About a year ago, a patron came to the Reference Desk and asked me to help him find a picture of Curtis Bridge. “Who’s Curtis Bridge?” I asked. As it turns out, it’s not a who, but a what. A bridge! A bridge that gave its name to the road on either side of it, which was the road that this man’s family home was located on. His mother had just sold the home, and he was back in town to move her to another state to live near him and his wife, and he wanted to find a picture of the bridge to take with him as a reminder of where he’d grown up, of where his parents had both grown up.
“Where is it located?” I asked him. Nowhere. It doesn’t exist anymore. He didn’t even know what it looked like, but his mother remembered it, and he remembered his parents talking about it when he was growing up. About driving across it. About walking on it. About cars crashing on it and off of it. About people fishing from it. Now it’s gone. He’d always wondered about it, growing up on a road named after a bridge, when there is no bridge. He wanted a picture of the thing that represented that wonder, and of what created those memories for his parents.
We did find a picture that night, and he left a happy patron and was sure his mother would love it. Question answered, right? For him, yes. For me, no. I was hooked on finding out whatever I could about Curtis Bridge. An old highway (in the early 1900s, really just a dirt track), a river, towns on either side of the river, and a bridge that links them…that’s the story of growing community in early 20th century Iowa. Now the bridge and highway (and a town!) are gone–although there are remnants!–and that’s the start of an odd fascination.
One of the tools I discovered while researching Curtis Bridge is a magnificent thing called the Johnson County Property Information Viewer. Look up an address or area, and you can see aerial photographs of it from different years. A very cool resource that you can use to visualize lots of things….what your neighborhood looked like in years past, the growth of roads into different areas, the changing structure of downtown, or how a bridge was there and then not there.
If anyone has their own pictures of Curtis Bridge, or the area around there, we’d love to have you bring them in to our next Scanning Day at the Library; we’re focusing specifically on photos of Iowa City and Johnson County, and we want to add them to our Digital History Project website. Got old photos of the area? Bring ’em in! May 28, 5-8 pm, Meeting Room A.