Humboldt man recalls iron bridge

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January 18, 2011 - 12:00 AM

HUMBOLDT — Something as simple as a picture postcard can rekindle pleasant childhood memories.
Such was the case for Kenneth Culbertson, a lifetime resident of the Humboldt area. He was looking through some early postcards and found one, dated 1909, that shows the old iron bridge that carried traffic across the Neosho River at the west edge of town for about 60 years.
The iron bridge was built in the early 1870s, eventually replaced by one made of concrete.
Culbertson, 89, remembers the older bridge well.
“We lived on a farm west of Humboldt and we crossed it when I was a kid,” Culbertson said. “We had a real old car and would go to town every now and then — not very often — to do some trading.”
A sign above the iron bridge gave users specific instructions:
“No person allowed to drive or ride faster than a walk across this bridge. Or have more than 30 head of cattle on at one time.”
Culbertson’s postcard shows the bridge with men, in coats and hats, looking at water running just a few feet below the bridge’s deck, apparently during a time of flooding, which did occur in the fall of 1908.
“I never remember the bridge being used all that much,” Culbertson said, recalling the days when automobiles were not so commonplace.
Culbertson grew up on a farm west of Iola and farmed there until he moved into Humboldt five years ago.

A MARSH arch bridge replaced its iron predecessor in 1932 and is the lone example of James Barney Marsh’s design, patented in 1911, remaining in Allen County.
Another Marsh arch bridge crossed Coal Creek just southeast of Monarch Cement Company’s plant at the south edge of Humboldt and a third crossed the Neosho River west of Iola. Both were replaced in the past 15 years.
Marsh arch bridges — two remain standing but are closed to traffic at Independence and Emporia — were made of reinforced concrete and got their name from their distinctive arches.
Humboldt’s is maintained by Allen County and has carried traffic since opening in 1932. The latest assessment of its condition reports the bridge is functionally obsolete but safe.
During the 1951 flood the Neosho River surged about six feet over it. In recent years the county has improved its driving surface and restored decorative lights on either side.

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