The Kankakee River has been a lifeline for the people of northwest Indiana for millennia, but it also posed a challenge for travelers who needed to cross it. For centuries, people crossed individually by boat or at established ferry locations. Today, we drive across on bridges. Two historic steel spans stand as reminders of the ingenuity that made our modern commute possible.
The first is familiar to those who travel State Road 49, south of Kouts. The Indiana Department of Highways built the bridge in 1941. Painted bright turquoise, with only an inventory number for identification, Indiana State Highway Bridge Number 49-37-1938B is an eye-catching surprise for travelers. One of the last of its kind to be built, the span is an engineering treat for bridge enthusiasts – nine Parker trusses totaling 200 feet.
Four miles upstream, Dunn’s Bridge remains the subject of enduring local legend. Popular lore tells differing stories of the bridge’s origins, though both begin at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exhibition. According to some accounts, the bridge was built from steel salvaged from the fair when thousands of the fair’s temporary buildings were dismantled.
Another favorite story takes the steel on a detour to St. Louis before arriving in Indiana. George Washington Ferris Jr.’s 264-foot tall Ferris wheel inspired awe at the 1893 expo. At the conclusion of the Chicago fair, workers deconstructed the Ferris wheel, and — after a series of moves — it was eventually reconstructed in St. Louis for the 1904 World’s Fair. Two years later, the Chicago Tribune reported a salvage crew in St. Louis blew up the wheel and hauled off the remains after it had become a white elephant. Legend has it a segment of the wheel survived the blast and made to Porter County, where it was repurposed as the bridge.
Both stories are popular, but the evidence tells a more mundane tale. Farmer J.D. Dunn built the bridge with the help of Porter County’s engineering consultant, P.E. Lane, sometime around the turn of the twentieth century. The Kankakee River inconveniently divided Dunn’s 1,000 acres of farmland, and he commissioned the 180-foot, arched-truss bridge to more easily tend his land. Today, Dunn’s Bridge is the centerpiece of Dunn’s Bridge County Park, restored there in 1994 by Porter County Parks and Recreation.
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