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?

12 Responses

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  3. Ben Deemer

    I post to make a short comment on this. First this quote from previous info, “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. SNIP.”. The bridge was Primary only to motor vehicles. It was not primary to Railroad use after the double draw north of it was constructed. Of note is that my father, (same name), worked for the GN as a Crane Operator until 1963, and did maintenance on both these structures during his course of work.

  4. Jim W

    Re: Patt J – I too had to hide on the floor, under a blanket, below my sisters feet to save that precious nickel when we traveled to Ashland to visit the grandparents.

  5. Matt

    The arial photo of the bridges “interstate3.jpg” is mislabeled, as is was in the paper today…Superior is on the left, not the right. Check the location of port terminal…

  6. Dave

    In the right side of the picture is the end of the Great Nortern grain elevator, now General Mills in Superior.

  7. Patt J

    My cousins and I used to take turns hiding on the floor of the back of the car when we crossed that bridge, thereby saving my uncle a whopping five cents. That old bridge is among my favorite childhood memories.

  8. Beverly

    I wonder what the toll would have been in 1961 if you tried to take your bull-drawn cart and three dogs across.

  9. Nate

    The last picture must be mislabeled, if you look closely you can see the top of the Interstate Bridge under the center span of the Blatnik Bridge. It looks like the picture was taken from the Wisconsin side of the Wisconsin Draw Bridge looking down the channel toward the Blatnik and Interstate Bridges.

  10. Senty7

    The Wisconsin Draw had two spans, one each for the North and South channels. The pic in question is looking east across the South Channel span toward the Blatnik. You can see the top of the Interstate Bridge in the distant background.

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