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November 25, 1957: Death of Engineer Thomas McGilvray

On this day in Duluth in 1957, long-time Duluth City Engineer Thomas F. McGilvray—the man who first came up with the idea of an aerial bridge over the Duluth Ship Canal—died in his Third Street home at the age of 97.  He came to Duluth as an employee of the St. Paul & Duluth Railroad, laying the foundation of the Duluth Union Depot, designing the street layout for Smithville and portions of West Duluth the railroad owned, and overseeing the construction of the Sixth Avenue Viaduct. He eventually established a home in Duluth and opened an Engineering firm. In 1897 he was first appointed Duluth’s city engineer. In this capacity McGilvray first conceived the Aerial Transfer Bridge and oversaw most of its construction and early operation. A Democrat, he served as city engineer intermittently until 1912, taking turns with Republican William Patton, his business partner in private practice. From 1897 to 1912, if a Republican was mayor, Patton held the job; if a Democrat sat in the mayor’s office, it became McGilvray’s responsibility. McGilvray also worked for St. Louis County for a while before returning to his old job with the city in 1931. A year before his death, a reporter asked him what he thought of his bridge’s 1930 conversion into the Aerial Lift Bridge. As the old engineer discussed both his transfer bridge and “that up-and-down gadget,” his voice still rolled with a Scottish burr even after living in the U.S. for over seventy-five years. “It’s been a good bridge,” he told the reporter, “But some day it will have to go. Every bridge runs itself out of business.” How surprised Mr. McGilvray would be if he knew his bridge is still Duluth’s most iconic landmark. Read more about Thomas McGilvray here.

Thomas McGilvray. (Image: St. Louis County Law Library)