January 21, 1901: Duluth mayor reports canal bridge is a go

On this day in Duluth in 1901, Mayor Trevanion 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.” This meant that the city would be able to build its proposed transfer bridge over the Duluth Ship Canal, which was owned by the federal government. Before the bridge could be built, it needed approval by the U. S. Corps of Engineers, who oversaw the canal’s operation, the Coast Guard, who oversaw harbor safety, and the Lake Carriers Association, a group made up of those who owned the vessels and docks that made up the Great Lake’s shipping industry. Job one was a bridge that in no way would ever prevent or delay commercial shipping traffic through the canal. Previous designs had all been rejected. Each had included plans for a bridge massive enough to carry pedestrians, wagons, streetcars and two lines of heavy gauge rail. The plan was that, as long as we’re paying for a bridge, make it function so that Minnesota Point could be industrialized just like Rice’s Point. Officials calculated that by dredging Duluth could create 22 linear miles of dock space on the harbor side of the point, creating the largest port in the world. Giant factories would stretch along Minnesota Point from the canal to the Superior Entry. But those early bridge designs were powered by steam, and the powers that be feared they would fail when in position across the canal, blocking shipping traffic. Because the transfer bridge would have to take trains across one car or engine at a time, heavy rail was impractical, and Minnesota Point and the community of Park Point remained (mostly) residential.

This sketch of Duluth’s proposed aerial transfer bridge appeared in Engineering News magazine in 1901. (Image: Zenith City Press)