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The Bennett Viaduct over the Des Moines River and the Illinois Central and Chicago and Northwestern Railroads rights of way was erected in 1910 and 1911. The 1,492 foot long bridge connected the two sections of Fort Dodge; at 3rd Street, then going west across the Des Moines River and connecting at G Street in “West” Fort Dodge.

The civilian settlement of Fort Dodge can be dated from the establishment of the federal land office in 1855. On the west side of the river, across from the original town site, was the area that became known as West Fort Dodge. Originally preempted by Elliot Colburn, it was platted as Colburn’s Addition on 1858. Over the years it was also known as Riverside and Swedetown, the latter name because of the sizable Swedish community that settled there. By 1900, West Fort Dodge had a business district which included a general store, a grocery, a meat market, hardware store, tobacco and confectionary shop, coal yard, the Swedish Covenant Mission Church, Riverside School and a post office.

Access to areas west of the river and the growth of Fort Dodge and West Fort Dodge was dependent upon an adequate river crossing. Crossing the river was only possible during very dry times when it was shallow enough to cross on foot or horseback, or across the ice in the winter. In the late 1850s and early 1860s, two rope ferries were established; McCaulley’s ferry at the location of the present Hawkeye Avenue Bridge, and the Colburn ferry at the site of what would become the Bennett Viaduct. These rope ferries were a large wooden raft that was guided across the river by rope that was connected to the land. Although these were somewhat useful, they were extremely dangerous- especially during high water or when there was a fast river current. In the early 1870s, the county constructed two wooden bridges to replace the rope ferries.

After just six years, due to the deteriorating and dangerous condition of the wooden Colburn Bridge, the Fort Dodge City Council informed the county board of supervisors that any liability for injury in connection with the bridge would belong solely to the county. Shortly after this, the wooden Colburn Bridge was replaced by a new iron bridge, which was referred to as the Farley Street Bridge and/or the West Fort Dodge Wagon Bridge.

This bridge remained adequate for the community’s needs until difficulties developed with vehicular traffic across the railroad tracts. The location of the tracts at the base of the bridge created a hazardous situation for the heavy Farley Street traffic. Another source of complaints were about the trains impeding traffic. In 1899, the city council adopted two new ordinances; for the necessity of a viaduct and requiring the railroads to construct and maintain the portion over their rights of way, and another that added the stipulation that provision should be made for the possibility of a street car line on the viaduct.

The viaduct proposal lay dormant until 1906, when plans were prepared for the structure and the city and county officials agreed that each would pay one half of the project’s costs. The agreement also stipulated that the city would assume all responsibility for the structure when the city’s population increased to a certain point. In 1907, the city reached an agreement with the railroads which called for the railroads to construct and maintain a steel viaduct over their own rights of way. With various alterations to the structure plans and contract negotiations between the different entities involved in this project, actual construction did not begin until September of 1910 and the dismantling of the old iron Farley Street Bridge started in November of that same year.

As the work began and started to progress, various problems in the delivery of the steel and other materials coupled with mistakes in certain parts of the construction plans led to the completion of the viaduct in May of 1911, four months behind schedule.

The demolition of the old bridge and the slowness in the erection of the new viaduct cause considerable economic disruption in the county. The Messenger of December 1, 1910 told of one farmer who lost a considerable amount of money on 3,000 bushels of oats because he was unable to get his grain to market at the time the price of oats was at the season’s high. Mail delivery was suspended to the rural areas southwest of the city until the river could safely be crossed. Merchandise deliveries were also stopped and milk deliveries were limited for a short time to hotels and families with babies.

The viaduct was named on April 18, 1911 for Captain Sydney Bennett, a former mayor of Fort Dodge. Bennett served in the military for four years, earned the rank of captain and fought in the Civil War. After the war, Bennett made his way to Boone then settled in Fort Dodge in 1867 to enter the tobacco business. In 1884, he went west to Washington and

joined a brother as a construction engineer for the Northern Pacific Railroad. In the early 1900s, Bennett returned to Fort Dodge where he became a community leader- serving terms on the county board of supervisors, the Fort Dodge city council, and four terms as mayor. As a county supervisor, he was most instrumental in the construction of the new courthouse in 1910 – 1913. Bennett was mayor of Fort Dodge at the time the new viaduct was being planned and constructed but ill health forced him to refuse to run for reelection in 1910. He died on May 5, 1911, seventeen days after his name was given to the viaduct and shortly before its completion.

As a major thoroughfare for the city and a link between several residential areas, the new viaduct was not only of economic importance, but had recreational value as well. The depth of the river made it a popular swimming area and the bridge’s lower girders made ideal diving platforms for the average swimmer, while the more courageous jumped from the higher deck level. During the winter, the frozen river around the bridge was the community’s skating area. During the 1930s, the city placed spotlights on the bridge for night skating. The viaduct was often used as a platform for viewing the trains coming and going from the depot, the arrival and unloading of the circus trains and the whistle stop of the Wendell Wilkie campaign train of 1940.

Over the years the importance of the viaduct declined. In the late 1920s, the completion of the Herring Viaduct (Kenyon Road Bridge) took a lot of the traffic away from the Bennett Viaduct. In the early 1960s, the construction of the Karl King Bridge just up the river provided still another alternative route.

Urban renewal of the late 1970s transformed the residential area Pleasant Valley into the

Sunkissed Meadows golf course further reduced viaduct traffic.On August 16, 1980, the viaduct was permanently closed. The Bob Madget Construction Company of St. Joseph, Missouri was awarded the contract for demolishing the entire structure, which was completed in 1981. The only remnant remaining of this iconic structure now serves as a base for Old Glory on the Des Moines River.


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