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

On this day in Duluth in 1883, Charles Winters was elected “superintendent of repairs on the ship canal bridge.” “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 was 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. In 1881 they elected to separate from the Village of Duluth and so Middleton became the Village of Park Point, then Middleton’s nickname. The Park Pointers even considered asking Wisconsin to annex their community so they would be “treated more fairly.” Park Point rejoined Duluth in 1889, but only after Duluth promised the community it would build a permanent bridge over the canal. It took 15 years to keep the promise, and the end result was Duluth’s famous Aerial Transfer Bridge.

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

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