Kitchi Gammi Park & Congdon Boulevard

The Lester River Bridge, designed by Morell & Nichols, shown in a postcard made between 1925 and 1939. (Image: Zenith City press)

A little over three years after Chester’s death, in March 1920, Clara felt that the time had arrived. Speaking on behalf of the estate, she offered to pay up to $125,000 for half the cost of the five-mile portion of the road that was within city limits—provided the entire boulevard was improved and paved.After the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners agreed to build the road from the city limits to the Lake County line, construction moved forward, with the cost shared equally by the Congdon family, the county, and the city.

Morell & Nichols were hired to design the parkway’s landscaping. Construction of the concrete-paved road from the Lester River to the Knife River, already called Congdon Boulevard, took place between 1923 and 1925.

During this same period Minnesota politicians were developing State Highway 1, which would span the state from the Iowa border south of Albert Lea to the Canadian border at Pigeon River. Congdon Boulevard became a link in this new state highway—as well as a link to the city’s parkway system—and in the 1920s state tourism actually referred to the road by the name Congdon gave it: the Lake Superior International Highway. While the full measure of Congdon’s investment in this highway has never been detailed, in 1933 Park Superintendent F. Rodney Paine outlined his calculations of Chester Congdon’s gift:

Mr. Chester A. Congdon…made a gift to the City of inestimable value—probably the greatest park asset Duluth has next to the Rogers Boulevard [Skyline Parkway]. Mr. Congdon authorized the city to acquire, and he paid for, the right of way for what is now Highway No. 1, from Lester Park to the Lake County line. In this was included the land between the road and the lake wherever the distance was less than about four hundred feet. This preserved two hundred thirty acres and 8.8 miles of lake frontage forever for the enjoyment of the people of Duluth, of the State, and of the country.

The bridge over the Lester River was built between 1924 and 1925 on land acquired from the U.S. Fish Hatchery. As with the boulevard, the Congdon family, the county, and the city shared the construction costs. Morell & Nichols were hired to design the bridge; they received help from Duluth city engineers William H. Cruikshank and John Wilson as well as the Minneapolis architectural firm of Tyrie & Chapman. The bridge was built by Duluth contractor C. R. McLean, whose firm constructed the road through Jay Cooke State Park the following year. In January 1926 the Duluth News-Tribune called the bridge a “Work of Art” and went on to describe it:

The bridge is constructed of reinforced concrete faced with native stone carefully selected both as to color and texture. The trimmings are of granite from Rockville, Minn. The lanterns and lantern supports are of special design to harmonize with the delicate yet substantial lines of the bridge. The lanterns are painted to conform with the granite trimmings, while the glass was specially rolled and burned to give the diffusion of light and shade desired, Mr. Nichols of Morell and Nichols giving much of his personal attention to this small but important detail.

The dedication ceremony for both Highway 1 and Congdon Boulevard—each recently completed—took place on the bridge simultaneously in September 1925. Organized by the Duluth Automobile Club, the event kicked off with a parade from central Duluth to the bridge with the U.S. Naval Reserve Band leading the way. Mayor Sam Snively gave a speech, as did his predecessor Judge C. R. Magney, and County Commissioner W. H. Tischer, whose family had once owned the land that became Congdon Park and the Glensheen estate. The Congdon family was represented by Edward Congdon, Chester and Clara’s second-oldest son.

The Lester River Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. According to the International Concrete Repair Institute, in 2011 the bridge was “selected as one of twenty-four Minnesota bridges to receive a higher level of maintenance and preservation due to its historical significance.” In 2013 it underwent a major rehabilitation as its integrity had been undermined by decades of exposure to deicing chemicals, which had corroded the bridge’s steel reinforcement. Contractor PCI Roads of St. Michael, Minnesota, completed all repairs “to replicate the original historic appearance of the bridge”—right down to the ornamental lanterns Arthur Nichols had designed so carefully.

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