Time Machine

Time Machine: A tale of North Liberty's two bridges

Mehaffey Bridge was reconstructed, but Moses Mann Bridge is lost to the ages

Gazette archive photo

Mehaffey bridge along the Iowa River, northeast of North Liberty and southwest of Lake Macbride,
Gazette archive photo Mehaffey bridge along the Iowa River, northeast of North Liberty and southwest of Lake Macbride, upstream from the new Coralville dam, is shown isolated by high water around 1958. In the foreground at upper left and again at lower right is County Road Y. The bridge was demolished in the winter of 1958-1959.
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In 1957, the die was cast in favor of a new reservoir near Coralville created by damming the Iowa River. Casualties of the project were two Johnson County bridges in Penn Township — the Mehaffey Bridge on Johnson County Road Y and the Moses Mann Bridge on Scales Bend Road.

The original Mehaffey Bridge was built in 1896. It was a through-truss bridge, meaning the roadbed had trusses above and below it. The Moses Mann Bridge was nearly the Mehaffey Bridge’s twin. The University of Iowa made surveys in 1904 for the bridge to be built at Scales Bend. A pair of 135-foot spans were suggested. The actual bridge was another through-truss bridge built in 1904.

Nathaniel Scales, originally from Tennessee and North Carolina, settled in Johnson County in 1840 in a place that became known as Scales Bend. He married Mary Crozier in 1842. Mary died in January 1845. In 1847, Nathaniel married again, to Nancy Epperson and they had seven children. Nathaniel died in January 1893.

Soon after, Moses Fremont Mann and his family moved to the land at the river’s bend. As the landowner when the bridge was built, the structure was referred to by Mann’s name. It often was shortened to Mose Mann or Mosemann Bridge.

The Moses Mann Bridge was in a low area and in 1947 its approaches were cut off by floodwaters.

The Mehaffey Bridge was named for S.M. “Sam” Mehaffey, who owned land on the west bank of the river. Sam made a living cutting down the abundant forests in east central Iowa. The bridge was built in the approximate spot where pioneers would ford the river in the 1880s and ’90s.

A flood in 1895 had damaged or destroyed many bridges. On April 7, “about thirty citizens of Penn and Big Grove townships appeared before the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and asked that a bridge be built across the Iowa River at Mehaffey’s. The board on motion agreed to visit the site and determine what action to take on the matter,” a Gazette story reported.

A new bridge was in place eight months later.

Both river crossings were destined to end under the waters of the new $17 million Coralville Reservoir in 1957.

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In an echo of the 1895 efforts to build the first bridge, a Save-the-Mehaffey-Bridge committee was formed. Soon 2,600 signatures graced a petition asking that the bridge or a replacement be maintained at the County Road Y crossing. Among those were a group of farmers whose land straddled the river. Another argument was presented by the two towns’ fire departments. The two organizations cooperated with each other in protecting their towns. The longer route would make that impractical.

Meanwhile, the Moses Mann Bridge, bypassed in area development, supported little traffic and even less interest. Its fate was sealed.

“While big tears are being shed and loud cries of wailing are heard over the prospective loss of the Mehaffey Bridge, nobody seems to mind the probable demise of the Mose Mann Bridge because road expansion has left it in an out-of-the-way area,” a 1957 article in The Gazette said.

The population of Solon in 1957 was 527; North Liberty had 309 residents. The battle for Mehaffey would be a long one. The Corps of Engineers and Johnson County had a long-standing agreement from 1954 in which Johnson County ceded the Mehaffey, Moses Mann and other bridges and roads to the reservoir area.

The bridge committee was persistent. On April 21, 1958, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate to authorize construction of a federal bridge across the reservoir at or near the site of the old Mehaffey Bridge. On Aug. 17, 1962, the U.S. House of Representatives approved $40,000 to study which of three sites to choose for a bridge estimated to cost more than $1 million.

Bids for the 562-foot-long bridge were let on April 28, 1964. It was finished in 1965, and County Road Y was relocated nine-tenths of a mile to connect with the new bridge, 300 feet downstream from the old one.

It was replaced again in 2015.

Both old bridges were removed in 1959. Their decks would have been about 35 feet below the crest of the spillway on the dam.

Sandy Beach, a new picnic area on the north bank near the Hoosier Creek area, was built near the north approach to the old Moses Mann Bridge in 1961. The south approach is guarded today by an old metal road barrier where the road turns a sharp right to Scales Bend and Bobber’s Grill.

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