Lunchtime tourist

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October 4, 2004 // UPDATED 4:16 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Stone Arch Bridge

Near Portland Avenue South & West River Road

James J. Hill, "the empire builder," knew how to leave a legacy. The Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis is a cultural icon and tribute to the history of America's golden era of railroads.

The gently curving Stone Arch Bridge is a National Historic Engineering Landmark. Built in 1883, it's the only stone arch bridge over the Mississippi River. Bridge Engineer Colonel Charles. C. Smith used more than 100,000 tons of Sauk Rapids granite and Mankato limestone on the arches.

In 1962, two of them were replaced with a steel truss to allow easier passage for barge traffic. As the golden days of rail travel ended, the last train crossed the bridge in 1978.

The bridge continues to be a local icon and represents one of Minnesota's most illustrious figures. Hill, who died in 1916, said, "I've made my mark on the surface of the Earth, and they can't wipe it out."

Born in Ontario, Canada in 1838, Hill was 18 when he came to Minnesota to work as a bookkeeper for a steamship line. Within a few years, he was in his own business warehousing and distributing goods.

When a Minnesota railroad fell into receivership in 1873, Hill took notice. Along with a few investors, he bought the line and brought it back to life. The St. Paul & Pacific Railroad continued to grow as smaller local lines were bought and expanded. The tracks pulled into Seattle in 1893 and the railroad was renamed "Great Northern."

In order to keep business thriving along his rails, Hill made sure that others succeeded, too. Immigrants arriving in Minnesota were sold inexpensive land along his lines and given strains of winter hearty Russian wheat to grow. He helped farmers, grain elevators and flour millers get fair deals so they could make it through cash-strapped winters.

When the rails weren't being used by industry, Hill invented ways to increase passenger traffic. Grand hotels were built along the lines for the country's tourists. The Lafayette and del Otero hotels on Lake Minnetonka were the beginnings of luxurious accommodations that culminated in the resort at Glacier National Park in Montana that still exists today.

LUNCH TIP: If you can't make it to the bridge today, enjoy lunch under a panoramic painting at Stone Arch Bar and Grill in the Marriott, 225 3rd Ave. S.

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