The Battle to Convert the Aerial Bridge

Samuel Clark Dick, the man behind the Park Point Community Club’s drive to convert the transfer bridge into the lift bridge. (Image: Zenith City Press)

The residents of Park Point have never held their tongues when it came to matters of crossing the canal, and in 1927 they were ready to put their money where their mouths were. On January 27, representatives of the Park Point Community Club approached the City Council with a well planned and well presented proposal. After showing the inadequacy and rising cost of operating the ferry bridge, they proposed an idea that had already been proven successful all over the world: A vertical lift bridge, which would allow continuous foot and vehicle traffic except when raised to allow vessel passage. The group had also hired the Kansas City, Missourri, firm of Harrington, Howard & Ash to draw up the plans presented to council. Founded in 1914, HH&A was well respected. By 1928 they had built three dozen lift bridges. The firm’s principal partner, John L. Harrington (pictured top left), was a gifted civil engineer who had earlier been partnered with John A.L. Waddell, who invented the lift bridge.

The plans called for a twenty-four-foot-wide roadway with two streetcar tracks and pedestrian sidewalks on either side. Harrington explained that the new bridge could also incorporate much of the existing bridge’s structure, saving cost and time. Most importantly, the new bridge would be no more a potential hindrance to shipping than had the transfer bridge.

Park Point resident Samuel Clark Dick (pictured top right) spoke on behalf of the Park Point Community Club, which estimated the cost at $550,000. The Pointers then offered to pay one third of the cost through special assessments on their properties. As proof of its sincerity, the group provided a petition signed by 235 Park Point property owners, which represented 39 percent of land owners who controlled 49 percent of the Point’s taxed property. Dick reportedly traveled to New York City to obtain the signature of Julius Barnes, the Point’s largest land owner; at the time, Barnes was serving as the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce. He later donated $75,000 to the bridge’s conversion. The Council recognized a good thing when it saw one. Acting at its regular meetings in February, the Council passed the necessary resolutions to get the project moving.

Building the new bridge forced the city to jump through some of the same hoops it had navigated with the original bridge’s construction. Bonds had to be approved by legislators and Duluth voters. Since the bridge occupied federal ground it needed the approval of Congress, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of War. The Lake Carriers Association, representing the shipping industry, also had to give its OK.

Things moved surprisingly fast, and they couldn’t have gone smoother for the city. By the following April Duluth had all the required permissions it needed to convert its bridge, but first it had to sell the bonds to finance it and hire a firm to start building it by late 1928. The bond drive started immediately, but the construction bid process resulted in just two proposals, both far exceeding estimates as the city hadn’t considered the additional costs of winter construction. As it had in 1904, the city was forced to re-advertise for bids, delaying work until 1929. Duluth received five proposals for the work, and the contract ultimately went to the lowest bidder: The Kansas City Bridge Company (KCBC).

C. A. P. Turner. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Only one obstacle remained: The approval of the Corps of Engineer’s Major P. C. Bullard, who controlled the canal. Bullard had three concerns. First, he wanted two “comfort stations” built at either end of the bridge—bathrooms for spectators watching it lift. He also thought the bridge needed additional, redundant cables to provide more safety. Harrington, Howard & Ash quickly agreed to both requesrts. Finally, Bullard was concerned that the roadway was not fireproof. Engineer Harrington explained the how the materials used in the roadway made it fireproof, satisfying Bullard. Duluth was clear to build its bridge.

But first, CAP Turner got in the way. When Turner discovered Duluth’s plan to convert his beloved bridge, he met with city officials, offering alternative ideas he claimed would dramatically cut costs. He argued that the bridge’s overhead span did not need to be raised in order to accommodate the lifting roadway as HH&A had proposed. Instead, the old bridge could simply be raised about six feet by enlarging the pier foundations beneath its towers. Harrington declared the idea unfeasible, and pointed out that it did not comply with federal requirements.

At the City Council meeting of January 14, 1929, commissioners took sides, setting off a heated debate Chris Evans and James E. Foubister supported Turner, while Phillips, W. S. McCormick, and Mayor Snively stood behind the Harrington Plan. The next day the Duluth Evening Herald’s headline screamed “bridge debate stirs council.” Two weeks Philips he again called for the city to consider Turner’s plan. When the discussion turned into an argument, Snively moved for adjournment because Phillips was absent, which meant a 2–2 vote. Snively and McCormick walked out. The next day the headlines roared “council breaks up in a babble: aerial bridge problem disrupts meeting.” At the next meeting, with Philip’s present, the Turner plan was shot down in a 3–2 vote. Duluth was ready to convert the bridge.