Interstate Bridge

Early 1960s

One of the most-requested topics the past few months has been the old Interstate Bridge. And, this post represents a milestone for this blog. So, for the 200th News Tribune Attic post, here is what the archives have to offer about the Interstate Bridge:

Ralph Barton of Superior worked on the old Great Northern bridge (the Interstate Bridge) as a toll collector for 5 1/2 years. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

The Interstate Bridge carried automobile, pedestrian and rail traffic between Duluth and Superior until it was replaced by the Blatnik Bridge in 1961. It had railroad tracks down the middle, with a deck for cars on either side, and the center span pivoted to let ships through. The photo above must have been taken very near completion of the Blatnik or after the Blatnik opened, because the new bridge (visible at right) looks complete.

***Update: A reader noted that it was several years before the new bridge received the "Blatnik" name.

Here is a close-up view of the tolls on the old bridge, which must have been shut down at that point:


The bridge was partially dismantled in 1971 (see photos below), and eventually a stub of it was turned into a public fishing pier. Here is a link to a Web page with much more information about the bridge and some present-day photos. And, copied below is an article from June 13, 1985, that talks about the fishing pier idea and gives some history about the bridge:

By Janet Pinkston

News-Tribune staff writer

The 88-year-old Interstate Bridge, which stands dormant in the shadow of the Blatnik Bridge, may be reborn as a fishing pier and observation deck.

Duluth city officials are studying the costs of transforming the partially dismantled bridge into a two-tiered recreational platform – the lower for fishermen, the upper for picnickers and harbor watchers.

For now, the Interstate Bridge decays silently, essentially forgotten since the days between 1897 and 1961 when it carried trolley and railroad cars – and eventually automobiles and pedestrian traffic – between Duluth and Superior.

The bridge was a primary trestle for the Great Northern Railroad (a forerunner of the Burlington Northern Railroad) until it was replaced by the Blatnik Bridge in 1961. Completed in 1897, the Interstate Bridge weighed 3,230 tons. Its center span, the largest in the world at the time it was built, was 485 feet long.

In 1906, the Interstate was incapicitated when it opened too slowly for the package freighter Troy. The impact caused the bridge to collapse, and for nearly two years ferries carried people across the harbor while repairs were made.

In 1971, the center span of the inactive Interstate was removed, doubling the size of the passageway for ships. In December 1981, Burlington Northern sold the bridge to the Port Authority of Duluth for $1.

"Tentatively, and this is very tentative right now, we hope to use the span or truss that’s there as an observation platform," said Lauren Larsen, a civil engineer at Larsen, Harvala & Berquist. …


Here are some more photos:

Interstate Bridge at the time its center span was being removed, Oct. 9, 1971. (News-Tribune file photo)


The center span of the Interstate Bridge tilts below its replacement, the Blatnik Bridge, as the old span is removed on Oct. 8, 1971. (Duluth Herald file photo)


This aerial view from 1964, with Superior to the left and Duluth to the right, shows three bridges spanning the harbor. At top is the Wisconsin Draw Bridge (that’s the name I found… did it have another?), a railroad bridge that was demolished with explosives on Nov. 15, 1985. In the middle is the Blatnik Bridge, or high bridge, carrying I-535/U.S. 53 traffic. At the bottom is the Interstate Bridge. (Earl Johnson / News-Tribune) (*** Thanks to those who noticed that I had my directions goofed; the cutline is fixed now. Also, a reader noted that the bridge may not have been carrying Interstate 535 traffic in this photo – when first opened, the Blatnik carried U.S. Highway 53 – the Interstate system was not yet in Duluth.)


A ship, pulled by the tug Louisiana, passes through the open Interstate Bridge in this undated photo. It must have been taken after the Blatnik Bridge opened in 1961 (there is a truck crossing the high span), and before the center span of the Interstate was removed in 1971.


Here is a photo I found in our archives that is an image-of-an-image, but I’m afraid I do not know the original source:

Traffic crossing the Interstate Bridge at its opening in the late 1890s.


And here is one more image that has kind of confused me:

This News-Tribune file photo is labeled "Interstate Bridge, November 8, 1960." It is interesting to see an unfinished Blatnik Bridge in the distance (center span complete, but it stops mid-air on both sides). But the old bridge in the foreground doesn’t look like the Interstate Bridge, and it seems much too far away from the Blatnik to be the Interstate Bridge. So… would this be the Wisconsin Draw Bridge? Another span?

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Denfeld cheerleaders hold a rock-a-thon, 1984

August 28, 1984

Denfeld-Morgan Park cheerleaders rock in chairs Tuesday in the parking lot at the West Duluth McDonald’s restaurant in a "rock-a-thon" to raise money for new uniforms. They were set to rock from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. From left are DeAnne Dillon, Laurie Hansen, Jodi Grover, Renee Abrahamson, Amy Fryklund, Barb Fox, Susan Anderson, Jennifer McMillan, Kelli Kolquist, Tammi Conley and Sue Silvernale. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune & Herald)

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Building a skunnel, 1996

March 18, 1996

A Bobcat operated by Jim Sargent levels the floor in the pool portion of the pedestrian tunnel under Fifth Avenue West in downtown Duluth. The room is about midway through the tunnel and will have a pool with a pedestrian bridge over it and a waterfall on the north wall. The tunnel, which will give the Radisson Hotel access to the rest of downtown’s skywalk, will be open this tourist season. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

I’ve always thought it was odd to walk on a part of the skywalk … while I was underground. I had never heard the term before, but stories in the archives referred to the passages as "skunnels" – skywalk tunnels.

Here are a couple more photos:

Fifth Avenue West from Superior Street to First Alley in downtown Duluth is closed on Sept. 13, 1995, as crews continue excavating for a tunnel from the Radisson Hotel to the KDLH-TV lower parking lot. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)


Karen Haavisto (left) heads toward the Radisson as she passes another walker in the new Fifth Avenue West tunnel on Oct. 30, 1996. The tunnel opened that week. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)

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The Second Thoughts rock on, 1966

November 17, 1966

The Second Thoughts include (left to right): Timothy Koivisto, lead guitar; Jim Johnson, bass guitar; Chuck Cox, rhythm guitar; Dennis Robinson, drums; and Kerry Demeria, lead singer and organist. (Charles Curtis / Duluth Herald)

I have no other information about this photo or this local band. Does anyone out there remember the Second Thoughts? Post a comment or send me an e-mail at

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Christmas City of the North Parade

November 18, 1972

Christmas City of the North Parade in downtown Duluth, November 18, 1972. (News-Tribune file photo)

Friday’s News Tribune has an article about this year’s Christmas City of the North Parade. Parade organizer KBJR-TV is advertising it as the 50th anniversary parade, and it may very well be, but a fairly lengthy search of our archives turned up no mention of the parade in November-December 1958 or 1959. And, as some of you may know, very little that occurred in Duluth in those days went unnoticed in the paper.

So, we’re putting out a call to the public – does anyone know for sure when the first Christmas City parade was held? Does anyone have a news clipping or photo as evidence? Send me an e-mail if you have any insight –

The photo above shows the parade going east on Superior Street past the Norshor. It appears a Shriners band is featured in the shot; here is a zoomed-in view:

The Norshor marquee is advertising the movie "You’ll Like My Mother," starring Patty Duke and filmed in Duluth. You also can see the Sears sign at far left.

Recent parades have started in Canal Park, gone up Lake Avenue, turned west on Superior Street and ended at Fifth Avenue West. But the photo above shows the parade going east, presumably past the old WDSM/KBJR building at 230 E. Superior Street. Where would the parade have ended – the Fitger’s Brewery area? The Plaza?


Here are some more News-Tribune file pictures from 1969, 1972 and 1976:

Whispering Pines 4-H float in the 1969 Christmas City of the North Parade, with characters including the "Ice Queen," "Eddy Evergreen" and "Northwind."


Emmanuel Lutheran Church of Barnum float, 1972 Christmas City of the North Parade.


First American National Bank of Duluth float passing the Minnesota Power & Light Company building in the 1969 Christmas City of the North Parade. Aboard the float are Shirley Oling and Karelyn Platzer, wearing fashions by Oreck’s.


The KDAL float, featuring Santa Claus and a snowmobile, passing Glass Block in the 1969 Christmas City of the North Parade.


Santa Claus waving to the crowd in the 1976 Christmas City of the North Parade.

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Duluth Civic Center, 1930s


Here is a view of the Duluth Civic Center, probably from the 1930s. There is a parking lot where the fountain and plaza is today, and some kind of excavation was under way at the time:

A sign warns drivers against going "up":

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West Duluth, 1981

March 3, 1981

Looking south down Central Avenue toward the Interstate 35 bridge, March 3, 1981. (Karl Jaros / Duluth Herald)

Here are some zoomed-in views:

Going down the east side of the street there is Ensign & Johnson Plumbing and Heating; Olafson-Genereau Realty; the Gopher Resaurant and Lounge; a chiropractor; the Central Mini Mall, subject of a previous post; a liquor store; the Gopher Chiropractic Clinic…..


Looking down the west side, there is an H&R Block; Sammy’s Pizza Palace; the Rustic Bar; Pioneer National Bank; Johnny’s Music; a movie theater (the marquee says Duluth, so was it the Duluth Theater?); the Pizza Factory; the West Duluth Hotel; the Printing Center…..


This is kind of hard to make out, but it’s a super-zoomed-in image of the signs posted on the Interstate 35 bridge. Note how the sign on the right directs U.S. Highway 2 traffic to continue straight…. toward the old Arrowhead Bridge. This photo was taken before the Bong Bridge had been built.

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Irv Anderson, 1984

August 30, 1984

Minnesota House candidate Irv Anderson makes friends with a potential campaign hazard in International Falls on August 30, 1984. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune and Herald)

Former Minnesota House Speaker Irv Anderson of International Falls, who served 15 nonconsecutive terms in the state House from 1964 to 2006, died Monday at age 85.

He lost in the 1982 DFL primary by 73 votes to Bob Neuenschwander; the two met again in the 1984 DFL primary, which was the reason for these photos and this story:


By Ann Glumac, News-Tribune and Herald

INTERNATIONAL FALLS — The rematch has all the makings of a spaghetti western: bitter rivals about to engage in a second showdown, divided townspeople and a duel that ultimately could prove fatal to a political career.

State Rep. Bob Neuenschwander and former state Rep. Irv Anderson, the man Neuenschwander defeated by 73 votes in the 1982 DFL primary, will be together again on the 1984 primary ballot for Legislative District 3A.

If Anderson doesn’t win, his second loss to a relative neophyte could ruin the likelihood of ever reviving his 18-year political career, which included serving as House majority leader and chairman of the House Tax Commitee. …

The man considered the leader of the local DFL political machine in 1982 now bills himself as the people’s candidate. Party support has been near-unanimous. …

Anderson acknowledged his two years of private life "were a learning experience. It’s been good for me to be back in the community and live the life of the people I represent," he said. "And the loss has been a humbling experience." …


Anderson did lose that primary election. But that wasn’t the end of his political career. He made it back into the state House by defeating Neuenschwander in the 1990 DFL primary, and went on to serve as speaker.

Minnesota House candidate Irv Anderson (left) gains the support of Sylvester Vnuck on Vnuck’s back porch on August 30, 1984. Vnuck, who voted against Anderson in the 1982 DFL primary, said he would support Anderson in the 1984 DFL primary. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune and Herald)

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Coin toss decides election, 1998

November 18, 1998

A flip of a 1902 silver dollar by Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe decided a tie vote in the Gilbert mayoral race Wednesday morning at Gilbert City Hall. Incumbent Mayor Ed Schneider (middle) called heads. When the coin hit the floor, it came up tails. Karl Oberstar Jr. (right), Gilbert mayor from 1986 to 1994, becomes mayor again in January. "I was a little bit nervous, especially in the last few minutes,’" Oberstar said after the toss. "I said a little prayer before she tossed the coin, then I didn’t even look when she tossed it. It’s unbelievable — it’s like the lottery to me." The event was broadcast on NBC’s "Today Show." (Lee Bloomquist / News Tribune)

Here is the story that ran as a preview to the coin toss:



Karl Oberstar Jr. planned to spend Tuesday night meditating and praying. Gilbert Mayor Ed Schneider planned to be at City Hall working on the 1999 city budget.

The political fortunes of Gilbert’s two mayoral candidates were to be decided at 7 a.m. today — and broadcast live nationwide — at Gilbert City Hall, when a coin flip determines whether Schneider or Oberstar becomes mayor of this Iron Range city for the next two years.

Schneider, mayor since 1994, and Oberstar, mayor from 1986 to 1994, each received 534 votes in a recount last week of the Nov. 3 general election ballots. Originally, Oberstar had been declared the winner 532-529.

"I won the primary, won the general election and lost the recount," said Oberstar. "Right now, it’s out of my control. I’m leaving it up to the Lord."

"It’s been very time-consuming having to go through the primary, the campaigning, the general and then the recount," said Schneider. "But I’m resigned to the fact that I conducted a clean campaign. Whatever happens, I don’t consider myself a loser — I consider myself a winner."

When the recount ended in a tie, some citizens suggested that Gov.-elect Jesse Ventura be invited to flip the coin to select the winner. But Ventura was in California Tuesday to appear on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," on NBC and "The Late Show," on CBS.

Instead, Secretary of State Joan Growe is expected to flip a 1902 silver dollar to determine the winner. As the incumbent, Schneider says he should be allowed to call the flip.

Schneider wouldn’t reveal whether he would call heads or tails.

City officials had planned to determine a winner Tuesday night. But that all changed when NBC’s "Today" show asked if it could broadcast the coin flip. So it was rescheduled to accommodate NBC.

Whoever loses the toss likely won’t disappear from politics. Oberstar, 47, said he would be disappointed, but would remain active in local government.

"What it really proves is that every vote counts," said Oberstar, a millwright at LTV Steel Mining Co. in Hoyt Lakes. "But if I lose, I’m not going to crawl under a rock and never be seen again.

"Just because someone loses, I don’t think that means you shouldn’t try again. If I lose, maybe I’ll apply for the IRRRB commissioner’s job. It would be fun working in the Ventura administration."

Schneider, 69, who retired several years ago as an LTV Steel Mining Co. concentrator attendant, says if he loses, he would still like to serve on city committees.

"It sort of gets into your bloodstream and wears on you like a callous," Schneider said of politics.

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Building the freeway, 1972

July 20, 1972

Clarence Amborn, caretaker of Midtown Manor, looks out over 21st Avenue West and the freeway spur being constructed to link Interstate 35 and Piedmont Avenue. (Duluth Herald photo)

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