• Tama Bridge Builder’s Rise and Fall

    By Jan Gammon, LHHB Coordinator at Prairie Rivers of Iowa

    From a suggestion at the last Iowa Lincoln Highway Association meeting, I decided to look into the nameplate on the Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama to see what name or company appears on it and what happened to them. I was recently at the Tama Bridge and found the plate read “Paul N. Kingsley, Strawberry Point.” Using a smattering of online detective work and genealogy resources, this is what I found.

    From Bridgehunter.com: On May 17, 1915, the Tama County Board of Supervisors contracted with Paul N. Kingsley, a relatively new contractor from Strawberry Point, Iowa, to build 53 bridges and culverts throughout the county. Kingsley was to complete the work by November 1st of that year, for $39,900. But by November Kingsley, who was struggling to manage the ambitious, multiple-bridge contracts he then held with several Iowa counties, had completed only a minimal amount of work. 

    Although the board considered taking action against Kingsley and his bonding company in meetings held on November 27th and 30th, on December 28th they extended his contract to July 1, 1916. By spring, though, it was evident that Kingsley no longer had the wherewithal to complete the work. The supervisors declared Kingsley in default of the contract, and in December 1916, settled with the bonding company and contracted with other forms for his unfinished work. Kingsley’s difficulties in fulfilling his obligations are not revealed in the historical record, and his name quickly passed from county bridge building circles.
    Yet, Kingsley did leave a lasting legacy by building the Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama. Constructed in 1915, three years after the formation of the Lincoln Highway Association, the bridge is representative of efforts by local officials in order to promote automobile travel to encourage economic development. In recent years, following a relocation of U.S. Highway 30, the bridge has served to carry local traffic.

    Although for contractor Paul Kingsley the Lincoln Highway Bridge represented the beginning of the end, for the town of Tama it commemorated the town’s place on the nation’s first transcontinental highway, with the traf c commerce that accompanied it.When the route was first plotted in 1913, the citizens of Tama and the surrounding area immediately recognized its importance.“We can scarcely estimate the travel this national road will induce,” the Traer Star-Clipper stated in November 1913. “Millions have already been pledged toward it and every state it spans is at work planning construction. All along the 3,000 miles, work is in progress.This will probably become the best long distance auto road in the United States. Fortunate indeed is Tama County to have it pass through her entire length.”

    The highway was routed through the small town of Tama, along Fifth Street at the town’s eastern edge.When in 1915 the county planned a small bridge to carry the Lincoln Highway over Mud Creek in Tama, the county supervisors opted to add architectural expression to the otherwise typical concrete slab structure, as a means to distinguish the bridge from the hundreds of others [adapted from Fraser 1990.]

    Kinglsey also built the Melan Bridge in Lyon County, in Emma Sater Park near Rock Rapids, and the Hawkeye Highway Branch South Fork Cat sh Creek Bridge in Dubuque County. Trying to find out more about the man, I found a Paul Newberry Kingsley who was born in 1888 in Clayton County, Iowa (Strawberry Point.) He was the nephew of Byron W. Newberry, an attorney from Strawberry Point. Newberry served from 1902-1924 in the State Legislature. The nephew, Kingsley, does not surface again until in an obituary where his title is Col. Paul N. Kingsley, who served in the Army during World War I and II. He died in 1966 and is buried in San Francisco. He has several children including a son, Paul N. Kingsley, Jr., who lives in Sacramento but was born in Dubuque County, Iowa in 1926.

    Apparently, the Army was Mr. Kingsley’s choice after the bridge building business did not pan out for him.We are so glad that of the few he did complete, the historic Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama was one of them!

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