Establishment of Sutliff Bridge Authority

In 1981, the State Historical Preservation Office of Iowa was notified that the bridge would be eligible for inclusion in the National Register. In 1983, the Cilek Bridge was built and replaced the "old Sutliff Bridge” for all vehicular traffic. A movement began to save the 85-year-old landmark from demolition as the Sutliff residents rallied around their beloved bridge. In 1984 a non-profit organization—the Sutliff Bridge Authority (SBA)—was formed.

The SBA’s mission was to preserve the Bridge for non-vehicular traffic and create a park-like setting for the residents to enjoy, while educating people about its history. The SBA signed a 50-year lease agreement with the County for $1. As lessee, the SBA would be responsible for the Bridge’s maintenance to preserve it as a historic site.

During the next nearly 25 years, the old bridge was used as a pedestrian bridge. It provided visitors a unique observation point to view the fast-flowing Cedar River. With picnic tables fitted on the bridge deck, a person could rest and reflect. The old bridge retained an exceptionally high degree of both historical and structural integrity and was an outstanding example of an uncommon early wagon truss design. It became one of the longest surviving triple-span Parker Truss Bridges in the state.

Fundraising

After saving the bridge from demolition, the SBA began actively fundraising for the maintenance, preservation, and upkeep of the bridge. Events included an annual Labor Day parade and street dance, a 5k road race that was known as “America’s Worst Race” according to Runner’s World magazine, the winter Golf Classic (avid or not, golfers unload their clubs into the snow for fun and games along the icy riverbank)—all held here in Sutliff—as well as a spring dance in Solon and the sale of t-shirts and other memorabilia. Twice a year, or as needed, the SBA would replace planks on the bridge, repair the metal railings or perform other upkeep needed to maintain safety. For nearly 25 years, the SBA continued in this fashion to preserve the mighty structure.

Today, the SBA continues multiple fundraising events throughout the year and makes frequent donations to the Community Foundation of Johnson County, which currently has two funds established for the Sutliff Bridge—an Endowment Fund and a Charitable Giving Fund. Both funds have the purpose of setting aside funds to provide to the County for future maintenance on the bridge or to make improvements to the location as a public destination. The Endowment Fund utilizes the Endow Iowa tax credit adopted in 2003 by Iowa Legislature. The bill allows individuals to apply for a 25 percent state tax credit in addition to a normal tax deduction when they contribute funds.

On September 11, 1999, the County placed the 102-year-old structure on the National Register of Historic Places with a dedication ceremony. Ray Brannaman was quoted as saying “Our hope is that it’s never torn down.”