February 25, 1928: Duluth City Council awards Kansas City Bridge Company Aerial Bridge contract

The crew of the Kansas City Bridge Company, who converted the Aerial Transfer Bridge into the Aerial Lift Bridge, including one gentleman seated in the front row, smoking a cigarette, who looks remarkably like actor Sean Penn. (Image: Lake Superior Maritime Collection.)

On this day in Duluth in 1928, the Duluth City council voted 3-2 to award the Kansas City Bridge Company the contact to convert Duluth’s 1905 aerial transfer bridge into an aerial lift bridge. The Duluth News Tribune called the 3-2 vote “expected” and applauded the council as performing “a good act Monday when it voted to award the contract for the proposed new bridge over the canal to Park Point, without further talk, wrangling, or discussion.” The paper was alluding to a battle that had been dragging on in council chambers for months. The council was made up of five commissioners. In 1928 they included Public Affairs Commissioner (and Mayor) Sam Snively, Finance Commissioner W. S. McCormick, Public Works Commissioner Phillip G. Phillips, Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Evans, and Public Safety Commissioner James E. Foubister. Snively, McCormick, and Phillips were for hiring the KCBC from the start, working with a plan designed by the company’s president, John Harrington. But C. A. P. Turner, who designed the 1905 bridge, came to Duluth with another plan and convinced Evans and Foubister it would save the city $200,000. Several times discussion led to arguing which led to shouting. The previous January Evans introduced a proposal to drop the Harrington Plan for the Turner plan. Before Evans could request a vote on his resolution, Phillips quickly moved to adjourn. Before the adjournment vote could be taken, Evans moved to vote on his resolution. City Clerk Austin Davenport was at a loss until Mayor Snively reminded him that the first issue before the council was the motion to adjourn. The vote was 3–2 in favor to adjourn; Evans had been silenced. “BRIDGE DEBATE STIRS COUNCIL,” the Duluth Evening Herald headline announced in capital letters. At the next meeting, with Phillips absent, Snively simply called to adjourn the meeting because the voting would have resulted in a deadlock. But he couldn’t even get a majority vote on adjournment, so he and McCormick simply walked out. The next day the headlines roared “COUNCIL BREAKS UP IN BABBLE: Aerial Bridge Problem Disrupts Meeting.” You may make your own comparisons to today’s Duluth City Council and Duluth School Board in the comments section below. To better understand the struggle over the conversion of the transfer bridge to the lift bridge, click here. To understand how they converted the transfer bridge into a lift bridge, click here.

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