History Of The Arrowhead Bridge

The frosty planks of the Arrowhead Bridge made the going a tad slow for these morning commuters on Oct. 2, 1981. (Charles Curtis / Duluth Herald)

In the mid-1920s, complaints about delays in crossing the Interstate Bridge were mounting. Aside from the distant Oliver Bridge, it was the only option for vehicles to cross between Duluth and Superior.

In 1925, a private firm called the Twin Ports Bridge Co. sought approval from Congress for a new cross-border span linking Superior to the Grassy Point area of Duluth.

“The present Interstate Bridge is opened 25 percent of the time with delays constantly increasing,” J.B. Finch, president of the Twin Ports Bridge Co., told the News Tribune in January 1925. “The proposed bridge will be above the busiest portion of (the harbor), as far from heavy boat traffic as it is feasible to go. A point much in its favor.”

The bill to authorize what would become known as the Arrowhead Bridge sailed through Congress and was signed by President Calvin Coolidge in March 1925. Efforts to get public financing for the project — which would have made the bridge free to cross — failed, but plans moved ahead for a toll bridge.

The Arrowhead Bridge was closed on Oct. 3, 1973, after the lake carrier Peter Robertson struck a pier on the Wisconsin side the day before. The accident disabled the drawbridge lift mechanism. Inspecting the span were, from left, Vern Kekkonen and Edward Fleeze of the Minnesota Highway Department, and Mel Sarvela of the Wisconsin Highway Department. (George Starkey / Duluth Herald)

Work continued through much of 1926, with the bridge largely completed by March 1927 — a year ahead of schedule. It was so fast that the bridge approaches and connecting roadways were not yet finished, so the official dedication didn’t take place until July 16, 1927 — when officials from both sides of the border and a lengthy line of vehicles celebrated the new bridge amid a rainstorm.

The curving wooden bridge, with a pair of lifting steel spans in the middle to allow for larger ships to pass, was open to both vehicles and pedestrians. It linked Belknap Street in Superior with Lesure Street in West Duluth.

The Arrowhead Bridge, looking from Superior toward Duluth, on Oct. 22, 1978. (Karl Jaros / News-Tribune)

The Arrowhead Bridge remained a private toll bridge until 1963, when Minnesota and Wisconsin shared the expense of buying the span and eliminating the toll. In winter, the drive across could be perilous when frost made the planks slippery. The air horn blasted three times to greet passing ships — and occasionally at other times to greet passing vehicles.

The bridge was damaged and closed for several weeks in the fall of 1973 after it was struck by the freighter Peter Robertson.

An aerial view shows the old Arrowhead Bridge (foreground) and the new Richard Bong Memorial Bridge on Oct. 24, 1984. The Grassy Point Bridge is in between. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

When the big, new Bong Bridge opened on Oct. 25, 1984 to link Superior and West Duluth, the now-obsolete Arrowhead Bridge was closed to traffic; up to that point it had opened for ships to pass about 219 times in its final year.

The Arrowhead Bridge was demolished in 1985, at what the News Tribune reported was an estimated cost of $700,000 — $200,000 more than it cost to build it in 1927 (not counting inflation). About 200 feet of the bridge was left on the Superior side for use as a fishing pier; it was demolished in 2009 and replaced with a new pier.

Jim Psyck of Cloquet, an employee of Park Construction Co., which is dismantling the old Arrowhead Bridge, works on removing a portion of the deck near the center of the bridge on Feb. 15, 1985. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)
The center span of the old Arrowhead Bridge has been taken down and work progresses on razing the Duluth side of the old landmark on March 18, 1985. Note the three workmen on the ice at center right; they are trying to get a front-end loader out of the ice (two of its tires are visible to the right of the workers) (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)
A view of Grassy Point in West Duluth in November 1997, showing a water-filled canal where the road to the old Arrowhead Bridge used to be. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Share your Arrowhead Bridge memories by posting a comment.

12 Responses

    1. Andrew

      Pretty sure it was the company that built it (Twin Ports Bridge Co.) and/or its predecessors. Not sure if there was a name change before it was sold

  1. Tom Emberg

    My grandfather Clifford Price Emberg Sr. was an engineer with the DM&I R
    railway in the 30’s and 40’s. He also had working rights on the Northern Pacific railroad based in Superior Wisconsin. Times were tough. He would occasionally get called for a job on the NP in the winter. He would walk from his home in Proctor Minnesota to the NP yard in Superior, a distance of twelve miles. To save the five cent pedestrian toll to cross the Arrowhead bridge, he would walk across the ice on the St. Louis bay. Things were tough, but he was tougher. Bless his memory. Tom Emberg

  2. Nancy Delzotto ( Havron )

    I remember either biking or walking across the bridge to go swimming over at billings park. My Grandmother also lived in billings park too and we’d go visit her. Great times back then.

  3. Clarice Forbush

    That bridge scarred me for life! When I was about 5, my parents bundled my brothers and I into the back seat of the car (pre seatbelt/carseat days) at about 4am to travel to the Green Bay Wisconsin area to visit family. I promptly fell asleep, but woke suddenly when the car started rumbling across the bridge. I peeked out of the window just as the car made the turn in the middle of the span, and all I saw was water. I freaked out – thinking we were plunging to our deaths! I had nightmares about that bridge for years…

  4. Dennis Cummings

    I have a painting of the bridge completed by Tony Yaworski, so precious today. So many memories attached to that grand old bridge. I grew up in Billings Park. I remember when they were still collecting the toll to cross the bridge. It was always a thrill when my parents gave me the money to give to the attendant to pay the toll. My grandfather Al Johnson would take me fishing there and he taught me how to put a smelt on a hook; be able to tell the difference between a river northern/walleye and one from big lake. I also learned the current often switched and that was anticipated strike time and change side while keeping a eye on that bobber. We won’t mention the late night skinny dipping. When one semi was on top on one corner going one way, and another semi on top going the other way, you could feel the bridge just sway. My mother took the bridge daily to work as a seamstress at both North Shore Manufacturing and Phoenix Hosiery. The peaceful nights and the spectacular sunsets with the sounds of the great ships and bridge horns echoing their communication for passage through the bridge; many to US Steel. Thank You For The Memories Dear Bridge, Dan & Ed Homick, Mom & Dad (Bert and Evelyn Cummings, and Grandpa Johnson 🙂

  5. It is such a crime, that this area kills historical structures in the name of progress. When I moved to Superior in 2003 I loved the Summer White House in Superior and then they killed it. They took the Globe Theatre. In Europe they have buildings from 500 years old. The only reason why some buildings are preserved because rich people can sell nostalgia for their own purposes, and/or some politician blew his nose there.

  6. Bob Woodbury

    My name is Bob Woodbury and I live in Winslow, Maine. In 1959, in celebration of the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, our destroyer, the USS Forrest B Royal DD-872, was one of three ships and a submarine to visit Duluth-Superior Harbor. I met a girl at the NorShor Theater, we corresponded for a year, she visited Maine for two weeks in July the following year and we were married in Gloria Dei Lutheran Church the evening of October 12, 1960 after being together 17 days over a period of a year-and-a-half. There was a brief reception at her home across Third Street from Gloria Dei, following which we left on our honeymoon – only to be “bridged” by the old Arrowhead on our way out of town – a frustration, to put it mildly, for honeymooners. We celebrated our 57th anniversary last October and have returned to Duluth by car 55 of the last 57 years. We have new bridges now, both in Duluth and at Sault Ste. Marie, but, needless to say, we aren’t nearly as much in a hurry now.

  7. Betty Chruscielski

    During high school I would bike across the wooden Arrowhead bridge to summer classes at UWS. I remember our teacher encouraging us to write a letter to our representative asking that a bike lane be added to the new bridge. Can’t remember if I actually ever wrote that letter.
    So that wooden bridge reminds me of my youth.

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