Interstate Bridge in Duluth

Before the Interstate Bridge was built between Duluth and Superior in the late-1890s, the only way to get between the two cities was by ferry. Of course, ice prevented them from running in the winter. The Duluth-Superior Bridge Company, funded by the Great Northern Railway, was formed in 1894 to build a bridge connecting Connors Point in Wisconsin to Rice’s Point in Minnesota. Disagreements between the two cities delayed construction for years, and the bickering didn’t end once construction began. When the bridge opened on April 23, 1897, the first person to make the journey across the bridge found that the Superior side hadn’t been completed and he was forced to turn around. The bridge wasn’t officially completed until July.

t12.17.99 Bob King -- kingCOMM40-1890 -- Opening of the Interstate Bridge in 1896 connecting Duluth and Superior.

A toll was collected from everyone crossing the bridge: pedestrians and bicyclists paid five cents, wagons and carts were fifteen cents, and each head of cattle cost a dime. These travelers crossed using a platform that hung off of the western side of the structure. Two parallel railroad tracks running down the center of the bridge carried trains and trolleys. Eventually, the bridge was refitted for automobile traffic. The streetcar line was removed in 1938, and by 1949 only one railway track was in use.

Interstate Bridge was made up of long wooden trestles on each end. In the middle, a 485-foot steel truss swing span that was the largest in the world at the time was sandwiched in between two 325-foot steel humpback trusses. The swing span swiveled to allow shipping traffic to pass.

On August 11, 1906, disaster struck. At about one o’clock in the morning, the captain of the package freighter Troy signaled the bridge operator to open the swing span so the ship could pass. The captain wasn’t concerned when the bridge did not start to move right away because the bridge had a reputation of being slow to start. But on this night, the bridge operator had fallen asleep and did not engage the bridge until it was too late. The 3,665-ton freighter slammed into the swing span knocking a two-hundred-foot section of steel into the harbor. The northern part of the span buckled and then collapsed. All traffic in the channel was blocked and thirty-three ships were trapped in the harbor.

IntBridge_06wreck

Cleanup was costly and time-consuming. The owners of the thirty-three vessels stranded in the harbor were losing nearly $1,000 per ship, per day. The work of clearing debris took place around the clock, but it still took ten days to clear the channel enough to get the ships out. For nearly two years, ferries once again carried people across the harbor while repairs were made to the bridge.

The restored Interstate Bridge operated until the Duluth-Superior High Bridge (renamed the Blatnik Bridge) was built to replace it in 1961. In 1971, the center span of the inactive Interstate Bridge was removed. In December 1981, Burlington Northern sold the bridge to the Port Authority of Duluth for one dollar. The northern span was turned into a fishing pier and a place to watch ships. Visitors can now walk alongside the original wooden trestle before reaching the steel humpback truss.



References:
Dierckins, Tony and Maryanne C. Norton. Lost Duluth: Landmarks,
     Industries,Buildings, Homes, and the Neighborhoods in Which They
     Stood.

Duluth News Tribune archives
johnweeks.com