Aerial Lift Bridge
Built in 1905, reconstructed in 1929
Architect was Thomas F. McGilvray; C.A.P. Turner
The bridge can be raised to its full height of 135 feet in about a minute, and is raised about 5,000 times per year.The span is about 390 feet (120 meters).
The bridge is owned and operated by the City of Duluth. The United States Army Corps of Engineers maintains a nearby maritime museum called the Lake Superior Maritime Museum, just a short walk from our hotel.
The bridge spans the Duluth Ship Canal, which was put through the miles-long sand spit named Minnesota Point, commonly called Park Point by locals.
Residents who lived on Park Point needed a way to get across. Several transportation methods were tried, though they were complicated by the weather. Ferries could work in the summer, but ice caused problems in colder months. A swinging footbridge was used but was considered unsafe.
"In 1892, a contest was held to find a solution. The winning design came from John Low Waddell, who drew up plans for a high-rise vertical lift bridge. The city of Duluth was eager to build the bridge, which would have been about 130 feet (40 m) wide. However, the War Department objected to the design, and the project was canceled before it could be built. Waddell's design went on to be built in Chicago, Illinois, as the slightly larger South Halsted Street Bridge, which was removed in 1932.
New plans were later drawn up for a structure that would ferry people from one side to the other. This type of span, known variously as an aerial transfer, ferry, or transporter bridge, was first demonstrated in Bilbao's Vizcaya Bridge in 1893 and one in France in 1898. Duluth's bridge was inspired by the one in France, though the actual construction is quite different. The architect was a city engineer, Thomas McGilvray.
When it was completed in 1905, the Aerial Bridge's gondola had a capacity of 60 short tons (54 tonnes) and could carry 350 people plus wagons, streetcars, or automobiles. A trip across the canal took about one minute, and the ferry car moved across once every five minutes during busy times of the day. A growing population on Minnesota Point, a greater demand for cars, and an increase in tourism soon meant that the bridge's capacity was being stretched to the limit.
A remodeling was planned that would remove the gondola and incorporate a lifting platform into the structure. The firm finally commissioned with designing the new bridge was the descendant of Waddell's company. The new design, which closely resembles the 1892 concept, is attributed to C.A.P. Turner. Reconstruction began in 1929. In order to ensure that tall ships could still pass under the bridge, the top span had to be raised to accommodate the new deck when raised. The support columns on either side were also modified so that they could hold new counterweights to balance the weight of the lifting portion. The new bridge first lifted for a vessel, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tugboat Essayons, on March 29, 1930.
The bridge was designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017."