The Bever Park limestone bridge is shown in 2017 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Visitors to Bever Park in southeast Cedar Rapids this season may notice a void where a stone bridge stood as a landmark for more than a century.

The beloved bridge, one of the few remaining historical pieces from the early days of the park, was removed by city crews in March, with stones in good condition saved to repurpose in Bever Park, according to Parks Department staff.

Read more: City targets stone bridge for removal

While city staff had said the stone bridge was sturdy, there were holes in the decking that needed repair, with the cost for that work estimated at $150,000. That funding, staff said, was not in the city’s budget when the issue arose in 2017.

The bridge was fenced off from pedestrian use – it originally had been used for carriages and automobiles before being limited to pedestrians – and following public outcry, city leaders changed course, offering to pay 25 percent of the cost of repairs, with the remainder left up to private donations.

This photo from The History Center, taken by photographer William Baylis, shows the Bever Park Bridge in its early days. While the date of construction is unknown, the photo was taken in 1909, making the bridge at least 115 years old when it was removed in 2024.

A subcommittee of the Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation Commission began fundraising, but only came up with $2,500, far short of the funding said to be needed.

Assistant Director Adam Lindenlaub of the city’s community development department, noted that money raised went to Friends of Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation, a nonprofit acting as the fiduciary agent for the fundraising efforts.

The Friends group is not affiliated with Save Cedar Rapids Heritage nor with Friends of Historic Preservation in Iowa City, and their Facebook page has been inactive for more than two years. Their website does not indicate how the money from the bridge fundraiser was used.

Lindenlaub noted that the then-chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, who was also a member of the Friends group, last gave a report on the bridge in early 2020, at the same time as the group notified donors of the end of their fundraising efforts.

The bridge had remained in the park since that time, with no further updates given to the Historic Preservation Commission, most of whom were not on the city commission in 2020.

Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter has said the bridge was made of natural limestone at a time when the city was promoting a “back to nature” philosophy.

Signs at Bever Park detail the Cedar Rapids park’s long history. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

The park was established in 1893, after the death of prominent Cedar Rapids businessman Sampson Bever, whose family owned the wooded land. The Bever Park Zoo, which would become home to lions, bears, alligators, monkeys and other animals, opened in 1901, and trolley service to the park, then two miles outside of the Cedar Rapids city limits, began in 1904.

Stoffer Hunter noted that stacked stones, once part of the Bever Park Zoo’s animal display cages, are now the site of the Bever Park History Exhibit. Little else, however, remains from that era.

Old MacDonald’s Farm opened in 1957 and the Schuknecht Memorial Waterfowl Exhibit was dedicated in 1992.

Read more: Stone wall at Oak Hill Cemetery removed in Cedar Rapids

The Schuknecht Memorial Waterfowl Exhibit is shown in Bever Park in May 2024, in Cedar Rapids. One of the park’s more modern features, it was dedicated in 1992. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

A post on the city’s website in 2017 said the bridge would not be removed, noting “Bever Park is a critical piece of our City’s history, and it is wonderful to see our citizens cherish that history.”

The bridge served as the backdrop for graduation and wedding photos, scouting events, picnics and more.

Parks Department staff said there are currently no plans for the space left by the removal of the bridge.

Bever Park will be the site of the city’s farmers markets, beginning in June. Read more: Farmers markets make a move

A sign warns Bever Park visitors to stay off the stone bridge in September 2017. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Space where the stone bridge once stood is shown in Bever Park in May 2024. (photo/Cindy Hadish)