April 18, 1872: First recorded mention of a temporary bridge over the Duluth Ship Canal

On this day in Duluth in 1872, the Duluth Minnesotian made the first historic record of a bridge over the Duluth Ship Canal with the simple statement, “The bridge over the ship canal on Minnesota Point remains undisturbed.” At the time this simply meant that shipping traffic on Lake Superior had yet to open, so the bridge—a temporary structure that was put up in the winter when the shipping season ended and came down when it began again in spring—was still up if anyone wanted to use it. On April 27 the newspaper declared in a headline that “Navigation [is] Open at Duluth.” The story explained that gale-force winds on the 25th had forced huge cakes of ice into the canal. Apparently they were tall enough, or the bridge was low enough, to cause a collision: “Two immense cakes, coming with all the force of the wind, and a strong current against the centre [sic] bent of the bridge, knocked it out; when the structure fell, it went out to sea along with the ice.” 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.” Throughout the 1870s and 1880s the temporary bridge was constructed and deconstructed every year—if nature didn’t take care of it like it did in the spring of 1872.

The first bridge to span the Duluth Ship Canal, sketched in 1872 by Charles Johnson. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

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