February 8, 1883: Charles Winters elected “superintendent of repairs on the ship canal bridge”

A sketch by Charles Johnson of the first wooden temporary bridge to be laid across the Duluth Ship Canal in the winter of 1872. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)

On this day in Duluth in 1883, Charles Winters was elected “superintendent of repairs on the ship canal bridge,” according to historian Walter Van Brunt. “Wait a minute,” asks the careful reader. “We didn’t have a bridge over the canal until 1905, right?” Right—not a permanent bridge. But since the early 1870s, a temporary wooden bridge had been set up to cross the canal when the shipping season closed. The first mention of a bridge over the canal and a ferry system appeared in the Minnesotian on April 18, 1872: “The Bridge over the Ship Canal on Minnesota Point remains undisturbed.” In 1874 Duluthians spent $962 building a temporary suspension bridge “of rough wooden towers with cables and a six-foot-wide platform,” but workers didn’t complete it until February, two months before it had to be removed for the shipping season. When in place, the bridge could barely handle a breeze and often “swayed dangerously” in the wind. It tossed so badly during storms that residents passed back and forth on “hands and knees.” Middleton residents grew increasingly impatient with the rest of Duluth; they felt neglected and, understandably, cut off. When Duluth lost its charter in 1877, Middleton residents—frustrated that little had been done to connect them with the rest of the city—decided to put even more distance between themselves and their neighbors than had the canal. They elected to maintain separate corporate status from Duluth and begin to call their community “Park Point,” a term that had been in use informally for some time. The Park Pointers even considered annexing to Wisconsin where they would be “treated more fairly.” Park Point rejoined Duluth in 1889, but only after Duluth promised the community would build a permanent bridge over the canal. It took 15 years to keep the promise.

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