Bridge 5744 on County Road 54 over Split Rock Creek
Bridge number: 5744
Year built: 1937-1938
Engineer: Elmer Keeler, Pipestone County Highway Department
Contractor: Albert G. Plagens, New Ulm, Minnesota
Span length: 50 feet
Length of arch barrel: 28 feet
Adapted from the National Register of Historic Places nomination form prepared by Jeffrey A. Hess. The Split Rock Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
The Split Rock Bridge is a single-span stone-arch highway bridge that carries County Road 54 over Split Rock Creek. The bridge is located in a rural area of Pipestone County about one mile south of Ihlen. Surviving in unaltered condition, the bridge forms part of the western boundary of the Split Rock Creek State Recreational Reserve. Split Rock Bridge is constructed of locally quarried, bluish-pink Sioux Quartzite with rock-faced and split-faced surfaces. Symmetrically framed by stepped, flared, random-ashlar wing walls, the bridge displays a single segmental arch with random-ashlar spandrel walls. Rising 12 feet over a span of 50 feet, the arch springs about 12 feet above grade from coursed-ashlar abutments. The bridge's overall width is about 28 feet. Except for oversized keystones, the rectangular ring stones are of uniform size and shape. Masonry joints are about one-half inch thick. Surmounted by a well-defined coping, the parapets rise above roadway level to serve as railings. At the south end of the east railing, a commemorative stone plaque bears the inscription: "Split Rock Bridge/ Works Progress/ Administration/ Project/ 1938."
The Split Rock Bridge is historically significant as an outstanding example of an ornamental park bridge, achieving its aesthetic effect through the purity of its form and the beauty of its random-ashlar masonry. In addition, the bridge displays the largest stone-arch span of any active highway bridge in the state. Split Rock Bridge. The bridge survives in unaltered condition.
In 1935, state and federal officials authorized the construction of a masonry dam across Split Rock Creek in the southwest corner of Pipestone County. The project had both short- and long-term goals. It aimed at providing immediate employment for the local citizenry, as well as future recreational opportunities for the entire region. By impounding the waters of Split Rock Creek, the dam created the county's only lake, intended as the nucleus of a small state park known as Split Rock Creek State Recreational Reserve. The general plan also included the construction of a stone-arch highway bridge on the park's access road, just downstream from the dam. Although funded as separate projects, the bridge and dam seem to have been conceived as an integrated landscape design. Rising above the surrounding prairies, the two massive masonry structures form a visually arresting point-and-counterpoint of delicately colored pink Sioux Quartzite.
In December, 1936, as the dam was nearing completion, the WPA submitted final specifications for the stone-arch bridge to the Minnesota State Highway Department. The specifications and presumably the plans were prepared by Elmer Keeler, the Pipestone County Highway Engineer, and Albert G. Plagens, a consulting architect from New Ulm, Minnesota. Plagens is best known for his work on another New Deal project, the WPA-sponsored, Moderne-style Public Library and Historical Museum in New Ulm. Construction on the bridge commenced in 1937 using Sioux Quartzite quarried a few miles away near the city of Jasper, long-known for its building stone and accomplished masons. The bridge was completed in 1938 for an approximate cost of $46,000.
Split Rock Bridge was clearly intended to showcase the area's masonry tradition. On most New Deal bridge projects in Minnesota, stonework was used only as a decorative facing. In contrast, the Split Rock Bridge is an authentic, load-bearing stone arch with an impressive 50-foot span. Instead of the Moderne or historic revival styles customarily employed during the period, the bridge has an almost modernist simplicity, which focuses attention on the natural colors and textures of the local Sioux Quartzite, skillfully laid in a captivating random-ashlar pattern.