Current, former residents saddened by loss of McGregor pedestrian bridge

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The McGregor pedestrian bridge that spanned across B Street, connecting Second Street with Point Ann Lane, was torn down Sept. 19, leaving many current and former residents saddened. (Submitted photo)

This image shows the pedestrian bridge in August, not long before it was torn down. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The McGregor pedestrian bridge that spanned across B Street, connecting Second Street with Point Ann Lane, was torn down Sept. 19. Already in need of repair prior to the July 19 tornado, the bridge was no longer salvageable.

City administrator Lynette Sander, speaking at McGregor’s regular council meeting Aug. 16, said the city was awarded FEMA funding following last September’s heavy rains, to repair the footing of the bridge at the south end, where the soil eroded. Those funds are still being held in a city account.

Following the tornado, a structural engineer inspected the bridge, determining if the frame could be re-used if the decking was replaced. It was deemed unsafe.

“It’s twisted,” Sander said at the time. “When you look up close, it’s deteriorated.”

“It’s sad to see it go,” commented mayor Harold Brooks at the council’s Sept. 20 meeting, “but it wasn’t safe the way it was.”

The pedestrian bridge, or “foot bridge,” as it was often referred to, was around 50 years old, although records are scarce about when it was actually constructed.

Michelle Pettit, director at  the McGregor Public Library, discovered council minutes from September 1964 that reference a resident delegation outlining several options for the bridge.

Those options included removing the bridge completely or closing it to traffic. Options were also laid out for repairing the present structure, which was wooden.

Even fewer details remain regarding that bridge, but McGregor historian Lena D. Myers referenced it in some of her writings, noting its construction in the mid- to late-1800s. 

Ultimately, the council agreed to replace the wooden foot bridge with a new steel bridge. Gene Ramaker said he and Jim Cowell welded the steel.

On social media, many current and former residents expressed sadness over the foot bridge’s demise, recalling memories of the iconic structure from their childhoods.

“I always took the back way down C Avenue to the post office or even to the riverfront,” noted Nancy Foote Scarff. “I crossed this bridge countless times. It’s a part of history that easily linked C Avenue with downtown.”

Marsha Bickel, who grew up next to the bridge, said it was frequently used by her family and others in the neighborhood, which used to be more populous, to get downtown.

People also simply enjoyed standing on the bridge, watching the traffic pass below.

“I loved standing in the middle of the then-all-wood bridge, looking down at the top of the passing semi trucks whose tarpaulin-covered tops seemed to barely clear the bridge,” recalled Shelley Smith. “If they were backed up, I fantasized about jumping off the bridge onto the tarps which, to me, seemed like they would behave like a trampoline.”

When she used to ride her bike across the bridge, Smith said she was careful to stay to the center, as the wire fencing along the bridge sides did not always inspire confidence.

One time, Smith noted, she actually did slip, while walking home with her mother from the bus stop.

“When we were about halfway across the bridge, I slipped, and I remember one leg slid off the bridge under the wire fencing,” she said. “Somehow, my mother was able to pull me completely back on the bridge. It all happened suddenly, in a frightening few seconds.”

Tabitha McWilliams Steiber said she and other kids also enjoyed walking or riding their bikes across the bridge.

“It was always so cool when we were little to stand above it when the semis were going under it,” she shared. “Oh, the things that were enjoyable for us kids back then.”

Alice Rowe had similar memories.

“Love this bridge. We used this all the time as kids playing around McGregor,” she said. 

Before it became unusable, the kids at the daycare also loved watching the semis go under the bridge and honk at them, she mentioned.

Many on social media expressed a desire for the pedestrian bridge to be rebuilt, calling it a useful and unique community feature. 

The city said a replacement is being considered, especially if FEMA funding can be utilized.

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