Last updated: July 20, 2021
The Bridges of the NiobraraFifteen bridges span the Niobrara National Scenic River in north-central Nebraska. Of these, five are on the National Register of Historic Places. Two other spans, the Bryan Bridge and the Cowboy Trail Bridge lying just upstream of the western boundary of the scenic river, are also included in this narrative.
Bryan BridgeLocated just upriver of the Niobrara NSR boundary, an elegant arched bridge graces the river. The historic Bryan Bridge was completed in 1932 and named after then-Governor Charles W. Bryan. In the same year it also won the American Institute of Steel Construction Annual Award of Merit as the “most beautiful bridge constructed in 1932 costing less than $250,000.” The bridge was designed by Russian immigrant Josef Sorkin, a graduate of the University of Nebraska’s College of Engineering. It is the only bridge of its kind in Nebraska, with a three-span arched cantilever truss, with a central pin. This design allows the bridge to span most of the river without support. When asked why he choose the style, Sorkin responded, “With its steep banks and beautiful streambed, the Niobrara River lent itself well to a dramatic structural statement, and the Nebraska Highway Department took full advantage of this rare opportunity to flex its engineering muscles.” In 1988 Bryan Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, you may drive over the elegant bridge and stop to read the historical marker found along it.
Cowboy Trail Bridge
Off of Highway 20 on the north side (upriver of the Niobrara NSR boundary)
Dominating the landscape along Highway 20 is the Cowboy Trail Bridge. It is the tallest bridge in Cherry County at 148 feet and spans a quarter mile across the Niobrara River. Originally completed as a railroad bridge in 1910, the Chicago & North Western Railway Company called the route the “Cowboy Line.” When the route was later abandoned in 1992, the State Game and Parks Commission memorialized this route as a multiuse trail. In partnership with Rails-to-Trails, the old railroad bridge was converted into a footpath that gives grand views of the natural scenery and slower moving section of the Niobrara River. To walk on the bridge, park in a lot east of Valentine on Highway 20 and go west for about a quarter mile.
Borman BridgeBorman Bridge marks the western boundary of the National Scenic River. It is located 2.3 miles southeast of Valentine. On February 16, 1916 an ice jam swept away the original bridge. Once the county commissioners ordered a replacement span, the Canton Bridge Company had a new bridge built within a month. It was built using a pin-connected Pratt through truss, which was the bridge of choice for a medium-scale river crossing in Nebraska at the time. Borman Bridge is a one lane, wooden-decked bridge that is still operational. With its old school design, it is history in use. In 1992 Borman Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places. For closer views or to explore the river bank, park in the Borman Bridge State Wildlife Management Area lot immediately south of the bridge.
Cornell BridgeCornell Bridge, was named after a prominent pioneer of Valentine, Charles H. Cornell, who founded First National Bank. He built a dam upstream of the bridge in 1915 that provided electricity for Valentine and also bears his name.
Just upstream of Cornell Bridge is the Fort Niobrara Launch Site, the first launch in the scenic river section.
Buffalo Bridge (Bison Bridge)About two miles downstream of Cornell Bridge is Buffalo Bridge. This bridge is not open to vehicle traffic and is a part of the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge's wilderness section.The bridge is also part of the Wilderness Access Foot Trail connecting the north and south sides of the river. In the spring and fall the staff at Fort Niobrara Refuge use the bridge to move the bison herd back and forth between wilderness pastures on the north bank and grassland prairies on the south side.
Berry Bridge (Berry State Aid Bridge)Berry Bridge is a charming, one-lane, wooden-decked bridge that provides a beautiful view of the river and nearby Berry Falls. Completed in 1921 by the Pioneer Construction Company, the bridge is one of the few surviving bridges built under the State Aid Bridge System. The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992 as “a well-preserved, long-span example of the riveted Pratt through truss.” Berry Bridge is heavily used in the summer. Both the bridge and the nearby falls are named Berry. Likely named after Susan J. Berry, a widowed homesteader who settled nearby in 1883 with eight children. The original Berry Bridge (1899) was one of only four bridges intact after the previously mentioned 1916 ice-jam flood. You can also see the two rusted bases of an older bridge just upstream. That bridge was moved in 1921 to become Brewer Bridge.
Allen Bridge (Bell Bridge)When a river crossing called “Bell” became very popular with the local community, the Cherry County Commissioners decided to have a bridge built there. The pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge was built by the Canton Bridge Company in 1903. Spanning 188 feet, it was the longest single-span bridge on the Niobrara River at the time. It withstood the 1916 ice jam flood and continues to serve the public today, now called Allen Bridge.
Allen Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, “distinguished as one of the handful of pre-1916 trusses remaining intact in the county and one of the oldest intact through trusses in Nebraska.” You can see a series of small waterfalls from the bridge; the tallest is around 20 feet. The road after this bridge is the property of a private outfitter.
Verdigre Bridge (Smith Falls Foot Bridge)The bridge at Smith Falls has moved twice in its lifetime. Verdigre Bridge was built in 1910 on the mouth of Verdigre Creek near the town of Niobrara, NE. The bridge is 160 feet long, has nine panels and is pin- connected. Several years later it was dissembled and, from 1922-1993, used as the Highway 14 bridge near the town of Verdigre. In 1996 it was moved once more, this time nearly 155 miles, to its present location at Smith Falls State Park. After narrowing the bridge to 10 feet, it became a foot bridge that connects the north side of the river, where the park office and campground is located, to the splendor that is Smith Falls. The bridge is a wonderful place to get great views of the river.
Brewer BridgeWhen the 1916 ice jam flood washed away the old Brewer Bridge, it needed to be replaced.
When the County Commissioners received news that “Berry Bridge [located upriver] is to be removed for the reason that the government will not accept it on a federal state aid road,” an answer appeared. The old Berry Bridge, which only sustained minimal damage in the flood, would be moved five miles east to its present location at Brewer Landing in 1921. The bridge was built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, in the familiar pin-connected Pratt through truss style, which seemed to hold up better during the flood.
Now called Brewer Bridge, it is the oldest bridge still in use in Cherry County. However, today there is no public vehicle or foot access. Considering its age, beauty, and usability, it is a prime example of this style of bridge; it joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. The Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District’s Brewer Bridge Landing is a lovely place to sit, eat lunch, and take in a scenic view of the bridge and the river.