Photo: Neillsville, Wis. Broken Bridge
Contact: Steve

Surnames: Gress, Gullickson, Luethe, Meihack, Verkuilen

----Sources: Republican & Press August 6, 1920; Photo #1 contributed by Virginia Elmhorst; Photos #3 & 4 contributed by Steve Roberts

Great Disaster! Black River Bridge Falls, John Verkuilen Jr. Killed


#1 Contributed by Virginia Elmhorst

Monday morning this community was startled by the announcement that the iron bridge across Black River at he north end of Grand Avenue had fallen and that John Verkuilen Jr., one of the truck drivers on the county road work was killed. The doctor of the city were summoned to the scene and hundreds of people gathered to view the wreck.

The young man who was killed was driving north with an empty truck, one of the state trucks which weighs about five tons; on the bridge he met John Gullickson driving a similar truck loaded, coming from the shale pits. Mr. Verkuilen wished to make some inquiry of Gullickson and the trucks were stopped for a few moments, Gullickson moving on; but the engine of the other truck having died, the young man got out to crank it. Just then Bill Meihack drove on the bridge from the south with a Chevrolet auto, met meeting Gullickson near the south end of the bridge and was close up to Verkuilen’s truck when the bridge went down. It apparently swayed over to the west and went straight down, the upper iron structure falling in a tangled mess in the middle of the bridge floor. A part of this iron work struck John Verkuilen crushing his life out almost immediately. Another portion fell across the engine of Meihack’s auto but did not injure him. John Gullickson’s truck had reached the south end of the bridge, in fact the front wheels May have been off the plank, but as the bridge fell the end section rested on the butment on a slant and the truck stood on the slope, the load sliding out the back end. Mr. Gullickson jumped out into the river and was not injured. After considerable labor the body of young Verkuilen was released, carried up the river bank and taken to Lowe’s undertaking parlors.

Deceased is the son of Mr. & Mrs. John Verkuilen of the town of Worden. The father is well known here, being Chairman of the County Board for many years, He comes here on County business the first of each month, and by strange co-incidence arrived here just about the time of the disaster. The young man has worked on the County road system since spring driving a truck, going home for two weeks to help in haying and had recently returned to his work here. He was 19 years old and a splendid young greatly admired by all who knew him. The remains were taken Tuesday and the funeral held Thursday at the Catholic church in Thorp.


#2 Contributed by Steve Roberts

It is impossible to say at present why the bridge fell. It was built about 15 years ago of structural steel. A new plank floor was laid upon it this spring and no defects in the bridge were reported. The stone butment on the south is badly broken, but whether it first crumbled and let the bridge give way, or whether the fall of the bridge shattered the stone work, it is impossible to say. When this bridge was built, no automobile nor truck traffic was thought of, and it has been subjected to great strain and vibration never anticipated when it was built. This place has been the scene of death before. Just before this bridge was built,  Berthold E. Luethe and Anthony Gress (corrected from Wm.) were drowned there while attempting to cross the river in boats, and others had a narrow escape.

Nothing definite has yet been determined on rebuilding the bridge. It was built and kept up jointly by the City of Neillsville and the town of Pine Valley. The difficultly of getting material makes it probable that it will be some time before a new bridge can be built. Removing the wreck from the river is in itself a great task (see article below). It seems likely nothing of value can be recovered.


#3 Contributed by Steve Roberts

***Notes from Steve Roberts, Clark Co., Wisconsin Historian


Photo: Schuster Park Pavilion (1927)

The deaths of B. E. Luethe and Anthony Gress mentioned in this article were caused by the use of a boat and rope system to cross the river when the previous bridge at this location also collapsed.

In 1927 a pavilion was constructed in Schuster Park using some of the steel from the bridge in this article of 1920. See picture below and compare to bridge collapsed that I sent previously. This pavilion is still in use today.



Butment (noun): a buttress of an arch; the supporter, or that part which joins it to the upright pier.  The mass of stone or solid work at the end of a bridge, by which the extreme arches are sustained, or by which the end of a bridge without arches is supported. Webster's Dictionary



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