Custer Park Trail Bridge

Pratt Through Truss Bridge over Kankakee River
Custer Park, Will County, IL

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Name Custer Park Trail Bridge
Built By Wabash Railroad
Contractor Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company of Milwaukee, Wis
Currently Owned By Will County
Length 600 Feet Total, 147 Foot Spans
Width 1 Track
Height Above Ground 25 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Pratt Through Truss and Through Girder
Substructure Type Stone Masonry and Concrete
Date Built 1903, Repaired 1971
Traffic Count 0 Trains/Day (Bridge is a Trail)
Current Status Rails to Trails
Wabash Bridge Number 1145
Significance Moderate Significance
Documentation Date June 2015
In 1879, the Chicago & Strawn Railroad began construction of a line from Bement, Illinois to Chicago. The south end at Bement connected to an existing Wabash Railroad mainline, which connected Toledo to Hannibal, going through Decatur, Springfield and Champaign.

The railroad became a part of the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railroad. This railroad went bankrupt by 1886, and was aquired by the Wabash Eastern Railway of Illinois.
This railroad became part of the Wabash Railroad, a growing empire through what is now the "Rust Belt" in 1889.

By 1915, the railroad reorganized for the final time into the Wabash Railway, a multi state railroad connecting major industrial towns.

The line was a mainline, and was double tracked in 1903 from Chicago to Western Avenue at Ashburn.
An additional double track was made from Ashburn to Orland Park in 1913.

The railroad used the Chicago & Western Indiana, in which it owned 1/5 to reach Chicago from Ashburn.

The railroad saw a solid freight base, and served such cities as New Lenox, Manhattan and Fairbury.

In 1964, the Wabash was brought into the Norfolk & Western Railway system, along with the Nickel Plate and the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway.
This merger was one of the most complex of the merger era, but provided more direct routes to Chicago and the Mississippi River.

By 1982, the N&W met its fate, merging with the Southern Railway to form the Norfolk Southern Railway. The N&W continues to exist on paper.

In 1991, the Norfolk Southern discontinued operations of the line north of Bement. A portion from Chicago to Manhattan was purchased by Metra, and is used as their Southwest Service.
In addition, a portion from Manhattan to Custer Park, at the Kankakee River became part of the Wauponsee Glacial Trail.

The remainder has been completely abandoned. Today, the portion from Manhattan to Chicago is a significant part of the Metra System, which has maintained it to prime conditions.

Located near the town of Custer Park, this large truss bridge carries the Wauponsee Glacial Trail across the Kankakee River.
Built in 1902-03, the bridge originally featured four spans of pin connected 6-panel Pratt Through Truss, set onto stone substructures. These trusses replaced similar spans built in 1879. It is confirmed that two spans of the old bridge were moved to Pontiac, IL and survived into the 1980s before being demolished.
In addition, the bridge features a large sheet metal portal bracing, with a 1902 cutout. Interestingly, a 1903 plaque also exists on the bridge, indicating this span was probably fabricated around the winter of 1902-03. The members on this bridge are lightly built up with lacing.
The bridge remained largely unchanged until approximately 1970, when a train loaded with Brass for the nearby Joliet Arsenal shifted and struck the northern span of this bridge.
As a result, the span was replaced with a large through girder span. A new concrete pier had to be built as well, due to the collapse of the previous span.
Currently, the bridge serves as a trail. It is a popular location, with a park on the north side.
Overall, the bridge appears to be in very good condition. It should safely serve trail users for many years to come.

Historic Photo
Historic advertisement of the bridge

Historic Photo
Blueprints of the bridge, credit James Holzmeier

The author has ranked this bridge as being moderately significant, due to the truss design.
The photo above is an overview.

The Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Co Advertisement is courtesy of Internet Archive Book Images from a 1900 annual convention.
The blueprint and newspaper article are courtesy of James Holzmeier, of the Wabash Railroad Historical Society.

Kankakee River Railroad Bridges
Upstream Wilmington Rail Bridge
Downstream NS Kankakee River Bridge (Kankakee)


Source Type


Build Date Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company plaque
Contractor Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company plaque
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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