Kate Shelley High Bridge

Just three miles west of Boone is a unique bridge with a fascinating history.

The Kate Shelley High Bridge was the highest double-track railroad bridge in the United States. The bridge was designed by George S. Morison for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway and was constructed from 1899 to 1901. It stands 185 ft above the Des Moines River with a length of 2,685 ft. The bridge was renamed in 1912 to honor Kate Shelley.

The story of Kate Shelly is one of bravery and heroism. Kate was a teenager when, in 1881, a huge storm knocked out the Honey Creek bridge. One train, carrying four men, plunged into the creek. Kate knew that another train would be coming soon. Through the fierce storm and total blackness of night, she crawled across the Des Moines River bridge to warn the station master.

Her heroism saved many lives that night.

Today the original double track steel bridge is aging and trains were forced to reduce their speeds to 25 mph while crossing it. A new concrete bridge was constructed, beginning in 2006 and completed in 2009. The new bridge is slightly larger than the old bridge. The new bridge spans 2,813 feet long and is 190 feet high. The bridge is designed for two trains to travel across it at the same time traveling 70 mph. The new bridge also carries the Kate Shelley name.

To view the bridges, take Hwy. 30 west past Boone about three miles. Follow the signs that will take you north and slightly back to the east along narrow gravel roads.

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1 comment so far

  1. Jeannelle on

    I remember being in awe of Kate Shelley after learning about her in our Iowa History unit back in 5th or 6th grade. I appreciate your photos, as I’ve never visited the famous bridge.


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