Clearing the way to construct the Aerial Transfer Bridge

Duluth had prospered during the 1890s, thanks in no small way to the iron mining industry that kept the docks and canal busy shipping out loads from the Mesaba Range. The lumber and grain industries continued to feed the economy as well. With the merger of townships, Duluth’s population had grown tenfold, from 3,483 residents in 1880 to 33,115 in 1890. During the 1890s Park Point and the rest of Minnesota Point south of the canal had become a popular summer playground for Duluthians, a place to recreate for an afternoon or camp for an extended period of time; some spent the entire summer on the island. The Point had also, like the North Shore and Isle Royale, become a haven for hay fever sufferers, who summered at these pollen-free locations; antihistamines were a long way off. In fact, in 1900 Duluth would become home to the Hay Fever Club of America. Besides Park Point’s citizens, many other Duluthians had started to clamor for a crossing solution more safe and practical than the ferry boat system.

In 1899, as Duluth thrived (its population surging to over 50,000), work on the new canal piers progressed, and Park Pointers continued to call for their promised bridge, Thomas McGilvray, Duluth’s City Engineer, had been reading about a new bridge being built over the River Seine at Rouen, France.

Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1863, the son of a Presbyterian minister, McGilvray attended private schools and earned an engineering degree at the University of Edinburgh. After his father died, twenty-one-year-old McGilvray emigrated to North America armed with a letter of recommendation from his maternal grandfather, noted botanist Sir William Hooker. The letter landed him work as a surveyor for the Canadian Pacific Railroad in Calgary in 1884. This led to a job in Minneapolis with the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Sault Ste. Marie (or “Soo Line”) Railway. In 1887 he was briefly employed as county surveyor for Pine County, Minnesota, before going to work for StP&D. Working out of St. Paul, McGilvray began to put his stamp on Duluth on behalf of StP&D as early as 1887. He laid the foundation of the Duluth Union Depot and designed the street layout for Smithville and portions of West Duluth the railroad owned, and oversaw the construction of the Sixth Avenue Viaduct.

City directories first list McGilvray as a Duluth resident in 1891, employed with the firm of Patton & Frank owned by William B. Patton and Charles P. Frank. Patton had been Duluth’s City Engineer in 1885 and operated a number of engineering firms in Duluth. When Patton again became Duluth’s City Engineer in 1893, McGilvray started his own firm, Rice & McGilvray, with Samuel L. Rice. After Rice moved from Duluth in 1895, McGilvray went into private practice and did some work for the city, designing Lakeside’s street layout and Duluth’s water works, among other projects. In 1897 he replaced Patton as Duluth’s City Engineer for the first time, and the question of crossing the canal had officially fallen to him. He knew well the problems faced by the previous ideas for Boller’s swing bridge, Sooy Smith’s tunnel, and Waddell’s lift bridge. He needed a completely new approach.

In France, the Seine caused a problem similar to the canal: people and goods needed to get across it, but its shipping lanes needed to remain free of obstruction. The Rouen Transporter Bridge, designed by Ferdinand Arnodin, used a suspension bridge frame to carry a ferry car above the water; when not in motion, the ferry rested over land, not over the river, allowing the free flow of marine traffic. (See “Mr. McGilvray’s Inspiration” on page 45).

McGilvray at once recognized the potential of a similar bridge over Duluth’s Ship Canal. In 1899, the same year the French bridge would be completed, McGilvray sat at his drawing table, adapting Arnodin’s plans for the Duluth Ship Canal.

The City loved it. After endless rejection, they had given up on a bridge that would allow railroads access to Minnesota Point and its proposed twenty-two miles of docking space, so any structure for crossing the canal no longer needed railroad tracks or contiguous access. The idea was certainly less expensive than any other previously proposed, and a pittance compared to the tunnel idea: perhaps no more than $100,000. But much had to be done before a single rivet was hammered in place. The city needed to make sure Captain McDougall’s Lake Carriers Association would not once again oppose the plan, it needed the permission of Congress and the Secretary of War to build the bridge on and over government property, it needed to find a firm willing to build the bridge, and it had to come up with the funds to pay for the bridge and its operation and maintenance. All that would take time—much more time than anyone ever thought.

In 1900 the city established the Canal Bridge Commission to get the job done: Alderman Thomas F. Trevillion, Common Council President James L. Cromwell, Councilor Marcus B. Cullum, Mayor Trevanion W. Hugo, City Attorney Oscar Mitchell, and William B. Patton, who had replaced McGilvray as City Engineer.

The reason Patton replaced McGilvray at this crucial point in the bridge’s development remains unclear, but there are clues that suggest it was politics at work. Back in 1897 McGilvray had not stepped into the City Engineer’s position easily. Despite being appointed by the Board of Public Works with a 2–1 vote, Public Works President Charles Wilson protested the results, championing a second nominee, E. J. Duffles—and the Council had to confirm the Board’s vote to make it official. 
A vote to confirm McGilvray ended in a 9–6 defeat. The next day the Duluth News-Tribune’s headline read, “Down Goes Mr. Mac.” Whatever the nine nay-voting 
aldermen had against McGilvray, it was cleared up by June of that year, when he officially took office as the City Engineer. So in 1900, the year Trevanion W. Hugo replaced Henry Truelsen as Duluth’s mayor, Patton replacing McGilvray may have had more to do with who sat in the mayor’s office and on the Common Council than either engineer’s qualifications for the job.

While Patton had replaced McGilvray just as his aerial bridge idea was moving forward, there is little doubt McGilvray was in constant contact with the project, albeit not at an official level: since Patton was now preoccupied with the matters of the city, McGilvray stepped in to help run Patton’s Duluth Engineering Company; essentially, they traded jobs for four years.

1901: Permission Granted

The Commission found success with one issue early the next year. On January 21, 1901, Mayor Hugo reported to the Common Council that the city had received “unofficial assurances from the Lake Carriers Association that their opposition to bridging the ship canal has been removed, and expect official notification any day.” He also indicated the Commission was moving quickly to remove its biggest obstacle; a bill was being prepared for Congress, which was empowered to grant permission to build the bridge over federal property. The next step was to find a builder.

Early in February 1901 the Commission placed ads in the Duluth News-Tribune and the Engineering Record asking for bids regarding two methods of financing. In the first option, the contractor would own, operate, and maintain the bridge and Duluth would pay for the construction, operation, and  maintenance in annual installments for twenty years, after which it would take possession of the bridge. The second option also included twenty years of annual payments, but the money would cover the construction cost only; Duluth would take possession as soon as the building was complete, and operation and maintenance from that point on would be the City’s responsibility. Bids were due by March 25.

Armed with the Lake Carriers Association’s approval, in February City Attorney Mitchell wrote to Secretary of War Elihu Root, enclosing a draft of a bill authorizing the city to construct the bridge over the canal and asking whether Congress needed to enact special legislation to give Duluth permission to build on and over the canal and, if so, that he introduce the bill in Congress. Root replied that “as the Duluth canal is a waterway wholly within the state of Minnesota, it is believed that the Secretary of War is empowered…to approve plans for a bridge thereover, if the construction of such a bridge is authorized by the laws of the state.” So if Minnesota law allowed the bridge, the federal government could then pass legislation allowing for the bridge, and Duluth could build its bridge. In March Duluth put just such a bill before the state legislature.

The Mayor’s annual message to the Common Council, also delivered in March, explained the developments and again stressed the need for the bridge while describing its economic advantages: “The necessity [for a bridge] has long been felt, as the inhabitants of that part of the city known as ‘Park Point,’ have been cut off from direct communication with the business portion of the town ever since the ship canal was cut, their only means of transportation having been by row-boat or steam ferry, and as the City has been obliged to provide for ferry transportation at a cost of from $8,000 to $9,000 per annum.” A bridge would improve that communication, and if its cost—estimated at $100,000—were spread over a number of years, the improvement would create no additional cost; in fact, it may well be cheaper. Another benefit the Mayor mentioned was that “property on Park Point would be greatly enhanced.”

The mayor went on to add that the bridge’s plans would create a unique structure, “the only one of its kind on this continent.” It would be similar to the bridge already standing in Rouen:

The design consists of an elevated truss, 142 feet above the water level in the canal, supported by steel towers, the span being 401 feet. The truss is provided with a trackway of rails, on which runs a truck, from which is suspended at a height of 8 ft. above the water and level with the roadway of Lake Avenue, a car 25 ft. in width by 40 ft. in length, capable of carrying a double-truck street car, two or more wagons and teams, as well as a full load of foot passengers. The truck and suspended ferry car are to be moved across the canal at a speed of four miles per hour, the motive power being electricity, which will be applied by a motorman on the car, in the same manner in which street cars are operated.

On March 25 Mayor Hugo, reporting on behalf of the Bridge Commission, explained that the City had only received one bid, from the Minneapolis branch of the American Bridge Company, founded a year earlier by J. P. Morgan. In its bid, American Bridge proposed that in exchange for twenty annual payments of $7,000 each, it would build the bridge and operate it for six months to work out any problems or flaws before handing operations over to the city. The price: $140,000, $40,000 more than the City had expected. Still, it was a sum the city’s engineers considered reasonable.

In April 1901 the mayor reported to the Common Council that the Bridge Commission had resolved to enter a contract with the American Bridge Company, contingent on the City Engineer’s approval of design and cost and, of course, the federal government’s approval. While waiting for that approval, work continued on the plans. At the American Bridge Company, Claude Allen Porter Turner—who had created the company’s submitted plans for the bridge based on McGilvray’s sketches—was put in charge of the project.

C. A. P. Turner had arrived in Minneapolis just a few years earlier. Born in Rhode Island in 1869, he had earned an Engineering degree at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University before going to work for a number of railroads and bridge-building outfits. He would eventually earn over thirty patents and designed such monumental Midwest bridges as the Arcola High Bridge over the St. Croix River north of Stillwater, Minnesota, and the Mendota Bridge, which links Minneapolis and St. Paul over the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. He also built other famous buildings in St. Paul, including West Publishing, and courthouses in other Midwest cities such as Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Fairmont, Minnesota; he also designed the South Dakota State Capitol building in Pierre. But in the summer of 1901, his focus was on Duluth’s transporter bridge.

Throughout the summer Turner corresponded with McGilvray and City Engineer Patton in Duluth to refine the plans. Turner also traded letters with Captain D. D. Gaillard, in charge of the Corps of Engineers—and therefore, the canal—in Duluth. Gaillard worked nearly his entire life on canals, and

after leaving Duluth in 1903 would rise to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel while working on the construction of the Panama Canal. (Sadly, Gaillard would die before the Canal opened in 1915; President Woodrow Wilson would rename a portion of the canal known as the “Celubra Cut” to the “Gaillard Cut” and raise Gaillard’s rank to full colonel posthumously.) Gaillard suggested that the bridge plans be enhanced by the addition of ornamental towers reaching above the bridge’s span. They would not make it to the final design. In his letter to Gaillard, Turner stated that he expected the foundations to be complete by November 1, and the support towers would stand by the first day of 1902. The American Bridge Company would complete the entire job by April 15 of that year.

But before that bid could be accepted and a contract signed, Duluth still needed the government’s permission to build the bridge. The American Bridge Company wrote the city in June, urging them to push to obtain that permission, suggesting Mayor Hugo travel to Washington, D.C. to lobby in person. Hugo did not go to Washington, but on June 20 City Attorney Mitchell sent Acting Secretary of War William Sanger, Root’s temporary replacement, a draft of a bill authorizing the city to construct the bridge over the canal. Sanger, noting that the city was asking to permanently occupy federal property, claimed the War Department had no authority to grant that permission and could only provide a revocable license. Congress had adjourned for vacation—failing to garner approval would delay the project another year, the newspapers announced.

So Mayor Hugo and Minnesota Congressman Page Morris went to work on the War Department, renewing Duluth’s attempt to gain temporary permission to start work immediately, without waiting for Congress to reconvene. Their efforts were better received by Sanger’s successor, Acting Secretary of War G. L. Gillespie. Good news arrived in early September, when Gillespie granted a permit—actually a revocable license—to build the bridge and to occupy government property during construction. It stipulated that the bill before Congress to allow the city to permanently occupy the bridge site must pass in the next session or the permit would be revoked. That permission wouldn’t officially arrive until February 1902, but no one had any doubts as to its passage and meanwhile the path had been made clear; Duluth could start building its bridge.

Hugo went straight into action, writing to the American Bridge Company asking to begin building straight away. He then convened the Bridge Commission, which immediately started drawing up contracts so that the bridge would be operating as soon as possible. The terms remained the same: American Bridge Company would build the bridge and operate it for its first six months; Duluth would pay $100,000 for the bridge in twenty annual installments of $7,000; the $40,000 in interest was considered “reasonable.”

But yet another fly had fallen into the ointment. Earlier in the year, American Bridge, owned by J. P. Morgan, merged with Morgan’s newly created U.S. Steel (USS). The parent company’s articles of incorporation prevented American Bridge from taking payment “on the installment plan.” And so directors of American Bridge—including George F. Edwards, president, and W. H. Osborn, secretary—created the Duluth Canal Bridge Company (DCBC) “for the purpose of taking the contract off the American Bridge Company’s hands.” The new company, under the direction of General Manager A. Y. Bayne, also allowed the creation of a new contract. American Bridge claimed the ultimate price of $140,000 would violate the legislative act that allowed for the bridge to be built “at a price not to exceed $100,000.” So the DCBC would require a new contract, one that paid for construction with a bond. Under USS, American Bridge could not issue bonds. But the DCBC was not a direct subsidiary of USS. It could both enter into the contract and issue bonds.

American Bridge also asked that McGilvray officiate the construction by acting as resident engineer for the DCBC, which would act as the general contractor. So on October 7 the Common Council returned the American Bridge Company’s deposit and immediately authorized a proposal for the city to enter a new contract with DCBC. The new company’s letterhead featured a drawing of the proposed bridge, complete with Captain Gaillard’s ornamental towers.

The new contract called for the bridge to be complete by April 1, 1902, barring any unforeseen delays; if delayed, the DCBC had until May 1, 1903, to finish the job. Plus, the company would run the bridge for at least three months once it was operational, but no more often than once every fifteen minutes from 6 a.m. until midnight and once every half hour from midnight until 6 a.m. The cost would be $100,000, paid for with bonds issued by DCBC at 4 percent interest. The company would give Duluth a $25,000 surety bond, guaranteeing the work would finish on time. The bridge’s plans were outlined in the City Engineer’s annual report of 1901:

The plans, as approved, are for a stiff riveted girder of 393 ft. 9 in. span, supported on steel towers resting on pile and concrete foundations, with the bottom chord of the bridge 135 ft. above high water. The ferry car is suspended by stiff, riveted hangers from trucks running on tracks placed within the bottom chords of the trusses. The car is proportioned to carry a loaded streetcar of 21 tons, and the remainder of the floor loaded with 110 pounds per square foot.

The ferry car itself would be fifty feet long and over thirty feet wide, with a seventeen-foot-wide center roadway and seven foot-wide walkways on either side. The middle thirty feet of each walk would be enclosed to form a cabin. Cables powered by two fifty-horse-power electric streetcar motors installed beneath the ferry (only one would operate at a time, the other reserved as a back up) would drive the ferry car at a rate of four miles an hour. The motors turned a drum on the side of the car; the cables wound around the drum and up to a traveling pulley—a truck holding many sets of wheels, really—that rode along the truss. The revolving drum set the car in motion. If the electric motors failed for any reason, operators could use a hand gear to move the car safely to shore and out of the way of oncoming vessels. When at rest, the ferry car would hang over dry land, allowing ships to pass freely.

A company on paper only, DCBC sublet the structural work back to the American Bridge Company; now relieved of the burden of financing the project, American Bridge could handle the iron work without violating USS’s articles of incorporation. The shadow company then hired the Duluth firm of Hugo & Timms to build the bridge’s foundations, which was well into its task by the year’s end. Around this same time Turner left the American Bridge Company to start his own Minneapolis consulting firm.

1902: A Foundation, but No Bridge

With the DCBC in place and the subcontractor hard at work on the foundation, 1902 looked promising for Park Pointers and all who wanted a bridge. On February 7 the revocable license granted in September of 1901 was finally approved by Congress. The March 20 edition of Engineering News featured an article on the bridge—the first of its kind in the hemisphere and the only stiff-trussed transporter bridge in the world—written not by Turner or McGilvray but by City Engineer W. B. Patton, complete with plans and an artist’s conception of the finished bridge. These plans, however, no longer included the ornamental towers suggested by Captain Gaillard.

But by March plans had hit a snag, a glimpse of the logjam ahead. Although Hugo & Timms had completed the foundations, the DCBC reported that it had become impossible for the company to secure the steel needed to build the bridge; construction would be delayed until at least 1903. The company also continued to struggle in its efforts to raise money for the project. They eventually acquired a $25,000 surety bond from Duluth’s Commercial Investment Company; $75,000 short of what they needed, but enough to allow them to pay for the pier foundations. Meanwhile, Patton got C. A. P. Turner back on the project by hiring his consulting firm to inspect all the material and machinery for the bridge.

In August DCBC showed signs of balking at the project. Citing alterations to the plans by City Engineer Patton that would increase costs, the company requested its contract be modified—Duluth would have to give up its right to have the completed bridge tested before it paid DCBC for the structure. While going over DCBC’s plans prior to the ultimate signing of the contract, Patton had noticed that its specifications would have created an unsafe structure, so he sent back alterations that would make the bridge 25 percent stronger. DCBC agreed to make the changes. In an article in the Duluth News-Tribune on August 15, Patton suggested that DCBC was using the changes to weasel out of its contract because

it was having a difficult time raising the money to pay for it. “I know that a bridge of this kind,” Patton said, “which may or may not be accepted and paid for after it is built, is a poor proposition to borrow money on, and it might be a difficult matter to float the bonds with the contract as it is now.”

Patton’s assessment was spot on: Four days later DCBC wrote to Mayor Hugo withdrawing its modification request, claiming it had made arrangements to secure the bridge’s financing, so it would no longer ask the city for any more “favors” such as contract changes. A newspaper report on the matter hinted that in the event DCBC could not uphold its end of the contract, an unnamed firm willing to take over the contract had already contacted the mayor.

Seeing no progress made over the summer, and noting that another outfit was eager to build the bridge, residents of Park Point began getting impatient. In October they sent a petition to the Common Council urging the Council to either hold DCBC to its contract and its deadlines or enter into a contract with a firm that could get the job done by the time shipping resumed the following spring. The petition was nothing new to Park Pointers: they had been on top of the Council to provide a bridge since rejoining Duluth (and, of course, had demanded a bridge since the digging of the canal). Since the government had rejected the Waddell Bridge idea back in 1892, residents had tenaciously taken every opportunity to illustrate the need for a bridge by complaining repeatedly about the inconsistent and unsafe ferry system.

They could complain all they wanted, but DCBC couldn’t procure any steel and doubted any one else could. In a letter to Patton in November, DCBC general manager Bayne reported that it would be impossible for his firm to have steel delivered until March 1903, and with the shipping season to open in April, it would be another year of delays for the bridge. Bayne then stated that he doubted the validity of the Park Pointers’ petition, claiming that, “if you, or they, know of any one willing to take the contract and erect the work this winter, we will be glad to turn over to them all material, plans, etc. that we have and assist in every way possible in building this bridge.” In other words, Bayne implied, if someone thinks they can do this by next April, good luck to them; if not, don’t bother us with any more foolish petitions.

The city had grown as impatient as its residents south of the canal. In November the Bridge Commission wanted the city to make a clear statement of its frustration. It advised against litigation at that time, as DCBC did technically have until May 1, 1903, to finish the bridge, a feat quite impossible if steel didn’t arrive until March. The company would eventually default on the contract, and the city would be able to act once the deadline passed. In the meantime, the Bridge Commission suggested the city go on record regarding its intent to firmly hold DCBC to its contract. On November 17 the Common Council unanimously passed a resolution insisting on “strict compliance” with the contract and that, should DCBC default on its contract, the city would sue the company for damages and force it to complete the construction. The strategy now was to simply sit tight and wait for DCBC to default.

Within days rumors started flying that DCBC had abandoned the bridge project, which City Attorney Mitchell told the newspaper he did not believe, but admitted the rumor was not entirely unfounded. Mitchell called building the bridge by the deadline “improbable” but suggested DCBC had too much invested to “throw up the contract.” He optimistically suggested the project would be finished within the year. On November 22 the newspaper reported on an upcoming meeting between DCBC and the city, saying that the Bridge Commission planned to “give the Canal Bridge company a touch of strenuous life” by insisting the company get to work. The paper suggested this sort of tough-love would not only be good for the DCBC, but serve as an example to other contractors as well: “Let not Duluth get the reputation of being an easy mark for anybody.”

At the conference, held on November 22, DCBC said it had done all it could: Despite rumors to the contrary, 90 percent of the structure’s steel had been paid for and delivered to American Bridge, but shop work—cutting to length and some riveting—could not be done in time for the bridge to be built over the winter of 1902–1903. The meeting ended with DCBC saying it would make a formal request to extend the deadline so that the bridge could be built the winter of 1903–1904. The City denied the request, sticking to its plan to wait for DCBC to default the following May.

1903: The Delays Continue

The “Ferry Bridge” portion of the City Engineer’s annual report for 1903, published in 1904, begins, “This much desired project has passed through another year of vexatious delay.” It is an echo of a sentiment shared by Mayor Hugo, whose annual report to the Common Council in March 1903 began, “It is very annoying to have to report little progress on the Duluth Ship Canal Bridge….” No work had been done since the foundations had been completed nearly a year earlier. In his report the Mayor cited an even greater demand for the bridge: “It is not needed for convenience sake alone but for the safety of the hundreds of citizens who now use the ferry, and the crowds who swarm to Park Point during summer months.” And the crowds would only grow: that summer the Duluth Boat Club moved its headquarters to a new clubhouse it had built on the bay side of Park Point at Tenth Street; at the time, the Boat Club was the social hub of Duluth’s elite (see “The Duluth Boat Club,” left). Hugo recommended that when the contract with DCBC inevitably lapsed in May, the City should clear any claims the company has on the foundations and advertise for fresh bids—the process would start all over again.

The deadline lapsed, and on May 18 the Mayor reported to the Common Council that the New York firm of Roebling & Sons stood ready to build a suspension bridge—not a stiff trussed bridge as planned. That same day C. A. P. Turner showed his passion for building the bridge according to his plans. Turner knew the bridge would be a big deal: it would be the first transfer bridge in the western hemisphere, and the only stiff-trussed transfer bridge anywhere in the world; designing it would certainly propel his career. He had previously told the Commission he knew of a firm ready to take on the project following his plans, and in a letter to the Common Council stated he would gladly provide the city with his complete working details of the ferry bridge so the City could better compare bids. The same letter outlined the trouble a suspension bridge would create and stated that a bridge following his plans could be built in a year, nine months if the contract included bonuses for early completion. Newspapers reported that Turner himself offered to finishthe work, claiming to have “ample backing” to see the project to its end.

In a letter to the Common Council on May 23, Mayor Hugo reminded the Council that the contract had officially lapsed and that the city should resolve to eject the Duluth Canal Bridge Company from the foundation site and once again open the project to bids. The Council also received a petition from the residents of Park Point, making the same claims and requests the Mayor had. A resolution passed two days later.

Finding a company to take on the project proved no easy task. Faced with building Turner’s transfer bridge, and not a suspension bridge, Roebling & Sons declined to bid, stating they could not build the bridge specified for less than $160,000. An attempt to lure back American Bridge also failed, as the company claimed the bridge could not be built for $100,000—that price had been set by the State, and Duluth could not change it. Eager as always to get the bridge built according to his plans, Turner went east, courting every bridge-building outfit he knew of: Cleveland’s King Bridge Co., the Phoenix Bridge Co. of Philadelphia, McClintic-Marshal Construction Co. in New York City, and several others. Not a single eastern firm was willing to take on the project. The possibility of getting his bridge built seemed to be slipping away from Turner; certainly the good people of Park Point were equally frustrated.

In August, looking closer to home, Turner at last found a willing company. The Modern Steel Structural Co. (MSS) of Waukesha, Wisconsin, submitted a bid—the only one received— and contract negotiations followed.

But DCBC wasn’t quite done. The shadow company claimed it owned C.A.P. Turner’s plans as well as the foundation piers it had built under the contract. According the City Attorney Mitchell, DCBC “had given a trust deed upon all of its interest in the contract, with the city and in the work done under it, and bonds were issued secured by that trust deed.” Indeed, the company had secured a $25,000 bond. The Common Council wanted the City to take legal action, but Mitchell advised that any legal proceedings against DCBC could delay contract negotiations with MSS, as it would have raised questions whether Duluth even had the right to enter into another contract. So, while in his opinion DCBC had no legal claim over the foundation piers, Mitchell suggested the city give DCBC $5,000 to settle any claims of ownership it may make over the plans or foundation piers; DCBC’s attorneys held that they had a valid lien of $20,000 on the piers alone. The Common Council rejected Mitchell’s proposal, deciding to wait and see if DCBC would bring any action. Sure enough, the company did place a lien on the foundation. The city paid the lien holder, Duluth’s Commercial Investment Company, $3,500 to settle the matter. City records show no more correspondence with DCBC.

Meanwhile, MSS was not pleased with the contract’s financing terms, and rejected it. But MSS still wanted the job, and so resubmitted their bid but this time did not precisely follow the requirements posted in the advertisement. The Council accepted this proposal, but would have to wait until a court decided if the contract was valid in light of the previous DCBC contract.

That process involved several court proceedings and a test suit to determine the contract’s legality that wound up in the Minnesota Supreme Court. On November 9 the Court upheld that Duluth was proceeding correctly under law, but that it had seen evidence MSS and Duluth had gotten together to discuss terms prior to the proposal’s submission. It also held that the contract must go to the lowest bidder. So Duluth could proceed, but not under the current contract with MSS. The bid process must start once again.

The city immediately reopened the process, setting a deadline of January 23, 1904, for bids on a ferry bridge to be completed by November 1, 1904. Anticipating it would receive no other bids, the city continued its negotiations with MSS. Turner would keep his finger on the bridge’s pulse: the sale of his plans to MSS included him staying on the project as consultant.

The Persistent Mr. Strauss

As Duluth struggled to find a firm to build its bridge during the summer of 1903, at least one Chicago engineer was more than willing to give it a try. The trouble was, he didn’t want to build on C. A. P. Turner’s plans; he wanted to build a bridge of his own design.

Joseph B. Strauss got off on the wrong foot, assuming that bidders were to submit their own ideas. His plan called for a transfer bridge whose ferry car actually rode up into the bridge’s superstructure, not a suspended car as Turner’s plans called for. Its design also did not allow for a 136-foot height clearance across the canal’s entire width, a Corps of Engineers’ requirement.

Still, he kept writing Duluth City Engineer W. B. Patton asking that his idea be considered. He insisted that his plan was “an improvement over the Turner design in cost, appearance, freedom from interference with river [sic] traffic and also in the pleasure of the ride.” Each time Patton said no, Strauss wrote back ever longer letters. When told the design would not work as submitted, he suggested lengthening his bridge, which would mean destroying the existing foundations and building new ones, projects that would eliminate any cost savings over Turner’s plan.

Strauss’s final letter to Patton is dated November 28, 1903, but he must have implied to his fellow Chicagoans that his plan was an option approved by Duluth. Unaware that the city was already working with Modern Steel Structural, in January of 1904 Chicago contracting engineers Roemheld & Gallery asked Patton for the chance to bid on the “Strauss design.”