Lunchtime Tourist

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July 11, 2005 // UPDATED 1:56 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Hennepin Avenue Bridge, Hennepin Avenue & the Mississippi River

By foot or by car or by bus, thousands of us travel the Hennepin Avenue Bridge each day. However, crossing the Mississippi River wasn't always so easy. St. Anthony's first settlers in the 1840s precariously stepped across along the waterfall's rocky ledge during low water. And those who could afford it took a ferry. As the towns and river mills prospered and grew, people needed an easier way to cross the river.

Minnesota's Territorial Legislature approved plans for a toll bridge financed by local investors including Franklin Steele, Henry Sibley and John Stevens. The wooden structure was completed in January 1855 for $36,000. Twin wooden towers that looked like a pioneer fort anchored suspension cables. The wood plank road was 620 feet long by 7 feet wide and crossing tolls were 5 cents for people on foot, 15 cents per horse or mule, 25 cents per wagon, and 2 cents each for sheep and swine. This rickety bridge was the first permanent structure to span the Mississippi River.

The towns of St. Anthony and Minneapolis consolidated in 1872 and a larger bridge with limestone towers was built to accommodate growing traffic. Though it was fine for horses and carriages, streetcar development soon spread throughout the city and a stronger bridge was needed. Steel arch construction with a central river pier replaced the suspension bridge in 1888. Only minor modifications were made to this bridge, and it managed to survive for nearly a hundred years.

Still, steel tends to rust, and we all know traffic only gets worse with time. In 1989 the fourth, and current, Hennepin Avenue Bridge was erected and soon became a premier Downtown photo-op. Though technology has evolved significantly since the era of suspension bridges, and the cables and towers weren't really necessary to span this short of a distance river, the city wanted a landmark that reflected the design of the first two bridges. The Heritage Preservation Commission and Minnesota Historical Society consulted on the historically inspired design, and the bridge was built for $28.6 million.

Local trivia: Which 1992 motion picture was shot on this Minneapolis landmark?

LUNCH TIP: It's not often urban workers can lunch on an island. Cross the river this week to Nicollet Island Inn for a special summer treat.

For links to historic bridge photos or the answer to the trivia question, write to thelunchtimetourist@hotmail.com.