WASHINGTON COUNTY, Iowa — For a time, the future of the Bunker Mill Bridge was unclear. After it was set on fire in August 2013, many people thought it would simply be torn down. Fast forward nearly a year, and things have changed.
“It sort of became apparent that maybe huge purse strings weren’t opening to get this done real quickly,” said Scott Allen, executive director of Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge, a group that’s been raising funds to save the bridge since it was destroyed. Allen said around May this year, his group got the idea of turning this into a destination for gatherings and concerts. Several of those concerts have already taken place here, gathering some good-sized crowds.
“News articles of old — say 1890s — they talk about it being a swimming hole out here, and how it really was at that time a destination. People came here to picnic,” Allen told us.
So far, the idea has been working.
“We have one wedding event booked already for the end of August, we’ve had a couple other people inquire. I mean, look at it; we have the biggest deck in Washington County,” Allen said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Adding to the site’s rustic appeal, this small steel building was donated by Chadek Trucking in Iowa City. The company had used it as a scale house for some time. It’s now an on-site office space, and a retail location where Julie Bowers said people can sell local produce and homemade goods.
“It took a beating during the flood,” said Bowers, who has been coordinating a lot of the rebuilding efforts for the bridge nearby. “Water came up to right about here,” she said, pointing at a spot about 2 feet up the wall of the small building.
But this summer’s flooding was only a temporary setback for Bowers and Allen. Like the old bridge it shares the site with, the Old Mill Marketplace is bouncing back.
“It is really very well-built,” said Bowers of the building. “We like steel products, and the fact is, this building was built to last.”
It’s been outfitted with new axles and a trailer hitch to make it mobile, in case of future flooding.
“They needed wheels and bearings and now we’ve got it just about to the point of where we’re ready to try it out on its first move,” Bowers told us.
Allen said it will cost another $90,000 to finish the 120 feet of decking needed to connect the bridge to the south side of the river.
In the meantime, he said it’s fun to see people coming back here, giving new life to an old location.
“It’s pretty wild to see 50 or 60 people in the country on this bridge, where it hasn’t seen that kind of traffic for years.”