The Saint Paul and Pacific Railroad built the first bridge across the
Mississippi River in the Twin Cities area at this location. The bridge
opened May 1, 1867. The complete river crossings consists of two spans, this
bridge over the main channel of the Mississippi River, and one over the
smaller east channel of the Mississippi River. The land between the two
river channels is known as Nicollet Island.
The first bridge was an iron truss bridge, with the trains running
through the truss span. That bridge was replaced in 1893 with a steel
bridge that used the deck plate girder design. That bridge was rebuilt
again in 1926. The bridge had to be modified in 1963 to support the
9-foot navigation channel project as the Upper and Lower Saint Anthony
Falls Locks & Dams were set to open. Two deck plate spans and a
pier were removed and replaced with a Petit style truss span. The
bridge was modified once again in 1987 to accommodate the newly built
West River Parkway, which passes under the west end of the bridge.
This bridge has gone through a number of owners since 1867. This includes
the Saint Paul & Pacific, the Saint Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway,
and later the Great Northern Railway. The Great Northern was part of a
large merger to become the Burlington Northern, which merged once again
to become the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. In addition to being used
by a major railroad, several other railroads have trackage rights to this
bridge. As a result, one does not need to wait long to see a train cross
The photo above is a view of the Nicollet Island Railroad Bridge from
a vantage point just downriver of the structure. Notice the large pilings
and wooden guards that protect the bridge piers from barge strikes.
The photo below was taken from the parking lot located at the very west
end of the bridge. An interesting feature of the bridge is that a spur
rail line once diverged from the bridge at the midpoint of the river
crossing. I have not been able to document when that spur was built,
or when it was removed. This spur line allowed trains to have access
to the Minneapolis Union Depot, which was located at the site of the
current downtown Minneapolis post office, and later, the Great Northern
Depot, which was located on the site of the new Federal Reserve building.
The Great Northern Depot was demolished in 1978, which leads the author
to suspect that the rail spur was removed when the West River Parkway
was built in 1986.
The photo above is a view of the northern bridge portal on Nicollet Island.
The Warehouse District just west of downtown Minneapolis is located on the
far side of the river. The photo below is a slightly different view of the
bridge from Nicollet Island.
These two photos are winter views of the Nicollet Island Railroad Bridge. The
photo above is from a later March afternoon in 2010. The river is almost
glass smooth making for some excellent reflections. This view is looking east
from Boom Island. The photo below is a view of the bridge on a very cold
winter morning in 2009 as seen from a highway overpass located on Nicollet
These two photos are from the early summer of 2009, whereas the similar
photos above were shot in 2005. While the bridge site looks very much
the same, there have been changes over the recent years. In the photo
above, we see the that one of the parallel tracks has been removed south
of the bridge, and the main line crosses from the left side of the
right-of-way to the right side. In the photo below, we see that the short
bridge segment between the truss span and Nicollet Island, which was a
steel girder bridge, has been replaced with a concrete girder span.
These two photos are also from early summer of 2009. Both photos are
looking southwest across the main channel span of the Nicollet Island
Railroad Bridge. In the photo above, we see that the guard rails, which
where located between the two rails of the track on the left, have been
removed, while part of the guard rails on the right side track has also
been removed. The old brown ballast has been replaced with fresh white
ballast. A concrete rib that is part of the new concrete bridge segment
can be seen running between the two sets of tracks. Finally, new walkways
have been installed on the edges of the first bridge segment.
These two photos are views of the Nicollet Island Railroad Bridge as seen
from the nearby Father Louis Hennepin suspension bridge, located 950 feet
downstream. The photo above is an overview of the entire river crossing,
while the photo below is a close view of the navigation channel span.