Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


It has been 134 years since the first successful traffic bridge crossed the Des Moines River in Van Buren County. On October 1, 1873 a four-span structure opened to the public with a mixed feeling of excitement and reserve. After all, an earlier bridge had been started at Keosauqua in 1850, but the high water of 1851 caused the spans to collapse before the bridge was completed. Until the new bridge was finished, a ferry carried passengers and cargo across the river. Some people waited awhile to see if the bridge was safe before using it.

A photograph taken a week after the bridge opened reveals a town almost unrecognizable, as there were many more large brick buildings and structures than now exist. Keosauqua did not yet include people living across the river, thus the area of town and the population were both smaller. Even so, Keosauqua looked like a compact, thriving little city.

It was not long until bridges were built by citizens of other communities along the Des Moines River. At 900 feet, the longest bridge in the county was built at Bonaparte in 1878. In 1883, the County Board of Supervisors entered into a contract for three bridges to be built by three different companies at Bentonsport, Pittsburg and Farmington.

The Bentonsport Bridge was 725 feet long, while the other two were 750 feet each. In 1884, ice destroyed four spans of the new Pittsburg Bridge requiring it to be rebuilt. The bridge, which included part of the old, was tested and opened in 1886.

Douds built its first bridge in 1897, and opened it to the public on May 1, 1898. In 1900, bids were accepted for a 700-foot bridge at Selma and a bridge at Kilbourne measuring 800 feet. Both were opened to traffic in 1901.

In time for the centennial of 1939, Keosauqua erected and opened the finest and widest bridge in Van Buren County. New bridges have since been opened at Selma, Douds, Pittsburg, Bonaparte and Farmington while the bridges at Bentonsport and Kilbourne were closed. An old photograph indicates that Farmington at one time had three bridges crossing the river at the same time (including railroad bridges.)

In 1878, The CBQ built a wooden, covered railroad bridge at Farmington that was replaced by a steel bridge in 1910. While operating, it was the "longest covered bridge in the world." The first bridge across the Des Moines was the railroad bridge at Farmington built in 1871 when the Burlington & Southwestern Railroad crossed the southern part of the county. Farmington built a traffic bridge in 1883 that was replaced in 1945.

A 1935 article in the Keosauqua Republican reports that Van Buren County built 8 bridges across the river beginning in 1873, two of which were destroyed by high water and had to be replaced. This does not include the railroad bridges built at Farmington.

Since that article was written, the county has built seven new bridges at six of the locations, with plans underway for another bridge project.

This new phase of bridge construction presently underway in Van Buren County includes the first completed portion of the new Keosauqua Bridge just southwest of the old structure. It was opened to the public over the 2006 Christmas holidays. The old (1939) bridge is being destroyed to make room for additional lanes of the new bridge. It has been announced that Farmington will be the next bridge-building site.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick