The first bridge at this location, also called the High Bridge, was opened in 1889. It was constructed of wrought iron, and was supported by tall iron towers. The main river spans consisted of 4 Warren truss sections each 250 feet long. The north approach was a riveted viaduct of 80 foot spans and plate girder spans of 40 feet. The south approach had two 60 foot plate girder spans and one 170 foot pin connected girder span. The piers consisted of 4 leg towers and 2 leg bents.
On the night of August 20, 1904, the south spans and one main span of the bridge collapsed during a powerful thunderstorm. The collapse was investigated by the American Society of Civil Engineers, with the final report being written by famous bridge designer C. A. P. Turner. The report states that a bridge failing from wind along is a very rare event. It further states that the bridge itself was strong enough to stand up to even higher winds. The problem was that the supporting towers were not anchored to the concrete foundations, but rather, were simply resting on the foundations and help in place by gravity. The wind was able to push one of the support towers off of its foundation, causing the collapse.
The high bridge was rebuilt, this time, using steel rather than iron. The bridge served traffic for nearly a century, and probably would have served even longer if it had not been for the Silver Bridge disaster in Ohio in just before Christmas in 1967. The final verdict on the Silver Bridge collapse was that a pin had failed due to a materials defect. The pin was non-redundant, which means that when it failed, the entire bridge failed. Further, the pin was in a location where it could not be inspected. The problem is that the High Bridge was rebuilt using pin connected truss spans. The worry was that these pins were no longer safe, and could not be inspected to know whether or not they were safe. As a result, in the summer of 1984, MN-DOT Commissioner Richard Braun made the decision to close the high bridge. The bridge was imploded on February 25, 1985. When the wreckage was recovered and examined, the connector pins were found to be in excellent condition.
With their bridge now gone, residents of West Saint Paul lobbied hard for a new bridge to restore their access to the West 7th Street area of Saint Paul. The new bridge opened in 1987, and was heralded as one of the seven engineering wonders of Minnesota. It is a magnificent structure towering 160 feet above the river, making it the highest bridge in the city of Saint Paul. The huge steel supports under the bridge looked like a giant letter W, with the two bottom points sitting on piers, and the center forming a large steel arch. To appease the locals who fondly remembered the old High Bridge, MN-DOT incorporated some of the iron salvaged from the old bridge to manufacture the railings for the new bridge.
As soon as it got cold, the bridge contracted a little more than was planned, and one of the steel sections shifted, causing the center point of the W to no longer meet. Instead, the two beams shifted 11 inches, leaving a huge drop-off on the bridge. The bridge was closed several months while engineers designed a way to move the arches back into position and remove the ski-jump from the roadway.
A newspaper account from January 22, 1962, states that a car left the old high bridge, landed upside down on a telephone line, was sprung back up into the air, and landed upright with no passenger injuries. I guess that is what makes winter driving so much fun in Minnesota.
Smith Avenue is named after Robert Smith, who was the mayor of the city of Saint Paul from 1887 to 1892, 1894 to 1896, and from 1900 to 1908.
The photo at the top of this page was taken from a small park at the corner of Summit Avenue and Ramsey Street. This photo from the winter of 2006 was taken from the top of the river bluffs, resulting in a scene that almost looks like an aerial photograph.