Peabody Singing Tower

 NORTH MANCHESTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
 North Manchester, Indiana

Recipient of Indiana Historical Society's Awards--"2013 Outstanding Project Award" &
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Source: NMHS Newssheet May 2004

The Old Iron Bridge, by Jack Miller

When I travel from Wabash to visit North Manchester I always take the old Wabash Road into town. As I approach the new cement bridge across Eel River, how I wish the old iron bridge were still there. You old timers will remember the square corners you had to make to get into the south end of the bridge. It is too bad that it couldn’t have been saved. It was an historic monument.

Prior to 1872 to cross Eel River at this point, there was a ford across the river. A cut had been made down through the steep south bank and the horses and wagons would cross about where the new bridge stands today, coming out on the Wabash Road right behind Charlie Swank’s barn on the north side.

In 1871 the town fathers decided it was time to stop wetting the horses’ tails and ordered an iron bridge to span the river at this point. I think the bridge was build by a company in Fort Wayne, as the Wabash Bridge and Iron Works was not in business yet. It is interesting to note that the North Manchester Covered Bridge was erected by the Smith Bridge Company of Toledo, Ohio, at the east end of town. What were the city fathers thinking when they ordered an iron bridge and a wooden bridge to be built at the same time! Well, we all know the wooden bridge did survive. Back to your story, Miller.

Well, the iron bridge was delivered to Wabash to be hauled by horse and wagon over the old dirt road (State Road 13, today) to Eel River. The north/south railroad, Cincinnati, Wabash, Michigan Railroad, was in the building stage, but the Detroit, Eel River, and Illinois Railroad had just been completed from Butler to Fourth Street in North Manchester that September of 1871. Heavy rains made the Wabash Road one big mud puddle and the bridge parts sat on a Wabash railroad siding. Then somebody thought of the new railroad in town. The bridge was shipped back to Fort Wayne where it was switched over to the Fort Wayne and Pennsylvania Railroad. At the Columbia City railroad crossover the bridge was switched to the new Eel River Railroad and on to North Manchester to be the first freight shipment over the new railroad.

In the 1920s that bridge was part of us boys who lived in the west end of town. On the north side of the river, below the dam, was the sand bar, and it was here on that sand bar where we boys would swim, sometime skinny, sometimes BVDs. On the south side of the river were the good fishing holes below the dam. Our outdoor gymnastic playground was that old iron bridge. Of course, it was summer time and sun beat down. The floor of that bridge was covered with thick tar to protect it.

Under the sun, the surface of that bridge floor became like the top of the laundry stove on wash day. The dare to us 7 to 12 year old boys was, “We dare you to walk across the bridge slowly!” I have taken that dare and tried to hide the tears of pain on the other end. We boys climbed to the top, walked across the top beams, swung from the braces and but for the hot foot, I never knew a boy to ever get hurt. Yes, we loved that old iron bridge, and I still do!