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Monday
May142018

The Journey of the Merriam Street Bridge

Article by Michael Rainville, Jr.

As one can imagine, bridges are very important for cities along rivers, and Minneapolis is no exception. We have bridges for trains, pedestrians, and vehicles. They are a must, especially if you live on an island. From 1855 to 1987, the only bridge vehicles and pedestrians could cross to get to Nicollet Island was the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, but in the Spring of 1987, that changed.

Old Broadway Bridge 

In 1887, the second iteration of the Broadway Avenue Bridge was completed, and it lasted roughly 100 years. As the city grew, so did the need for larger bridges, so in 1985, they tore it down to make way for a the new, and current bridge. However, not all of it was lost forever. County officials, including the cousin of yours truly, John Derus, thought it would be a great idea to somehow save one of the spans of the old Broadway Bridge and move it down river to connect the lower east side of Nicollet Island to St. Anthony Main, and in September of 1986, they did just that. Picking out the best-looking span of the old bridge, they lowered it onto two barges to be floated down the river. Of course, a grand moment like this needed to be celebrated, so officials from the county and city had an event to send off the old truss. As Kate Parry of the Star Tribune said, “Sam Sivanich, chairman of the Hennepin County Board, leaned over to christen the fragment of the old Broadway Bridge [and] cracked a $2.89 bottle of pink champagne against the barge.” This was an expense that I’m sure all the taxpayers could get behind.

During the short journey to the back channel of Nicollet Island, a huge rainstorm passed over central Minnesota, and it wasn’t until the old truss was under the Burlington Northern Santa Fe bridge, now a pedestrian only bridge that connects Nicollet and Boom islands, when the Mississippi River started to rise. Well, the old truss got stuck, and the river kept rising! In order to make sure their bridge was not destroyed, BNSF parked five locomotives on the bridge just to weigh it down until the river level lowered and the old truss could continue its journey to its new home.

Merriam Street Bridge Minneapolis

This plaque can be found on the Merriam Street Bridge

Finally, on a Thursday in July of 1987, the Merriam Street Bridge opened. Joe Kimball, also from the Star Tribune, noted that the first vehicle across the “new” bridge was a horse-drawn carriage. Not only did this make the island more accessible, it opened up that part of the riverfront for further park development. Spanning roughly 256 feet, the Merriam Street Bridge seems like it was built for that part of the river. Oddly enough, the makers of the bridge were the King Iron Bridge Company, who also constructed the old 10th Avenue Bridge, and a plaque from its time as a span of the old Broadway Avenue Bridge is still present that lists the year, the company, and city engineer.

Bridges are important, our city’s history is important, and in 1986-87, an important decision was made to save both. Next time you cross the Merriam Street Bridge, take your time to look at it and appreciate it’s 19th century American architecture that helped settlers move West. It’s not just a fancy truss bridge. It’s history.

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About Michael Rainville, Jr.

A 6th generation Minneapolitan, Michael Rainville Jr. received his B.A. in History from the University of St. Thomas, and is currently enrolled in their M.A. in Art History and Certificate in Museum Studies programs.

Michael is also a lead guide at Mobile Entertainment LLC, giving Segway tours of the Minneapolis riverfront for 5+ years.

He can be reached at mrainvillejr@comcast.net.

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