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Postcard showing the following bridges, heading upriver:   Minneapolis Western Railroad, Lower (10th Avenue), Stone Arch, and falsework for the Third Avenue bridge, under construction; ca. 1917
  In addition to the many bridges present today in the Minneapolis Riverfront District, the area also harbors the ghosts of bridges from the past which have been since replaced or removed. The remnants of some of these can be seen in today’s landscape, while others exist only in memory and old photographs. Some of these bridges crossed the main channel of the Mississippi or linked islands with the bank; others were entirely on land, crossing other barriers such as rail lines or roadways.


Key to Map:

A Minneapolis Western Railroad Bridge

B 10th Avenue South (Lower) Bridge

C Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad Bridge

D Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad trestle

E Minneapolis Eastern Railroad trestle

F Minneapolis Mill Company waterpower tailrace canal bridges

G First Street South Bridge

H Hennepin Island east channel bridges

I Hennepin Avenue main and east channel bridges

J First and second Plymouth Avenue (Upper) bridges

Lost Bridges
Bridge Tour Path

Minneapolis Western Railroad Bridge (1887 - 1952)

Bridge type: iron under-truss bridge

As the milling district on the west side of the Falls grew, so did a complex of railyards to facilitate shipment of raw materials and finished goods. The Minneapolis Western Railroad was incorporated in 1884 specifically to serve the flour mills, and, by 1891, it had started building riverside yards just downstream of the mills. In 1887, it built an iron truss bridge to serve the future railyard; this bridge followed a diagonal alignment across the river, leaving the east bank at 8th Avenue Southeast and reaching the west bank at 11th Avenue South. The bridge was acquired by the Great Northern Railroad in 1928 and demolished in 1952.
Minneapolis Western Railroad bridge, looking toward east bank with Lower St. Anthony Falls Hydrostation in background, 1903

10th Avenue South/Lower Bridge (1874 - 1943)

Bridge type: iron under-truss bridge, replacing an earlier wood footbridge

This bridge, as well as the Upper (first Plymouth Avenue) Bridge, was built as part of an agreement made between the cities of St. Anthony and Minneapolis when they consolidated in 1872. A narrow wooden footbridge existed in this location as early as 1857, but it may have been demolished after just a few years, leaving this reach of the river without a convenient connection.  

The city of St. Anthony, looking downstream, with Hennepin Island at the right and the first Lower (10th Avenue) footbridge in the distance, 1857
Lower Bridge under construction, 1874

In 1873, the King Bridge Company of Topeka, Kansas began construction of an iron truss bridge on masonry piers, connecting 10th Avenue South on the west bank with 6th Avenue Southeast on the east side. It was originally known as the Lower Bridge and later as the 10th Avenue Bridge. In deteriorating condition, it was closed to vehicular traffic in 1934 and was demolished in early 1943, with the scrap iron recycled for use in World War II. One masonry pier still stands today like a sentinel in the river near the east bank. This bridge should not be confused with the current 10th Avenue (Cedar Avenue) bridge, built in 1929, which is located downstream of the earlier bridge.

10th Avenue Bridge looking toward west bank, with Stone Arch Bridge in background, ca. 1920
10th Avenue Bridge about to be demolished, 1942

Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad Bridge (at 10th Avenue South)
(ca. 1891 - ?)

Bridge type: iron through plate-girder bridge

  Around 1891, the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad built a short bridge parallel to the west bank of the river to carry its tracks over 10th Avenue South. The tracks continued into the downstream end of the milling district and facilitated the movement of raw materials and finished products to and from the mills. Portions of this bridge may have been incorporated into today’s West River Parkway adjacent to the Guthrie Theater complex.

View along 10th Avenue South of M & St. L RR bridge, 1916

Except from an panoramic view of Minneapolis, showing the M & St. L RR bridge in the center, crossing 10th Avenue South; the Minneapolis Western Railroad bridge crosses 10th Avenue diagonally in the foreground, 1891

Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad/Minneapolis Western Railroad/Great Northern Railroad trestle (1878 - 1936)
Minneapolis Eastern Railroad trestle (1879 - 1962)

Two railroads built spur lines within the heart of the west-side milling district to bring raw materials to the very doors of the mills and carry away finished flour and other goods. These spur lines were built on bridge-like trestles elevated over the main waterpower canal (now the West River Parkway Plank Road) and the tailrace (outflow) canal (now part of Mill Ruins Park). The M & St. L RR was created by the Washburn brothers, who also owned several mills in the district, including the famous Washburn Mill. Their first trestle was a wooden structure built over the canal in 1878, subsequently reconstructed in iron by the Minneapolis Western Railroad in 1885. Since the trestle could not support the weight of locomotives, train cars were pulled along the trestle by a turbine driven by the waterpower of the Falls. In 1879, the rival Minneapolis Eastern Railroad built another elevated rail spur which served the mills from the river (tailrace) side. Remnants of the iron supports of this trestle are visible in Mill Ruins Park.  
M & St. L RR trestle over main waterpower
canal, 1885

Minneapolis Eastern Railroad trestle, 1885

Minneapolis Mill Company waterpower tailrace canal bridges (various, 1857 – 1962)

Direct-drive waterpower was supplied to the mills of Minneapolis’ west-side milling district via a canal which conveyed water at the higher, “above the Falls” elevation, full of potential energy. After driving turbines, the spent water, now at the lower, “below the Falls” elevation, exited from each mill and flowed back into the river through a “tailrace” canal. This canal was originally simply a natural river channel between the west bank and adjacent Upton’s Island. Over time, the Minneapolis Mill Company and its succesors formalized the tailrace canal with walls and other structures. Bridges of various types were built to connect from Upton’s Island over the tailrace to the mills on the bank.

Tailrace canal, looking downstream, with mills
and railroad trestle on the right and an
insubstantial- looking footbridge at the far end
(date unknown)
Tailrace canal, looking down from Stone Arch bridge, with a more substantial bridge in the foreground, ca. 1945

First Street South Bridge (1880s - 1999)

Bridge type: iron through plate-girder bridge with limestone abutments

Sometime in the early 1880s, a bridge was built to carry First Street on the west side of the river across the rail corridor of the Minneapolis and St. Louis (later Chicago and Northwestern) Railway. This single-span bridge was just 85 feet long and 35 wide, with a plank sidewalk running along its south side. It was replaced in 1999 with the current bridge in this location.

Except from an panoramic view of Minneapolis, showing the 1st Street bridge in the center, crossing the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway line, 1885

Except from an panoramic view of Minneapolis, showing the 1st Street bridge in the center, crossing the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway line; 1891

Hennepin Island east channel bridges (various, ca. 1851 – ca. 1940)

The earliest development around the Falls occurred on the east bank near Hennepin Island, so some of the earliest rough bridges in the area were built to span the channel between the island and the bank. Early photographs show frighteningly flimsy structures perched tenuously just on the rim of the east face of the Falls. This could easily have been the bridge described by Elizabeth Ellet, who visited the area in 1852:

  A little below, a foot bridge, two boards wide, shackling and uncertain, but safe enough at the present season, conducts you to an elevated rocky island [Hennepin] which divides the principal falls … Crossing it at the upper end to the shore, and descending to the smooth edge of rock, you come soon to the shelf of rock which faces the great falls of St Anthony… [which] impress the beholder with emotions of awe and admiration.

Early east channel footbridge and east face
of St. Anthony Falls, 1851

This precarious bridge still existed in 1855, but, by then, an additional and more sturdy wooden bridge had been built across the channel.


Channel and Falls between Hennepin Island and east bank, looking upstream, with two bridges, ca. 1855

East channel bridge, looking toward Hennepin
Island, 1856
    By 1860, both these early bridges had been replaced by an even more substantial wooden span. This bridge appears to have remained in place with little alteration for many decades.

Third east channel bridge and Falls, ca. 1865
View across the river from the east bank, with Hennepin Island and third east channel bridge in foreground and Stone Arch Bridge in background, ca. 1898

Sometime between 1914 and 1949, the timespan represented by the two photographs below, the channel between the east bank and Hennepin Island was finally filled in, so a bridge was no longer needed. Today, there is a short roadway in that location connecting Main Street to the Xcel hydroelectric plant. The last remnant of the original rock face of the Falls still remains just downstream of this roadway, a small reminder of the way the cataract looked before a century and a half of industrial development.

Looking toward the east bank and the Pillsbury A Mill from Hennepin Island, 1914
The same view in 1949, after the east channel was filled

Hennepin Avenue main and east channel bridges  
First Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge, ca. 1868

Upper (Plymouth Avenue) bridges

First Upper Bridge ( 1873-1886)

Bridge type: wood Howe truss

The city of St. Anthony, on the east bank of the river, was incorporated earlier than Minneapolis and took an early lead in population and industrial development. However, by the late 1860s, Minneapolis had outstripped St. Anthony in growth, with an 1870 population of 13,066 in comparison to St. Anthony’s 5,013. On April 9, 1872, the two cities consolidated under the name of Minneapolis. As a condition of the merger,

First Upper (Plymouth Avenue) Bridge, ca. 1876
Minneapolis agreed to build two new bridges across the Mississippi River, one above and one below the Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge. In November 1873, the Upper Bridge was completed, linking 13th Avenue (today’s Plymouth Avenue) on the west side with 8th Avenue Northeast on the east side.  

Second Plymouth Avenue Bridge (1886 – 1983)

Bridge type: iron truss bridge

The second Plymouth Avenue bridge, an iron truss structure, was built in 1886, with a major remodeling in 1913. In 1952, it was raised by sixteen feet to increase clearance for river navigation. Cross-river travel at this location came to a temporary halt in 1981 when the bridge was closed due to the rusty and unsafe condition of the floor beams. The current bridge at this location was constructed in 1983.  
Second Plymouth Avenue bridge, viewed from west side, with workers repairing Plymouth Avenue in the foregroud, ca. 1940