Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Elk River and The New Bridge

“Hurrah for the Beef
Hurrah for the Liver
Hurrah for the bridge
That Spans the River.”

This is just one of several jingles heard on the streets of Elk River celebrating the new bridge completion in 1906.  Crossing the Mississippi River and connecting Elk River with Otsego, the bridge was celebrated as a “mutual benefit” with “commercial, social and financial rewards.”  Although the benefits seemed obvious, obtaining financial support and construction of this new transportation artery were never easily obtainable goals.  With the completion, though, the old ferry crossing the river closed and citizens from two counties celebrated. 

The fifty years before the bridge, consistently crossing the River at Elk River was possible only through the ferry operating since 1856.  The only other options included crossing at a ford south of town when the water was low, or cross on winter ice when the river might be frozen.  None of these options guaranteed a set schedule, nor a certainty of crossing. 

The Sherburne County Star News reported the need for a bridge became evident early in Elk River history.  As the population grew access to Wright County and regions closer to the Twin Cities also grew.  Expensive train routes, or inconsistent ferry runs, reinforced the need for a bridge as early as 1885.   

Elk River and Otsego both began campaigning for a bridge in the 1880s.  Yet, a plan that satisfied the demands of the Federal government, the State of Minnesota, as well as Wright County and Sherburne County proved daunting.  The federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers required the bridge must rise high enough to allow steamboats uninterrupted passage up the River.  Meanwhile the span must be adequate to allow boom companies free access to send rafts of timber down the river.  In time, Minneapolis engineer C. A. P. Turner designed a bridge span 226 feet long and 35 feet above the river.  After years of negotiations and politicking, appropriations of $24,000 and construction contracts with W. F. Chadbourne finally led to a completed bridge.   
“The running logs and ice and the dark nights will no longer annoy or terrify those who have occasion to cross from one town to the other,” the Star News predicted. 

After four months of operation, stories in the Star News provide evidence of the success of the new bridge.  “G. B. Pepin took his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Pepin for their first drive across the new bridge las Sunday,” the paper reported.  This was “Mrs. Pepin’s first visit to Elk River in thirteen years.”    

The newspaper summarized the general views of the bridge in an editorial after the opening of the bridge.  “The Star News rejoices with the balance of the good people of Elk river and Otsego over the completion of the splendid steel bridge,” they wrote.  “It exceeds the general expectation in appearance and substance.”   

In spite of the challenges and decades of negotiations, the completion of the bridge proved a benefit to the growth and happiness of Sherburne County.

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