When will the leaning tower of pier fall?

Bridges don’t last forever. Some fall, some are taken down. And some crumble away one piece at a time.

Anyone who has walked across the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis has probably noticed a lonely stone pier — now just a masonry flower pot and avian rest spot — in the middle of the Mississippi River.

The pier was once part of an 1874 iron bridge that was built to connect the two young cities of St. Anthony and Minneapolis, and to transport lumber by wagon from east bank sawmills to trains heading west. The pier is losing stone blocks at a brisk pace. Here’s how it looked last winter:

It’s also listing. If you take the railing of the Stone Arch to be vertical, the pier is definitely half a bubble off.

Before the pier disappears altogether, I thought I should run a few images of the Lower Bridge, also called the Tenth Avenue Bridge, in its heyday.

The King Iron Bridge and Manufacturing Company built it.

Minnesota Historical Society photo

And here it is, attracting a crowd and a few wagons. You can see the stone piers in the river and the iron truss beneath the deck. The Stone Arch Bridge is nowhere in sight because it hasn’t been built yet. I think that’s a train in the background.

Minnesota Historical Society photo

A later photo includes the far sturdier Stone Arch Bridge. On the east bank, both bridges ended at Sixth Avenue SE. On the west bank, the Lower Bridge ended at Tenth Avenue South, which is now Gold Medal Park.

Minnesota Historical Society photo

Horses pulling carriages still clip-clop across the river. The carriages are more likely to carry tourists and newlyweds than lumber, but now they have to cross on the Stone Arch because the Lower Bridge was dismantled in 1943.

Minnesota Historical Society photo

It wasn’t sturdy enough for modern, smoke-belching forms of transport. The iron truss was probably recycled to help build World War II tanks or other war materiel.

Why did the bridge removers leave one pier in the river? I asked a National Park Service ranger that question a few years ago and got a shrug. The answer might be lost in the Mississippi mud.

But the crumbling pier begs another question: when will it fall down? Hard to say, as they say. Entropy always wins in the end, but the disintegration could stall. I’m going to take a wild guess and say next spring after the winter ice beats it up.

Send in your guess.

Thanks to the Minnesota Historical Society for permission to use several historic photos from its collection.




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