ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


The Milwaukee Street Bridge


1889-1930: Iron Bridge

1930-2005: Concrete Arch Bridge - A Luten-designed bridge



11 16       A New Bridge – Below we give, in full, a petition asking the Common Council of this city to make provisions for the construction of a new bridge over Rock River, at a point near where the Milwaukee and Watertown Railroad will cross that stream.  Without at all pretending to any familiarity with the public wants of this community, but so far as business facilities of this kind are concerned, we will take the liberty to remark, that this seems to us to be a request that well deserves the candid and impartial consideration of our city government.  That there is a growing and increasing demand for such a structure at the proposed place, appears to be certain. 


When the Railroad shall be completed and in full operation – and especially if there is to be a station on each side of the river, as we understand is now in contemplation – there will be yet more urgent reasons for a bridge somewhere in that immediate vicinity.  The thousands who will throng around the ware houses that are now being put up there, should not be compelled to go and come a third of a mile each way merely for the purpose of passing from one side of the river to the other.  Every convenience within the power of the city authorities should be extended to those who come here to sell or store the products of the soil or shop, to be exchanged for merchandize or sent abroad for money.  If anything that has a tendency to improve or build up one part of our city, will also, as a necessary consequence, have a more or less directly beneficial tendency to help every other portion


To the Honorable Council of the City of Watertown:


The undersigned, residents and taxpayers of said city, would respectfully represent to your honorable body, that a new bridge across Rock River, on Western Avenue, in said city, is necessary for the convenience of the inhabitants of said city, for the following reasons:


1st:  That in a short time, the present and only bridge across Rock river will be useless by reason of decay, and will be removed to make place for one more suitable for the grade of Main Street, and for the convenience of the public; and if so removed before another is built across said river, it would be a great and serious inconvenience to the business portion of the said city.

2nd:  That a great proportion of the business of said city is done in the southern part of said city; and the probability is that the greater part of the business of said city will be done in the southern part thereof.

3rd:  That the business of all the city requires that there should be a free inter-communication between every part thereof, by the necessary streets, bridges, etc.

4th:  That such a bridge across the widest and pleasantest street in the city, would equally benefit every portion of its inhabitants, and the public generally

5th:  That it is customary in all regulated towns to make such great public improvements at the expense of and by tax upon all persons to be benefitted by the same . . . WD



   Watertown Gazette, 07 27 1888.


Board of Street Commissioners:

Resolved, That a bridge be built across Rock River connecting Milwaukee Street on the east side and Spring Street on the west side of said Rock River, and that the Committee on Streets and Bridges be and is hereby instructed to procure plans and specifications for an iron bridge as well as for an arched stone bridge.



Based in part on article contributed by Ben Feld

     Edited and annotated by Ken Riedl


It is safe to say that throughout the first one hundred years of Watertown’s existence, things did not often happen quickly and many things did not turn out as envisioned by the city officials. 


That was certainly true about the bridges of Watertown.  At least two were talked about frequently and discussed in council meetings, but nothing was ever done about them.  One, the proposed bridge from the south end of Washington Street across the river to Waldrow Street, was seen as creating a better and more direct communication between the city and the road leading to Jefferson.  All preliminary steps to the construction of such a bridge were taken but the city was powerless to overcome the objection by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway company to a crossing over their tracks at the intersection of the proposed  thoroughfare and the railroad.  All efforts to reach an agreement with the railroad had failed.


As early as 1848 a bridge from the south (western) end of Western Avenue across the river to a yet-to-be-built street, seemed a certainty.  In fact, in January 1849 the city council announced a 230-foot bridge would soon be constructed at that location.  With two tracks and boarded sides, erected at a cost of $600 it would extend Western Avenue all the way from “the Milwaukee road about one mile east of this village,” across the river to a point 18 rods west of the river where it would intersect with the road leading to Aztalan, a road which was to be opened the summer of 1849.


It was envisioned that, with the building of the bridge, Western Avenue would attract retail establishments and that a beautiful, wide thoroughfare would become the commercial street for the city.  But that was not to be.  The street was soon recognized as an ideal residential area, land speculators entered the picture and soon the lots became too high-priced for retail shops and, with the exception of one or two corner groceries, it became a residential street with no great need for a bridge to tie them to the farmland west of the river.


With the coming of the railroad in 1855 it became apparent that the Main Street bridge and the Cady Street bridge were neither adequate nor properly located to handle the traffic from west of the river to the depot.  What was needed was a by-pass, as it were.  But it took 33 years for any action to be taken.


In July, 1888, the city council resolved to build another bridge, this one connecting Milwaukee Street on the east side with Spring Street on the west side (name of street before West Spring Street being renamed West Milwaukee) and the committee on streets and bridges was instructed to procure plans and specifications for an iron bridge as well as for an arched stone bridge.




Acting on the recommendations of that committee, the city council, a few months later, opted for an “iron bridge” and requested the contractors begin construction as soon as possible.  When no material had arrived by mid-January, 1889, alderman Racek paid the Milwaukee company a visit and learned they had been unable to procure the necessary iron from Pittsburgh but they would have it by January 25.  It finally did arrive the second week in February and the building of the long anticipated bridge began.  On April 6 the bridge was finished, tested and accepted by the city, the Watertown Gazette declaring it “a fine piece of work, the best bridge in the city, and the least expensive, size and style considered.”


The new bridge proved a boon for the townspeople and farmers from west of the river.  No longer was it necessary for heavily loaded wagons to travel through the business section of town, with its notoriously muddy streets, on their way to the elevators, which were now much more accessible.  The disappointment of not having the use of a bridge at the foot of Western Avenue was alleviated.  The Jefferson County board of supervisors showed their appreciation for the convenience seven months after the bridge was opened to traffic by appropriating $300 for the purpose of improving the approaches to the new bridge.



Watertown had existed nearly half a century as a city before this new iron bridge became a reality; would the bridge give them trouble-free service for the next half-century?  Hardly!  Even with our sophisticated engineering and construction today, pavements and bridges do deteriorate.  Within seven years the planking on this bridge had deteriorated alarmingly, as a farmer named Zimmer learned one Sunday in August, 1896, when his horse stepped through a rotting plank and only with great difficulty was it extricated without serious injury.  It was revealed then that it had been common knowledge for some time that the bridge had been in poor condition for some time and extensive repairs were needed.  Similar repairs were made many times during the next 35 years.



04 27       Boys fishing from Milwaukee street bridge have been the cause of several runaways this spring, as well as making the bridge very disagreeable for pedestrians to pass.  The walk is also sometimes beastly dirty with fish scales, blood and bait.  Fishing from the bridges should be prohibited especially when it becomes a public nuisance.  This might be a matter for the police to look after a little.   WG






   Looking north from bridge, c.1909 


   Looking south, c.1909 




Based on number of vertical supports this is Milwaukee St. Bridge, not N. Second.



           A picture containing text, outdoor

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   The Iron Bridge, 1911



Milwaukee St bridge in distance, Rock River, view south of Milwaukee St Bridge, west bank of river, c1917



Watertown was jolted from its complacency over the permanency of the truss-work of the iron bridge the morning of February 4, 1929 when a truck driver informed the city officials that one of the main beams had dropped from a foot to a foot and a half.  Traffic on the bridge was immediately halted and an inspection was made; an inspection which revealed that rust had put the bridge in an alarmingly poor condition, “in some cases the ironwork was holding only by a small margin”.


Now the city council had its hands full; bids on the new Main Street bridge were in the process of being considered; a new high school building was being proposed; the office of an assistant in the city street department was being vacated and a new one needed to be employed; a new ordinance fixing the salaries of certain city officials was being enacted; and now it was necessary to consider the repair or replacement of the Milwaukee Street bridge.  Everything nailed down was coming loose!  But first things first.


The city council lost no time in securing the Otto Biefeld Company to make temporary repairs and in just two days, on February 7, 1929, the bridge was again open to traffic.


During the next fifteen months the council argued the pros and cons of repairing the bridge versus replacing it.  In June, 1930, they decided to replace the floor of the bridge at a cost of $1200 knowing this was only a stop-gap move and anticipating the complete replacement of the bridge in a very few years, which a subsequent report from the state engineers deemed necessary.  That report included the good news that the present stone foundations were good and could be used for a new bridge.  It also suggested that two plate girder spans to fit the present foundations could be designed and that these would make a suitable and durable bridge and would result in a great saving of money to the city instead of building an entirely new substructure and superstructure.  The report also reiterated what had been pointed out to the council when temporary repairs were discussed, that it would be necessary to post signs as to maximum speed of traffic loads passing over it and that for heavy traffic it would be unsafe   The necessity of such action became evident when the old floor was torn up and the deplorable condition of the substructure became clear.  Most of the aldermen, and Mayor Lutovsky, who at that time was being attacked from all sides for mismanagement of his office, agreed that in light of repair work being “wasted economy”, a new bridge made more monetary sense.



Watertown city officials declared the existing Milwaukee Street Bridge unsafe in 1929 and began considering plans for erecting a steel girder or concrete bridge.  Daniel B. Luten, a prominent bridge designer in Indianapolis, submitted a plan for an open arch concrete span.  The Common Council accepted Luten's design and let the construction contract to the Eau Claire Engineering Company.  The firm completed the three-span bridge in November 1930.  The bridge is significant for its aesthetic lines and for its affiliation with the Indianapolis designer.



It was a foregone conclusion that, at the council meeting of July 1, 1930, plans for a new bridge would be formally lost when a resolution authorizing the board of public works to proceed with the preparation of plans and specifications for a new span would be voted on.  The results were as anticipated.  Then came the task of selecting an engineer to prepare these preliminary plans and specifications.  The selection of E. B. Parson, 419 North Washington Street seemed to please all. 


The depressing news that the cost of the span was estimated to be $35,000 (this being less than 9 months before Black Tuesday,  the day when the stock market crashed setting off the Great Depression which lasted for a decade) was somewhat tempered by the statement of “one well known contractor” that this was the ideal time for bridges and other municipal projects to be built, because contractors on the whole were not busy;  “…labor can be had  freely and costs as a result will be reduced in such instances.”  He declared that when bids for $35,000 projects are received, the actual cost would be nearly 15 per cent less.


Not unexpectedly, preparations for replacing the condemned bridge did not proceed smoothly.  Whereas it was generally supposed that a concrete structure would be in order, several members of the council favored another iron bridge and their proposal to secure figures on such a structure delayed progress another six weeks.  After hearing nothing from the iron bridge company, Worden-Allen of Milwaukee, for nearly six weeks, Mayor Lutovsky finally gave them just three days to submit estimates for an iron span as, he claimed, “not much more time can be wasted if the work is to be completed this winter.”


The three-day time limit given by the mayor the last week of July was not observed by Worden-Allen.  The deadline was extended to August 19, at which time the mayor called a special meeting of the council (notice being served that afternoon to all aldermen via the police department).  Should the requested figures not be available by meeting time, the mayor announced, a concrete structure would be selected by default as time was of the essence, especially when it was acknowledged that after the decision was made it would take another three weeks before bids could be accepted for consideration.


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Description automatically generatedThree sets of plans and specifications were approved at that meeting; those from E. Parsons of Watertown, those from Worden-Allen, and an unsolicited set of plans from Daniel B. Luten of Indianapolis for a concrete open arch bridge, a concept with which the city council was not very familiar.  All three plans were accepted and the preliminary work relating to the official call for bids was put into action.  It was expected it would be at least six weeks before the board of public works would be in a position to report on the figures submitted by bidders. 


The unsolicited plans from designer Luten came with the assurance that the city was not to be charged “one cent” for the plans , not now or in the event he were to succeed in getting the contract for the construction of his proposed bridge.  In the event of some other construction firm were to bet the contract on the Luten plans, that contractor would be permitted to use the full set of plans and specifications and all other copyrighted data relating to it paying for the use of such designs.  The Watertown Daily Times of August 20, 1930, stated that “in the event the successful bidder bids $35,000 for the bridge that is all it will cost the city, there being no extra charge to the city for the Luten plans”.  Luten’s representative assured the city council that the plan has been carried out successfully in other cities and had worked out very satisfactorily.  The council was much impressed with the 46-page booklet, containing views of bridges designed by Mr. Luten and giving information concerning them, which was shown to the council.


It was the general agreement that work on the new bridge could not possibly begin before the middle of September and it would take from three and a half to four months to construct the new span.  It was estimated that the costs of the three sets of plans and specifications for the bridge would cost $1500 or less depending on the amount to be paid E. Parsons, whose contract called for a payment of three per cent of the total bridge cost but limited to no more than $900.


In the midst of consideration of the fee to be paid for plans and specifications for the Milwaukee Street bridge, the $400 fee paid for similar work on the North Fourth Street bridge was brought into question.  It was hinted that some chicanery was involved some years ago when the city engineer had invited the former engineer for the state highway commission to conduct a survey of the city’s bridges and found, to everyone’s surprise, that the North Fourth Street bridge had to be replaced at once.


The bids from 14 contractors were opened in the council room crowded with spectators and contractors the night of September 4, 1930.  Twenty-six bids had been received on the three types of structures.  The lowest bid filed was for the steel bridge designed by the Worden-Allen company.  It was for $31,000 which was only 11.5%, not 15% less than the predicted $35,000 as estimated by “a well-known contractor” in July.  The bids revealed that 12 contractors were interested in constructing a concrete girder bridge, while 8 favored the concrete arch and only 6 the steel bridge.  Two local contractors entered bids: George C. Lehman submitted only one bid, an even $35,000 on the concrete girder type, while Maas Bros. entered a bid for all three types, theirs being the third lowest bid for the concrete arch, the Luten design, which had met with immense favor among officials. 


When the council meeting convened Friday, September 5, there was no doubt the contract would be awarded to the Eau Claire Construction Company but since they had bid the same amount of $30,800 for both the concrete arch type bridge designed by Mr. Luten, and the concrete girder type designed by E. B. Parsons of Watertown, the concrete girder type, a decision had to be made - would the new Milwaukee Street bridge be concrete arch type or concrete girder type?  By unanimous vote the contract for the concrete arch type bridge was awarded to the Eau Claire contractor using Mr. Luten’s design, the contractor announcing that work would begin on Monday, September 8 with the tearing down of the present structure. 


A foot bridge, they announced, would be built across the river south of the old bridge and at a lower level using the old span to permit pedestrians to pass while the new structure was in the building.  The company was allotting 100 working days for the completion of the work making the target date for opening the bridge to traffic early December.  The railing on the bridge, it was decided, were not to be placed until spring weather arrive, temporary railings to be placed during the winter weather.  The final date for completion, which included the placing of the railings, was set as April 15, 1931.  The bridge selected by the council had a weight capacity of 20 tons.  Not surprisingly for those familiar with the depression of the 30’s, although quite a number of local men were to be employed on the job, the number of applications for work far exceeded the need for employees.  As the work progressed, more local laborers were to be employed.


A few days after the commencement of the work, the Watertown Daily Times, in an uncharacteristically jovial tone carried this item:


The Milwaukee Street Bridge is being torn down and now the wreckers have gone to it with vim and vigor the old structure seems to have been in a more deplorable condition the most pessimistic reports indicated.  The other night the question arose in the council about what is to be done with the old bridge and that is to be left to the contractor.  Just so long as they don’t haul it to the Seventh ward dump everything will be O. K. They have been hauling everything else there from wrecked automobiles to dead horses, so a bridge wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for that monstrosity.    WDT  Sept. 9,  1930


Construction proceeded at a steady and rapid pace during September and the first week in October when rain caused a short cessation of works.  The concrete slab was poured the third week in October and after three weeks of setting the bridge was ready for traffic.  As had been agreed upon previously, the erection of the side rails was still being postponed until the arrival of warm weather in the spring.  Lee E. Williams, bridge expert for the Luten engineering enterprise, which provided the plans, and specifications for the structure had been on the scene from time to time watching the progress of the work.  Unofficially he had inspected the Main Street bridge and had come up with a plan for a new bridge there.


The last of the concrete was poured October 18, which, allowing for sufficient time for the concrete to set, was expected to make it possible to have the bridge ready for use on Thanksgiving Day.  Unusually favorable weather permitted a change in plans and it was decided to install the permanent railing, the casting of which was to begin by October 22.


Tuesday night, November 18, 1930, a thirty-minute dedicatory exercise at which the Watertown high school band, directed by Gale Rockwell, performed, was attended by nearly 1,500 people.  The program had to be brief due to the act that the dedication was to be followed by a regular meeting of the city council which was present in a body at the ceremonies.  Mayor Lutovsky, one of the speakers, lauded the engineers and the construction company as well as the workers on the job for their good work and asserted that the bridge was not only a necessity but also a fine investment and a great improvement for the community.  Other speakers included Lee E. Williams, representing the Lusten engineering enterprises, Indianapolis, Ind., H. C. Kuhl of the Eau Claire Engineering Co., builders of the bridge, and Ben King, city engineer.  The ribbons which closed the bridge were cut by the mayor and then the speakers and representatives of the engineering and construction companies drove across the new span to mark its official opening.  Scores of automobiles joined in the procession and the new bridge, which cost $30,800, began serving vehicle traffic a few minutes later.


At the meeting of the city council that night $6,300 of the remaining amount due the contractor, was paid, the balance of $500 being held for 30 days in accordance with the usual custom.


Allegations of mismanagement on the part of the mayor surfaced at that meeting, as they had at many previous meetings.  Alderman Carey asserted that representatives of 132 railroad men who lived in the city had told him that the railroads had been slighted and that trucks had been used to bring the material into the city instead of the trains.  The mayor replied that he had the word of the men in charge of the bridge construction that all material for the bridge had been brought in by railroad with the exception of the cement.  He added that the material brought in by train was said to have constituted a major portion and included lumber, steel and other materials used in the bridge.  No further mention is made of these allegations in subsequent issues of the Watertown Daily Times.


It is interesting to note that the first Milwaukee Street bridge served the city for 41 years; the present bridge has, at this writing (2005) served for a little over 75 years but, admittedly is beginning to show her age.


Maybe it is time to rethink the all-too-common indictment, “They don’t build them (bridges) like they used to.”


Maybe they build them better.




P. A. Glaser, A. H. Stallman, R. W. Lueck, F. H. Lehmann, Ben King.



Pictorial record, c1940, Library of Congress:  [ 1 ]    [ 2 ]     [ 3 ]



05 19       The Milwaukee Street bridge will be closed to vehicular traffic for about 90 days this summer during rehabilitation work.  The starting date has been tentatively set for May 31.  Plans call for a concrete overlay on the bridge deck and sidewalks, new steel rails on the west approach and new blacktop approaches.  Underside structural members, retaining walls and the west abutment will be repaired.   WDT




Residents got the chance to get a firsthand look at the designs for the new Milwaukee Street bridge over the Rock River Thursday at a public informational meeting held by representatives from the firms involved with the reconstruction project.  The new Milwaukee Street bridge will be an open arch structure with a Texas concrete rail.  According to MSA Professional Services Project Engineer Kevin Ruhland, two other design options were being considered but the firm decided to go with the open arch structure with the Texas rail because it best resembled the current platform.  Because the Milwaukee Street bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the designs for the new bridge had to be aesthetically similar to the existing structure, said Emily Pettis, architectural historian for Mead and Hunt Inc. of Madison.   WDT




The reconstruction of the Milwaukee Street bridge has been delayed until next year, partly because of various environmental and utility problems with the plans, according to city Engineer Joe Radocay.  One of the main problems deals with the state Department of Natural Resources’ specification on how the bridge should be demolished and removed, and Radocay said design engineers are currently looking at modifying those plans.  Radocay also said the DNR brought up concerns about the gas main in the river near the bridge and two nearby electric utility poles and that the city is working to fix those problems.


11 07       BRIDGE CLOSURE

The Milwaukee Street bridge over the Rock River will be closed to traffic starting in December, according to city Engineer Joe Radocay.  The 77-year-old structure will be demolished starting on Dec. 3 and will not reopen until Sept. 15, 2008.  When the work begins a detour route will be posted and motorists will be asked to follow South Church Street to Main Street and then to College Avenue, Radocay said.  Zenith Tech Inc. of Waukesha has been awarded the bridge contract and crews have already started the utility work and clearing the area.  Stephen Graetz of Community Engineering and Building Services of Milwaukee is the project engineer and MSA Professional Services of Madison designed the new bridge.



The old Milwaukee Street bridge was a three-span, open spandrel, reinforced concrete, continuous-rib-arch bridge that had a structure length of 240 feet.  It was constructed in 1930 by Eau Claire Engineering and designed by Daniel B. Luten.



Image of construction, part of slide show.



The new Milwaukee Street bridge over the Rock River reopened to traffic at about 2 p.m. today.  The roadway has been closed since December 2007 when the old bridge was demolished.  In 2006 the Milwaukee Street bridge averaged about 7,200 vehicles per day and it was expected that number would be the same when it reopens.


The new Milwaukee Street bridge is an open arch structure with a Texas concrete rail.  Because the Milwaukee Street bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the designs for the new bridge had to be aesthetically similar to the old structure.


The old Milwaukee Street bridge was a three-span, open spandrel, reinforced concrete, continuous-rib-arch bridge that had a structure length of 240 feet.  It was constructed in 1930 by Eau Claire Engineering and designed by Daniel B. Luten.


The new bridge has been expanded to three travel lanes, with two moving east and one going west.  The two eastbound lanes are about 25 feet wide and the westbound lane is approximately 15 feet wide.  With the sidewalks and the area for bicycles, the entire bridge is almost 60 feet wide.  The overall width of the old bridge was 42 feet, which included a 30-foot-wide roadway.  The designs also called for the river walk on the east side of the river to be extended south under the bridge.  The stairs to access the river walk from Milwaukee Street have been replaced with a ramp.  Along with the replacement of the bridge, the project also included the reconstruction of the Milwaukee Street intersections with South First and South Water streets.


A southbound right-turn lane has been added to South Water Street, as well as a second eastbound through lane where it intersects with Milwaukee Street.  The intersection has also been extended to the south to help smoothen out the three lanes of traffic on the bridge.  The concrete islands at the intersection of Milwaukee and South First streets have been removed and the intersection has also been widened. 


The entire project has a cost of $3.1 million and the city will be responsible for covering 20 percent of the total, which is $620,000.  The remaining amount will be covered by state and federal funding.


City officials and those involved with the project will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony on the morning of Nov. 15 to officially celebrate the reopening of the bridge.







Council Proceedings:  Update on Dip Netting Permit & Resolution. A tour and viewing of the Milwaukee Street Bridge took place. Following this, consensus was to have some sort of barrier or separation type of material to be in place between any rig apparatus and the bridge railing, so no direct contact between metal from the rig and the bridge railing would occur.  Second, revised permit rules and guidelines would be adopted and would requiring all of those persons engaging in dip netting to sign.  Thirdly, the only bridge designated for dip netting would be the Milwaukee Street Bridge.  Fourth, these guidelines would need to be updated into the permit rules and guidelines. Fifth, there needs to be an inspection at the end of March of 2015 as to the condition of the sidewalk and concrete railing and another by the middle of July, for purposes of a second assessment of this bridge and its physical condition.  Lastly, a motion was made and seconded to have Alderperson Berg work with the City Attorney on drafting a resolution or other course of action to allow the continuation of dip netting for 2015 with the conditions as set forth. In the meantime, ordinance 13-30, which allows dip netting, will continue.   WDT




The Watertown Common Council voted 5-4 to prohibit dip netting on the Milwaukee Street bridge.  After further consideration by the public safety committee and the park and recreation committee, it was determined that issues resulting from dip netting, primarily damage to the bridge, could not be resolved with any further regulations or accommodations.








Engineering record, Library of Congress:  [ 1 ]     [ 3 ]      [ 4 ]     [ 5 ]     [ 6 ]     [ 7 ]     [ 8 ]


Watertown Daily Times, 2005 article


Daniel B. Luten of Indianapolis, Indiana, began patenting reinforced concrete bridge designs in 1899, and his national network of companies, established after 1905, was important to the popularization of reinforced concrete bridges throughout the United States. The Luten Bridge Company of York was founded about 1909 by John and Alexander Whittaker who worked under a licensing agreement with Luten. The company sought bridge building contracts around the world.  Luten was one of the nation's most important civil engineers.  A former Purdue engineering professor, he held more patents than anyone else for the use of reinforced concrete. By 1920, his Indianapolis firm had designed or built more than 17,000 bridges worldwide.  Luten was part of a new generation of professionals, applying invention in terms of concrete design to make it efficient and economical.



design same/similar to North Second St. and Milwaukee St. bridges



Dornfeld-Kunert also constructed the former iron and steel bridge over Rock River on Oconomowoc Ave.






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History of Watertown, Wisconsin