The Bridge that James J. Hill Built

Stretching across the great Mississippi River lying just between the 35W and 3rd Avenue bridges is a beautiful historic Minnesota bridge, lovingly known as The Stone Arch Bridge. It has been my one of my favorite subjects to photograph since moving to Minneapolis. I recently went on a photo tour with Midwest Photo Safari where I had the opportunity to pick up some training on taking photographs at night. Our group was able to take a lot of great pictures of the St. Anthony Main area, but my favorites were the ones I took of this bridge. As I often do, I started to wonder about its history and after doing a little research thought I might share it with you!

Photo Credit

The Stone Arch Bridge was built in 1883 as a link in the Manitoba Rail Line. The project was commissioned by a local railroad “tycoon” by the name of James J. Hill. The rail cars that used it transported wheat from Canada and the Red River Valley to the than booming milling economy in Minneapolis. The bridge was designed by an Engineer named Charles S. Smith – the design consisted of 23 arches spanning across the Mississippi River made up of local limestone, granite and marble. The granite used for the bridge’s pilings were quarried from my hometown, St. Cloud, Minnesota and surrounding area. It would eventually become primarily used for passenger rails until the last car passed over it in 1978. The bridge went completely unused for two years and there was talk of it being demolished. In 1980 private funding was raised to start the restoration of the bridge. It was re-opened in 1994 as a pedestrian and biking bridge and is now a part of St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail.

It is considered a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and was added as such to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Some changes have occurred to the bridge since it’s completion in 1883; such as it being widened in 1925 to accommodate larger rail cars. In the 1960’s two arches were removed and replaced with a Warren Truss for the construction of the nearby St. Anthony Lock & Dam, not long after the completion of that truss the Mississippi River saw record-breaking flooding in 1965. The flooding compromised two of the bridge’s piers and it started to sag as a result. It was closed for six months for repairs.

As some of the stones have begun to weather they have been replaced with concrete blocks – they are not terribly noticeable unless you’re standing beneath the bridge looking at it over the river. I’m not sure why they chose to replace the stone with concrete block rather than magnesium limestone to match its facing. The bridge has also seen some aesthetic upgrades such as street lights and most recently indirect light was added under the bridge in 2005.

In the above photograph you can see the lighting I referenced and the Warren Truss on the far right side of the photograph.

**Update 10/25** Here’s a great article in the Star Tribune about the construction that resulted in this Warren Truss. Looking back: Looking Back: Glory days of the working waterfront

The Stone Arch Bridge is a standing testament to the milling industry that built metropolitan Minnesota. It serves as a reminder of a time when the Minnesota economy depended on the budding railway system to continue to bolster development. Moreover, when James J. Hill commissioned the completion of this bridge he knew the importance of it to be as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional. As a result of his and Charles S. Smith’s foresight the Stone Arch Bridge has become an iconic structure in Minneapolis.

Here are some other pictures I took on that same Midwest Photo Safari of the St. Anthony Main area. I love that neighborhood and look forward to researching its history for future posts!

View of the Third Avenue Bridge from the NE bank of the Mississippi

View of Main Street

Thank you for stopping by!

~Until next time, Claire

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2 thoughts on “The Bridge that James J. Hill Built

  1. I enjoyed your article & the great photos! Although I have moved from Minneapolis, I always loved the Stone Arch Bridge and the many walks I took that included crossing it.

    1. Hi Carol! I’m glad you liked the post and thanks so much for stopping by! I’ll continue to write about Minnesota treasures, so please continue to check in and let me know what you think 🙂

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