Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth

Photo of Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, Minnesota
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
Photo of Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, Minnesota
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
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Aerial Lift Bridge

Lake Avenue, Duluth, Minnesota
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This is the big tourist attraction in Duluth. Designed to carry vehicular and pedestrian traffic over the entrance to Duluth Harbor, the aerial lift bridge was a compact solution to the problem of getting people and goods from one side to the other while allowing huge ships to also pass through the same patch of space. Because of urbanization on both sides of the channel, a traditional bridge was not possible as the approaches would have needed to be extremely long, reducing the utility of the structure. Until the bridge was built, the people of Duluth made do with ferries in the summer and temporary bridges in the winter when the port was frozen. The first bridge in this location was an aerial transfer bridge. This type of bridge has the same steel arch as a lift bridge, but instead of having a stable road surface moving up and down, it has a smaller platform that slides from one bank to the other suspended by a latticework of steel trusses. Aerial transfer bridges are exceedingly rare in North America, though not entirely unheard of in Europe. One had a cameo appearance in the 2000 British film "Billy Elliot." The bridge, itself, is owned and operated by the City of Duluth, but the land and water surrounding it is the property of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Occasionally people who live in Duluth have written to Glass Steel and Stone claiming that their bridge is the only one of its kind in the world. This is not true. There are a number of aerial lift bridges in operation around the world, including the port of Rotterdam in The Netherlands, and much closer to home -- in New Jersey's Meadowlands and other areas surrounding the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Quick Facts
  • 29 March, 1930: The tug boat Essayons becomes the first vessel to pass beneath the operating lift bridge.
  • When open, the bridge clearance is 138 feet. When closed, it is 15 feet.
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There are 10 comments.

  Portland, Oregon, has three antecedents to the Duluth bridge using a vertical lift design, and two more recent. Of course, what makes the Duluth bridge spectacular is the truss span at the top that used to carry the platform across before the vertical lift traffic span was added. Portland's Hawthorne Bridge(1910), also designed by Waddell, is the oldest operating vertical lift bridge in the U.S. (and world?).The Steel Bridge (1912) is unique in being a double-deck vertical lift bridge that can lift the lower deck only (it telescopes into the upper) or both. It is also one of the world's most multi-modal, carrying pedestrians, bicycles, buses, light rail, streetcars and autos on the upper deck, plus heavy rail, pedestrians and bicycles on the lower. Both of these bridges are in the city center and heavily used. Also in Portland is the 1989 vertical lift portion of a railroad bridge, the fourth-highest vertical lift in the world; and the 1917/58 Interstate Bridge with twin vertical lifts at the main channel.

Victor Graf - Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 @ 3:34pm  

  I stayed at The Suites just down from the bridge. I usually go to Duluth every year for the North Shore Rod Run. Park Point is an amazing place! The bridge is absolutely amazing itself, and what's a better place to relax and get one's mind off things than the stone beaches of Lake Superior and a gorgeous bridge in the background! It's definately a place to take family just as a get away. There is one shop. I don't recall its name but they have amazing chocolates and candies for sale. They are steeper in price but are most definatly worth it. Grandma's Sports Bar is a great place to eat if you're just wanting a burger. Amazing food and good service is always a plus on a trip!

Erin Wiltse - Tuesday, November 25th, 2008 @ 12:16pm  

  I spent a pleasant night staying in a hotel near the bridge in Duluth. The atmosphere was great and the bridge made a fine backdrop. The speed it opened was quite impresive

Nick - Monday, August 18th, 2008 @ 1:52pm  

  Many years ago I lived on the first house on the point after crossing the bridge. I also spent the night pumping water out of the basement the night the Edmunds Fitzgerald sank on the lake becuase of the storm. What a wonderful bridge and history it has!

Mark Tingey - Thursday, March 22nd, 2007 @ 10:50pm  

  Louisville Kentucky has a lift bridge very similar to the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge over the Ohio River, although it is not as tall, and it carries rail traffic not street traffic.

Christian - Saturday, March 3rd, 2007 @ 11:46am  

  when i lived in duluth i used to go to the bridge to get my mind off of things. The view is so amazing. it can make even the sadest person have a smile.

Angela LaLonde - Friday, December 15th, 2006 @ 10:13am  

  Once upon a lifetime, there was no Canal Park, just a mess of metal buildings, falling down factories and miscellaneous 'stuff' I lived in Superior, Wisconsin at the time. This was my favorite place to hang out. Lunch or dinner at Grandma's and a chance to watch the bridge in action. They certaily did a wonerful job turing it into a primo tourist attraction. Hopefully all this developmnt has been a good thing for the locals who make it their home as well as the tourists who 'spend and run' or worse, those who 'buy a place' to come and play on weekends. I now live on an island off the coast of Maine and still miss the big pond and those tourist-free days.

Morgan Lintereur - Wednesday, December 13th, 2006 @ 2:58am  

  My family visited this site when I was about 7 years old. I remember standing underneath the bridge as it was descending, and feeling terrified that is was going to crush me. But, Dad said it would just fine, and, of course, it was. This is a really cool bridge, by the way! (And it does not crush people)

Dave - Friday, December 31st, 2004 @ 11:00am