100 Portland Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Bridge links to:
Owned by Minnesota Department of Transportation; bridge deck maintained by Park Board.
The National Park Service operates the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam Visitor Center located near the west end of the bridge. The Visitor Center is open daily 9:30 am-5 pm, May 28-September 5, 2016. Public restrooms are available during open hours and tours are offered daily at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm. More information is available on the Visitor Center website.
Food Truck Permit: City of Minneapolis licensed food truck operators can apply for a one-day permit at this park. View food truck permit details.
Name: The name is descriptive of the structure and has been used since the bridge was built in 1883.
Acquisition and Development
The bridge is owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, but the deck of the bridge is maintained by the park board.
The bridge was built in 1883 by James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railroad. It carried two tracks into downtown Minneapolis and at its peak brought 80 passenger trains a day into Union Station.
The bridge was completed only five months after Minneapolis voters approved an act by the Minnesota legislature to create the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, the original name of what today is the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. The bridge, however, played an important role in the creation of the park board.
The Minneapolis Board of Trade, an organization that functioned like a chamber of commerce for the city, was convened in January 1883 after a couple years of inactivity specifically to coordinate an effort to convince Hill’s railroad to participate in a Union Station in downtown Minneapolis. The bridge was under construction at the time. Shortly after the Board of Trade was reconvened, however, its members turned their attention to creating a park board for the city. The Board of Trade drafted the legislation to create a park board and, under the leadership of William King, convinced the legislature to pass the bill. Opponents of the measure attached a provision to the legislation that required approval by Minneapolis voters before it could take effect. King also headed the campaign to get voters to vote “Yes” on the Park Act, which they did in April 1883.
A member of the executive committee of the Board of Trade was Loren Fletcher, who was also, conveniently, speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives that passed the park legislation. Fletcher was also the business partner of Charles Loring, a leading proponent of parks in Minneapolis, who became the first president of the park board and became known in the early years of the park board as the “Father of Minneapolis Parks.”
With the demise of the railroads as passenger carriers in the 1970s, Burlington Northern no longer needed a bridge into the city. In 1980 the railroad offered to sell the bridge to the city for $1, but concerns over the cost of maintenance of the structure caused the city to reject the offer.
In 1989, however, the railroad found a taker for the bridge: Hennepin County. County commissioners saw the potential value of the bridge for a future light-rail transit system. The county bought the bridge for $1,001.
The ownership of the bridge transferred to the state in 1993. Minneapolis legislators James Rice and John Sarna insisted that the state take control of the bridge when the state assumed control of light-rail development in the city. Rice and Sarna were influential proponents of park developments along the central riverfront. With the help of a $2 million federal grant for the reuse of historic transportation structures, the state and the park board worked out an agreement to convert the bridge to a pedestrian and bicycle path which would link Father Hennepin Bluff Park on the east bank of the river with West River Parkway. Informational displays on the history of the bridge, the river and St Anthony Falls were developed by the St Anthony Falls Heritage Board.
Park history compiled and written by David C. Smith.