Signed in as:
Signed in as:
Over 150 years ago, a railroad bridge was constructed in downtown Cedar Rapids. In addition to the railroad tracks was a parallel pedestrian passage on the bridge that was used by residents to walk to work at the Sinclair Packing House. The packing house was iconic at the time; recognized from afar by its smokestack and known for driving the Czech population of the city.
Today, most of the bridge has washed away. Flooding in 2008 took out a majority of its structure, but that didn’t stop one bicyclist, Steve Sovern, and his neighbors from seeing the derelict bridge as simply “sleeping in the river with lots of possibilities.”
Sovern started referring to the bridge as “The Sleeping Giant” back in late 2014. He says it was “the very kernel of the beginning” for what will soon be The Alliant Energy LightLine. A member of the Southside Investment Board, Sovern (and other members) were focused on the future of the NewBo neighborhood and how to make it prosper. More on that later.
Through research, Sovern started to piece together more and more on the original bridge and all the history that needed to be represented by the updated version. And so, he learned about the builders of the bridge in 1865. Cedar Rapids residents Stephen L. Dows, John F. Ely, and Charles E. Ives are credited with its original construction, and it’s Dows’ coincidental connections that continued to surprise Sovern.
At the time, the bridge was an important component of the Burlington Cedar Rapids and Northern Railroad and was sold in 1903 to the Rock Island Railroad Line before eventually becoming property of Alliant Energy. That brought Sovern back to Stephen Dows whose son, William G. Dows, started Iowa Electric Light & Power Company, now Alliant Energy. Alliant ultimately “sold” the bridge site to the City of Cedar Rapids for $1.00. “The bridge builder’s son started the power company that ultimately gave us the bridge,” says Sovern. Furthermore, today’s descendants of Stephen and William Dows have been supporters of ConnectCR.
Sovern found yet another connection to Dows when he “went to school on the High Trestle Trail bridge project,” a world-renowned pedestrian/trail bridge over the Des Moines river. The success of the High Trestle Trail bridge was a personal inspiration for Sovern, and through his research, he found that it too was built by Stephen L. Dows.
For over a century, there has been more Cedar Rapids history “right on the river” than many have probably realized, with connections that can be traced to residents and companies today. Sovern, ConnectCR, and the many others who have partnered or supported the project are ensuring that is reflected in the new bridge, connecting both sides of the city. Sovern says, “It’s the convergence of industry, labor, agriculture, and our Czech heritage. That history is in the design and [with] historical plaques.”
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