Getting “Bridged”

Ever since the aerial lift bridge began lifting in 1930, the Park Point Community Club has not been afraid to share with the city its frustration over frequent bridge lifts, which leave cars and pedestrians “bridged”—stuck in traffic waiting for the bridge to raise and lower. Many Park Pointers learn to keep a book in the car to pass the time waiting for the road span to lower, and they always have an excuse if late: “I got bridged” is enough for any other Duluthian to understand the delay. Pointers try to keep their sense of humnor: Many of their cars sport a “Park Point Tunnel Pass” sticker.

“Get Bridged” was even the theme of the span’s 2005 centennial celebrations (logo below). Bridge supervisor Steve Douville retired that summer, his last lift occurring on March 31, for an unscheduled “maintenance lift.” But that symbolic event was delayed as it took him longer to reach the pilot house than anticipated: On his way to the bridge, Douville got bridged.
People who get upset at being bridged forget the span’s priority: Staying out of the way of commercial shipping traffic. In fact, one might argue that the “proper” position of the bridge’s lift span is up, and that when lowered for street and sidewalk traffic, the lift span is in a “temporary” position. And while it technically does nothing more than provide a means of crossing the canal, in doing so it physical links Duluth with Minnesota Point—the city’s birthplace—and the community of Park Point, making the city whole. Without the aerial bridge, Duluth would be incomplete.

In January 2005, as Duluth’s aerial bridge was just months away from its one hundredth anniversary, the city created the volunteer Aerial Lift Bridge Centennial Committee and Mayor Herb Bergson declared 2005 “The Year of the Lift Bridge”—both misnomers, as Duluth’s famous span had been a lift bridge for just seventy-five years.

The committee chose a theme, “Get Bridged,” and Dick Green, grandson of bridge boss Leonard Green, created its logo. A kick-off celebration included Jack Hicken, son of transfer bridge operator John Hicken. Duluth’s Greater Downtown Council helped the committee place bridge statues at various locations throughout the city. Many local artists created souvenir products celebrating the bridge, and several musicians even wrote songs about it. Artist Gary Lundstrom created two bridge exhibits for the Depot Museum while istorian Jerry Sandvick provided free “Bridge Tours.” The Park Point Community Club gathered three hundred recipes for a book titled Get Bridged, while the The Duluth News Tribune created a special issue titled Spanning a Century.

The festivities wrapped up in August with a celebration at Bayfront Park. By then, the volunteer committee had become frustrated with the Bergson administration. Many felt that the city had done little to help promote the bridge’s anniversary. So few people showed up at the August celebration that some of the volunteers said they felt as though their efforts had turned into little more than throwing themselves a party.

Since then the bridge and its tenders have carried on, quietly moving its history forward; as former bridge superintendent Ryan Beamer said in 2007, “If the bridge is working correctly and we’re doing our job right, no one notices.”

t the end of the 2021 shipping season, the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge had lifted 861,253 times since January 1930. Today the bridge and canal remain the focal point of the Zenith City’s tourism industry, and most Duluthians—as well as many of the thousands who visit Canal Park every year—understand that, despite its practical purpose, Duluth’s aerial bridge always has been and always will be much more than just a way to cross the canal.