and economical

The Iowa State Highway Commission and Iowa bridge contractors James Marsh and N.M. Stark enthusiastically promoted the concrete arch design as an economical alternative to steel truss wagon bridge construction. Although numerous  small-scale arches were built throughout Iowa in the 1910s, few of them came close to the 155-foot span needed for the Mederville crossing. 

Marsh's open spandrel arch design could achieve a relatively long span at a reasonable cost, and contributed aesthetically to the quaint, small town nestled in a wooded valley. 

The well-preserved Mederville Bridge, open to foot traffic only, is an attractive example of a rather innovative and uncommon concrete bridge technology. It's unique design is well worth a Sunday afternoon road trip to admire the surrounding landscape, and the winding Volga River from a birds-eye view.

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