Exploring SE Iowa: Do you dare cross the Columbus Junction swinging bridge?

Columbus Jct. Swinging Bridge— Columbus Jct., IA (See directions at bottom)

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I’m always looking for unique places and trails, so when I first discovered the sign on Hwy 92 pointing to a swinging bridge when I was out exploring the local roads with my daughter, I was intrigued. We were really just looking for some ice cream but instead we found a more thrilling treat. When the bridge gets swinging it will make those with the slightest fear of heights quake in their boots. Turning North from Hwy 92 onto 3rd street brings you up a hill and deposits you with a view of the swinging bridge stretching across the ravine between 3rd and 4th streets.

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The Columbus Junction swinging bridge stretches 262 feet over Lover’s Leap Ravine and passes above tree tops with a drop that reaches close to 100 feet near the middle. Halfway across you tower even above tree tops that rise from the ground below. That may not seem very imposing on a regular bridge, but this one swings side to side as you walk, creaking and groaning all the way. This leads you to wonder if it’s about to drop to the bottom of the ravine like it did in 1920 when 2 brothers were out on the bridge when it failed, yet they were miraculously uninjured. It’s possible that they weren’t near the middle when the collapse took place but information on the event is a little sketchy. Let’s just say that this wasn’t the first time the bridge had troubles. It was previously condemned in 1902 for it’s shoddy design.

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Attractions like these seem to be from a bygone era. In this time of plentiful lawsuits it seems like fun little spots like this are a thing of the past. It’s so refreshing to be able to walk out onto something like this that hasn’t been tainted by the safety police. It appears to be just safe enough to convince you to get out to the middle but just crazy enough to make you wonder if you’ll get back. Enjoy this treasure while it’s here. Hopefully though it will stick around for years to come.

In addition to the rich history of the bridge the ravine is also the site of another legend where it’s said that an Indian maiden jumped to her death at this very spot after her love died in battle. Since then, the ravine has been known as Lover’s Leap. The maiden may not have survived but the Tisor Brothers in the aforementioned 1920 bridge collapse, were said to have landed on their feet at the bottom and were unscathed. The bridge came back better than ever 2 years later after a professor came up with an improved structure. A better design doesn’t necessarily translate to an easy crossing. The bridge sways back and forth as you attempt to cross and out near the middle the ride can get even wilder. If a band of kids comes out onto the bridge with you expect the ride of your life as the young ones generally try to test the limits of the bridge. It always appears that kids are immune to the swinging (or maybe just naive of the possible perils) and adults clutch on to the narrow rails for dear life. As groups of kids generally get the bridge to swing amidst jovial laughter all you can do is hold on tight to keep from falling to your knees all the while the bridge makes horrific creaking sounds. This may lend to visions of Indiana Jones clinging perilously to the side of a cliff. That could be you!

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This was the 3rd version of the bridge that collapsed. No jumping allowed!!

All of this excitement came about due to the ingenuity of a Mr. Josiah Stewart in 1880, who wanted a shortcut around Lover’s Leap ravine. Previously someone on 4th street needed to walk several extra blocks due to the geography of the town but his brilliant idea (even though it was poorly constructed) provided the town with a neat little attraction to give “Junction” (as it’s locally known) a little notoriety. The current version is safe (so they say) but you may think otherwise in your attempt to cross from one end to the other. As you slowly creep out to the middle think back to the experience of the Tisor brothers and the Indian maiden and contemplate this question as you cautiously tread high up looking down upon the treetops. Do I feel lucky?

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DIRECTIONS:

From Muscatine: Start at the intersection of Business 61 and US 61 Bypass (near S. end of Muscatine) and drive 11 miles south to the Hwy 92 exit near Grandview, IA. Go west on Hwy 92 for 8 miles into Columbus Jct. then turn left (south) on 3rd street. The bridge will be at the top of the hill on your left.

From Iowa City: Start at the intersection of Hwy 1 and Hwy 218 in the Southeast part of the city. Go south on Hwy 218 for 24 miles until you reach Hwy 92 at Ainsworth. Travel East on Hwy 92 for 9 miles into Columbus Jct. In the Eastern part of town take a right onto 3rd St. The bridge will be at the top of the hill on your left.

2 thoughts on “Exploring SE Iowa: Do you dare cross the Columbus Junction swinging bridge?

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