Last fall, the News Tribune produced a “premium section” for its print subscribers, focused on the maritime heritage of the Twin Ports.
As part of that section, I compiled a history of all the bridges linking Duluth and Superior, past and present. Now that a few months have gone by, I thought I’d share those stories here in the Attic, so they can hopefully reach a new audience. I’ll post them occasionally, starting with the oldest spans and working to the newest.
Here’s the history of the first bridge to span the harbor: the St. Louis Bay Bridge.
St. Louis Bay Bridge
This railroad bridge, opened in 1885 by the Northern Pacific Railway, was the first to link Duluth and Superior. It spanned St. Louis Bay west of the present-day Blatnik Bridge, leaving Rice’s Point in Duluth at an angle across to Interstate Island (often called Bird Island) — the gull-covered island in the middle of the bay. It skirted the eastern edge of that island and headed over to Superior.
“The completion of the Northern Pacific’s bridge marks a new era in the history of the Lake Superior country,” the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported in July 1885, in a piece picked up by the Duluth Daily Tribune. “All the practical lake towns will be brought in close proximity to each other, and freight can be transferred without delay or great cost.”
The bridge crossed two shipping channels — one on each side of the island — and so it featured two swing spans, known as the Wisconsin Draw and Minnesota Draw. Some sources referred to the overall structure as two bridges.
The bridge apparently was initially open to foot traffic as well as trains — though the Duluth Daily Tribune reported on Aug. 7, 1885, that “the railroad company has, for some reason, determined to restrict the bridge entirely to its own use, probably hoping thereby to gain more patronage for its short line trains. Accordingly two brothers, Louis and Oliver Trendo, were yesterday sworn as special policemen, without pay from the city. Their duty will be to guard the Minnesota end from trespassers, one being on nights and the other in the daytime.”
On June 1, 1984 — nearly 100 years after the St. Louis Bay Bridge opened — the News Tribune reported that Burlington Northern Railroad, the successor to Northern Pacific, was closing the span as a cost-saving measure and sending its trains to use the Grassy Point Bridge to the west.
In September 1986, the News Tribune reported that crews were using dynamite to demolish the Minnesota Draw portion of the abandoned bridge.
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