Lester Park’s Rustic Bridge
From Lost Duluth: Landmarks, Industries, Buildings, Homes, and the Neighborhoods in Which They Stood, copyright © 2011, Zenith City Press, Duluth, Minnesota.
Green Bay, Wisconsin, native John Busha was born to an Ojibwe mother and a French-Canadian father in 1838. Busha served in the Civil War with Wisconsin’s Twelfth Infantry, the “Marching, Fighting Twelfth,” which in 1864 joined General William Tecumseh Sherman on his notorious March to the Sea. According to Ojibwe historian Christine Carlson, after the war Busha returned to Green Bay and married Rosalie Aino, and together they had seven children. Little is recorded about Busha’s life in the 1870s and 1880s. In 1893 he moved his family to Duluth and found employment as Lester Park’s first park policeman. Along with Frank Hodges, Busha ran the Harmonie Hall dance hall and a confectionary within the park. Busha’s two oldest sons, Abraham and George, also worked in the confectionary.
After heavy rains in 1896 washed out many of the river’s foot bridges, Duluth’s Park Board commissioned Busha to build a bridge across the river. In the winter of 1897 Busha, along with Abraham and George, set to work felling Lester Park’s cedar trees and using teams of horses to haul them to a site along the river. Then the Bushas started putting the unpeeled logs together until they spanned the river. Finally, Busha adorned the masterwork by carving Ojibwe embroidery designs into the wood. Their efforts earned the Bushas $345.68. The “Rustic Bridge,” as it was called, became a popular tourist stop, with picnic tables on the bottom deck and lounging on the upper promenade. The lower deck even featured large square viewing holes (surrounded by rails) that allowed picnickers to look down on the Lester’s roiling brown waters as they made their way to Lake Superior. Unfortunately, nature took its toll on the bridge, and the upper deck had to be removed in 1916 due to safety concerns. In 1931 the lower deck met the same fate. When the bridge came down, only Abe “Candy” Busha survived as one of its builders. He had earned his nickname running the confectionary at the White City amusement park; he later went to work for the city as a janitor.