Architectural wonders of early America.
Towering over the ancient rivers and prehistoric canyons of early America are the man-made marvels that transformed the wild frontier into colonial communities. A handful of the bridges that connected the early United States still stand today as architectural wonders of generations past.
“Some of these structures have stood unaltered for decades, just as our great-great-great-ancestors would have seen them,” writes James Baughn, creator of the site bridgehunter.com. Though railroads, early settlements, and historic buildings have disappeared, “bridges have remained intact, a silent reminder of our ancestor’s way of life.” Here’s hoping your travels find you crossing a few of these beautiful bridges in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.
During the 1920s, Utah’s Rockville Bridge was the primary automobile route for the region’s national parks, linking Zion and the Grand Canyon. Despite heavy use, “The structural and historical integrity of the bridge have been exceptionally well-preserved,” notes the Rockville Historic Bridge Fund. Over the decades the structure began to deteriorate, and reconstruction efforts are underway to restore the bridge. The bridge can be found in the town of Rockville crossing the east fork of the Virgin River, south of Highway 9.
San Rafael Bridge
Until the 1990s, this suspension bridge was the only crossing over Utah’s San Rafael River. The Civilian Conservation Corps in Emery County built the 180-foot bridge in 1937 over the Buckhorn Wash Road. It was preserved as a national historic site in 1996 and is still used for foot traffic today.
The story behind this truss bridge over Southeast Idaho’s Snake River in Blackfoot is unknown. The Historic American Engineering Record guesses it was built in the early 1900s, based on its similarity to the other bridges in the Intermountain West. It was originally a railroad bridge but was converted in 2001 to a vehicular bridge.
The I.B. Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, the most famous bridge in Idaho, is a 1,500-foot steel arch that carries cars on a four-lane highway across the Snake River Canyon. The original bridge built in 1927 was the highest in the world at the time, towering 486 feet above the Snake River. It was rebuilt in 1974, and is a popular spot for thrill-seeking BASE jumpers. It is the only man-made structure in the world where BASE jumping is legal year-round. Tom Aiello, founder of the Snake River BASE Academy, says he trains 200 new jumpers a year at the site because, “It’s one of the best places in the world for a new jumper to learn.”
Veterans Memorial Centennial Bridge
The Veterans Memorial Centennial Bridge is a half-mile freeway bridge that towers 300 feet above Bennett Bay in Coeur d’Alene. In fact, the bridge was originally named the Bennett Bay Bridge after it was built 1991, but was renamed a year later in honor of Idaho’s veterans. The bridge was an engineering marvel — construction started in the middle of the bridge, between both sides of the ravine, and workers had to be hoisted in baskets to the top every day.
Fort Laramie Bridge
Wyoming’s oldest bridge, the Fort Laramie Bridge across the Platte River was built in 1875 as a river crossing for military and other travelers on the Cheyenne-Deadwood trail. Though a new concrete bridge connecting Highway 160 was built in 1958 north of the Fort Laramie Bridge, this 140-year-old, three-span, bowstring iron girder bridge is still used today as a pedestrian crossing. The state’s historic landmark commission christened the bridge as a historic site in the 1950s, saying it was a “vital link” to the military outposts and Indian agencies of the region.
The Rairden Bridge near the small town of Manderson is a rare type of pin-connected Pennsylvania truss bridge built in 1916. At 250-feet, it’s the longest single-span truss in the state. Though it was abandoned in 1979, it still stands in front of the new two-span pony truss across the Bighorn River. In 1985, the National Park Services pushed to preserve the Rairden Bridge on the National Registry of Historic Places, calling it “one of the most significant bridges in Wyoming.”
Thermopolis Swinging Bridge
A walk over the Thermopolis Swinging Bridge in central Wyoming’s Hot Springs County will bring butterflies to your stomach — the pedestrian footbridge suspends high over the roaring Bighorn River. The original bridge was built in 1916 to access the natural mineral hot springs of Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming’s first state park. Before its construction, the only access to the park was by ferry or a dangerous swim across the often fast-moving river waters.
Photos by Kevin Kiernan