Aerial Transfer Bridge (1905-1929)

The Ferry Bridge’s Final Crossing

Word of the famous span’s imminent demise spread fast: by March 10 a film crew from Fox Studios had arrived to take footage of the Duluth Aerial Transfer Bridge before it passed into history.

Work on the bridge did indeed begin before April 1. On Monday, March 25, KCBC went to work under the direction of chief engineer O. A. Zimmerman and superintendent of construction Thomas Weathers. The company’s first task was to excavate the old foundations and lay new ones strong enough to carry the extra weight of the new bridge. This involved tearing up the approaches, so when the work began, car and wagon service on the bridge ended. Foot traffic continued until July, and to accommodate pedestrians, a “gangplank” ramp was constructed to access the ferry car from the street.

As if to put an exclamation point on the idea that the bridge’s practical life was over, it suffered another breakdown on June 19. The dynamos in the electric motors burned out, possibly due to a lightning strike days earlier. Once again the Corps of Engineers came to the rescue, using a twenty-five-foot motorboat to ferry passengers across. Repairs were made, but the motors only needed to work eleven more days.

On the morning of July 1, 1929, the aerial transfer bridge crossed the canal for the last time. The Duluth News-Tribune heralded the event with a banner headline that read “Noted Aerial Bridge Passes into History.” It read: “With its battered old warning bell tolling, the whistle of the Park Point street car bleating mournful accompaniment and ships tooting, the ferry car of the famous Duluth aerial bridge made the last trip of its career of twenty-four years at 8:45 a.m. today, with city officials, pioneers and a crowd of interested citizens as passengers.”

Tears stood in the eyes of James Murray, veteran bridge car operator, selected to pilot it on its last voyage, as he started it back to the mainland from Park Point. After bringing it to its final stop he removed the control lever and stepped slowly from the operator’s cab to the main platform. “It was a good old car and I hate to see her go,” he said to the other veteran operators who were all on hand to make the last trip.

Murray had pulled the lever to start the car’s final journey after Commissioner Chris Evans, who had been instrumental in bringing about the bridge’s conversion, gave the brief command, “Let’s go.” The car passed from the North Pier to the South, paused while the steamer Charles L. Hutchinson navigated the canal as the last craft to pass under the ferry bridge, and then returned to the North Pier. Immediately upon the last passenger’s departure, workers from KCBC climbed aboard and started dismantling the ferry car, work expected to take several weeks. No account could be located as to what happened to the car or its amenities. One of the benches was rumored to have been taken home by a Park Point resident; today one is on display at the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center and another at the St. Louis County Historical Society, which also keeps a broken operator’s handle donated in 2005 by Jack Hicken, son of ferry bridge operator John Hicken.

Murray had been joined on the final trip by fellow operators William Maynard, Urban Nehring, Frank Lampert, and Leonard Green, the first and only superintendent of the aerial transfer bridge. Other dignitaries aboard included Duluth pioneers Richard Thompson, J. D. Campbell, and Henry Van Brunt, who were part of the first test trip in February 1905; city officials Mayor Snively, commissioners Evans and Phillips, and police chief E. H. Barber; Mrs. E. H. Borth, who was the first woman to cross in the ferry bridge back in 1905; and Ann Murray, who reportedly rode the ferry bridge more times than any other person outside of an operator. Many others not named by the newspaper also took the final trip. No reports indicate that either of the bridge’s “fathers,” C. A. P. Turner and Thomas McGilvray, took part in the aerial transfer bridge’s final crossing of the canal.

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