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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Wisconsin Central Bridge Ruins
Historic Saint Croix River Railroad Crossing
Somerset, WI

Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins

• Structure ID: N/A.
• Location: River Mile 28.5.
• River Elevation: 676 Feet.
• Railroad: Wisconsin Central Railroad.
• Daily Traffic Count: 0 Trains Per Day, Bridge Has Been Removed.
• Bridge Type: Steel Deck Truss w/Through Truss Main Span.
• Length: 2,339 Feet.
• Width: 1 Track.
• Navigation Channel Width: Non-Navigable.
• Height Above Water: 85 Feet.
• Date Built: 1884.
The Wisconsin Central bridge over the Saint Croix river was built in 1884 by the Union Bridge & Iron Works. The Wisconsin Central was pushing west, and this bridge was the last link to connect Milwaukee and Chicago to Saint Paul. The bridge features a number of very well crafted cut-stone piers. There were nine 160-foot deck truss spans, one 160-foot pin-connected though truss span, and 25 plate girder spans, each 30-feet long.

From an operational standpoint, this bridge was a huge problem. The Saint Croix river valley is about 220 feet deep, but the bridge was only 85 feet tall. That meant that trains had to descend into the valley, cross the bridge, then climb out some 130 feet. This often required trains to include extra engines along with helper engines pushing at the back. The Wisconsin Central decided to build a new high bridge that would cross the valley at the 200 foot level, eliminating the grades. The new Arcola High Bridge opened in 1910. As a result, this bridge was removed on February 28, 1916.

There are several remains of the bridge that still exist 100 years after it was abandoned. The most visible are the stone piers marching in a line across the Saint Croix river. The railroad grade on the east side of the river is a township road, but the final quarter mile leading to the river is private property. The railroad grade on the west side of the river is filled with tree debris and is mostly a tree-choked linear swamp. The bridge abutment on the Minnesota side of the river still exists and is in good shape. It can be reached by following bird-watching trails established by the Minnesota DNR.


Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
These two photos are looking east from the bluffs on the Minnesota side of the Saint Croix River. In the photo above, 5 bridge piers are visible. There may have been as many as 10 piers supporting the bridge. The piers over the eastern channel are hidden by trees. The photo below is a closer view of the two piers over the western river channel.

Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
The photo above is a closer view of the 3 piers over the island between the two river channels. This island did not exist when the bridge was built, so there were no trees near the bridge when it was in operation. The photo below is a close view of the top of one of the piers. Note that bolts are still visible at the top of the pier, and that small trees are growing out of the cracks between the stones.

Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
These two photos are views of the abutment on the Minnesota side of the former river crossing. The abutment has two steps where the truss span once rested. The abutment drops off about 100 feet below the second step. The stonework is littered with tree and leave debris, but otherwise appears to be in good condition.

Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
These two photos are more views of the abutment on the Minnesota side of the bridge ruins. In the photo above, a large birch tree has sprouted on the north side of the abutment. Some of the roots of the tree are on top of the abutment, which is a convenient source of water for the tree. The photo below is looking southeast across the Saint Croix valley through the gap in the trees in front of the bridge abutment.

Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
The photo above is the first view of the bridge ruins as you approach the site on the trail that runs along the bluffs. The debris makes it hard to see the abutment. Even after noticing that it is a structure, it was not clear at first that this was the bridge site. The piers over the river are not easily visible due to the trees and islands in the river channel. Due to 100 years of accumulated debris, the drainage along the railroad bed is clogged. As a result, the rail line has turned into a small creek. Water accumulates in front of the abutment, and the abutment now acts like a small waterfall. The photo below is a close view of the top of the abutment. Water has eroded a gap on the south side of the capstone.

Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
There is a small wooden bridge on the trail on the south side of the railroad bed crossing a drainage ditch. The trail along the bluffs is very well defined in this area. It appears to be maintained by the Minnesota DNR. The photo below is looking west from the bridge abutment along the former railroad bed. The railroad is cut about 20 feet into the top of the bluff at this location. The roadbed has filled in with debris, and it is now a linear swamp that is choked with trees.

Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
The photo above is an aerial view clipped from an Internet mapping service. The photo below is a public domain image that dates back to the first decade of the 1900s.

Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins
These two photos are clipped from an Internet mapping service. The photo above includes 7 bridge piers, while the photo below shows 3 piers from the western of the two river channels. Note that there is a large island in river that does not appear in the period photo above.

Wisconsin Central Railroad Bridge Ruins

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