Written by Melody Snow

(On behalf of the Benton County Historical Society)

At the end of 13th Street, just beyond where the pavement ends, a one lane, wooden, country bridge holds the key to the secret that lies just around the bend.  Stepping off the little bridge as it crosses onto the east bank of Mud Creek, the gravel takes a turn and there, as you lift your eyes, stands the one and only, rugged and stouthearted . . . Stoney Arch.  Hidden beneath a flurry of overgrown vegetation and plethora of colorful graffiti, it’s remarkable how unchanged the gentle giant has remained, that is at least for the last 120 years.

Before 1898 a trussed bridge stood in its place, an iron structure with a span of 115 feet and stone abutments that alone reached 30 feet tall.  But that bridge, along with the surrounding area, caused many curse words to be heard from freight engineers and crews as they headed into what was known at the time as the “Terror” east of town . . . the “Vinton Hill.”  Freight trains of any reputable size would meet their match on these steep grades, causing their engines to stall. Finally, after several accidents, the Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Northern Railway company made major improvements to the line.    

In 1898 the surrounding hills, including the notorious “Vinton Hill,” were cut down and the gaps raised to reduce the grade of the railway allowing engines to haul more cars with less effort.  The result of this hard work was a double-arched, cut-stone bridge described at the time as “one of the handsomest structures on the entire line, and one of the prettiest in Iowa.” This is the structure that still stands today and I have to admit, something about it intrigues me.  

Over the last century there have been a couple of subtle changes to the Arch, nothing drastic, a thin cement encasement is covering much of the main structure, and graffiti has found its way around its base.  But then, anymore, that graffiti has become just as much the meaning of Stoney Arch as anything else. I’m not sure when or who the first person was that scrolled their signature on the arches of this bridge, but they’ve been there as long as I can recall.  Almost as a rite of passage, a coming-of-age ritual, some have seen to it that their names remain forever a part of the gentle giant. And albeit not what the original structure was meant for, it has in a way become endearing. I still will find myself driving out to Stoney Arch from time to time and looking amongst the graffiti for any names I once knew.  Most have been covered by layers of new autographs, but the hodgepodge of colors never change, and they’re still there along with the memories.

On the next sunny day, venture down to the east end of 13th Street.  Stand in the coolness of the mighty shadow cast by the giant, listen to the Iowa countryside come alive, and watch the shallow waters of Mud Creek meander its way towards the Cedar.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself as mesmerized as I’ve been by the contrast of the strength of this great giant and the gentleness of the area over which it stands watch.

The Benton County Historical Society’s (BCHS) goal is to preserve the past and foster an experience of history that sparks a story in our minds.  Find your story or rekindle your memories with a glimpse into yesteryear, then share it with a child to keep it alive. If you would like more in-depth detail regarding the information in this article, or becoming a member of the Benton County Historical Society please follow us on Facebook, or email bentoncohistorical@gmail.com.

In an effort to keep the public informed, current BCHS projects include a new roof for The Depot, and refurbishing the exterior of the Ray House.  Please consider giving. Also please note:  Any type of vandalism, including graffiti, is considered a criminal misdemeanor.  If caught vandalising, charges will be pressed.

“To know nothing of what happened before you were born, is to forever remain a child.” ~Cicero