The lunchtime tourist

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June 18, 2002 // UPDATED 1:25 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Linda S. Koutsky
Linda S. Koutsky

The 3rd Avenue Bridge 3rd Avenue South and the Mississippi River

While bridges are often beautiful feats of engineering and span romantic river locations, their design and historic value are frequently overlooked. Before the 3rd Avenue Bridge opened in 1918, those living in the area known as St. Anthony had only one opportunity to cross the mighty Mississippi to Minneapolis -- an 1854 bridge at Hennepin Avenue. A second access point proved crucial as the population continued to grow.

In 1912, the City of Minneapolis hired a New York engineering firm to design a new bridge. When the plans were unveiled, there were threatened lawsuits from waterpower companies downriver who were concerned about the fragile limestone shelf in the falls. City Engineer F. W. Cappelin convinced the council to scrap the plans and allow him to design a bridge that would not endanger the falls or infringe on waterpower rights. His innovative s-curve design avoided four vulnerable points in the limestone and was called "novel and ingenious" by Engineering Record magazine.

Construction started in 1914. At the time it was built, it was the largest concrete arch bridge to cross the Mississippi anywhere between Itasca and New Orleans. The seven arched spans were built with 53,000 cubic yards of concrete and 950 tons of structural steel. The 2,223-foot-long bridge cost $850,000 and was dedicated with fanfare on Flag Day, June 14, 1918. The 3rd Avenue Bridge has since undergone several upgrades and renovations. By 1939 the concrete railing's balusters were deteriorating and were replaced with the metal art deco grills that still exist today.

Take a long lunch sometime this week and enjoy the impressive view from one of the bridge's observation platforms. If you're lucky, you might see a barge or paddle wheeler make it through the locks.

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LUNCH TIP: Marvel at another Minneapolis bridge while sitting under a seemingly life-size painting at the Stone Arch Bar and Grill in the Depot, 225 S. 3rd Ave. Enjoy crab cakes, salads, and sandwiches in the clubby bar or on the outdoor patio.