A Tribute to the Black Hawk Bridge

Iconic in Lansing’s history ... Third-generation newspaper owner John Dunlevy stands atop Mt. Hosmer in Lansing with another Lansing area icon, the Black Hawk Bridge, in the background. Martha Dunlevy Peters, the daughter of the late Lansing-area newspaper man, penned the surrounding tribute to the bridge utilizing many thoughts that her father shared with her prior to his passing in December of 2021. Submitted photo.

by Martha Dunlevy Peters

For almost a century, the Black Hawk Bridge has stood the test of time. This unique cantilever through truss structure and its footings cradled deep within the muddy Mississippi riverbed connects Lansing, Iowa to Crawford County, Wisconsin. The bridge is important to Lansing’s past and continues to be a critical gateway to present and future progress.

It was also significant to my late father, John Dunlevy. He appreciated the majesty and direction of the bridge. He never missed a photo opportunity to capture the perfect picture for the front page of the Allamakee Journal. In one of his last conversations with me, he shared many of the thoughts that are weaved into this article. His words are a fitting tribute.

This bridge, Lansing’s icon, will soon be replaced. The reasons for replacement cannot be denied. Aging is an inevitable process and maintaining safety is a fundamental responsibility. Nonetheless, replacing this historical landmark remains bittersweet for many. Yes, Lansing’s identity is tied to the almost 17,000 feet of steel spanning the main channel. No one understands and feels this connection better than the citizens of this charming river town. Even those who have moved away feel a sense of attachment.

Pictures of the bridge will become treasured keepsakes. Future trips to be carried across this structure are dwindling with the completion of its successor on the imminent horizon. Many will come and see the bridge one last time before it is dismantled in the channel. The steady vibrations from tires meeting the steel grid will disappear as the new deck design will be solid concrete.

Regardless, the sights, sounds and nostalgia will be tucked away as fond memories. The new bridge will ensure that the job of the Black Hawk Bridge is carried on in a community that thrives on maintaining connections. It will always be a part of Lansing’s rich history.

The Black Hawk Bridge has carried many people and connected them to places and things. No matter your direction, this bridge either welcomed you into Lansing or bid you farewell. Indeed, it has supported many travelers along the way over the years. The echoes and familiar hum of the bridge as vehicles crossed over became symbolic of something greater than steel. Locals understood this. In its own unique way, the “Singing Bridge” as it was nicknamed, struck a chord with many.

At dusk, its lights shine brightly, illuminating the sky like the 4th of July as we remember and honor loved ones. The radiant view of the lights as they hover over the water give the community a sense of comfort and celebration, almost in an embracing way.

This bridge is undoubtably one of the most desirable photo props in northeastern Iowa, attributable to its picturesque riverscape. Locals would argue that there is no comparison. Righfully so. It has earned a badge of popularity no matter the reason or season. The stunning view and the sentiment towards this landmark are priceless.

In fact, an English teacher may find examples here in personification: The wise bridge mentored us, teaching many life lessons. The steel grid that carried passengers encouraged us to trust in the journey; the bridge’s shadows, on a sunny day, danced on the water; the bridge was patient, enduring long winters while waiting for the channel to thaw; the bridge stood proud through adversity, staying resilient during periods of flooding; and rainbows appearing over the bridge after storms gifted us with the promise of hope.

Mark Twain would have had a field day writing about the Black Hawk Bridge. He would have immortalized it, like so many from Lansing do. After all, it is the Lansing Bridge.