January 25, 1883: Resolution passed for a permanent Bridge over Duluth Ship Canal 

On this day in Duluth in 1883, the Village Council passed a resolution to build a permanent bridge over the Duluth Ship Canal, which was cut in 1871. Since that time, Duluth had used a temporary bridge made of wooden poles and planks and wire cable. The resolution read: “Resolved, that the committee on public improvements take into consideration the propriety of asking Congress to authorize the building of a draw bridge across the Duluth canal, of sufficient size to accommodate one railroad track, one street car track, two carriage ways, and two sidewalks—taking into consideration, also, the practicality of such a bridge, and its cost.” The resolution had been introduced by Duluth pioneer George Stuntz, who is a key figure in the myths surrounding the canal’s digging. No permanent bridge would span the canal until 1905, and the resolution itself identifies the main problem with the phrase “the practicality of such a bridge.” Duluth didn’t get serious about bridging the canal until 1890, after promising the residents of Park Point the city would build a bridge if Park Point rejoined the city of Duluth. Bridge designs in the 1890s were all rejected because they shared the same problem: they were impractical. Each called for lanes for pedestrians, carriages, streetcars, and not one but two sets of railroad tracks—Duluth planned to use the bridge to help it industrialize all of Minnesota Point, making it the home of factories from the canal to the Superior Entry. But all the bridges were mechanical and driven by steam, and the powers that be thought there was too much risk they would fail and block shipping traffic through the canal. Read about the many early ideas to bridge the ship canal here.

The first bridge to span the Duluth Ship Canal, sketched in 1872 by Charles Johnson. (Image: Duluth Public Library)