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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Omaha Bridge Ruins
Former Omaha Road Railroad Minnesota River Crossing
Saint Peter, MN

Omaha Bridge Ruins

• Structure ID: N/A.
• Location: River Mile 100.8.
• River Elevation: 739 Feet.
• Railroad: Chicago, Milwaukee, Saint Paul, & Omaha.
• Daily Traffic Count: 0, Bridge Has Been Removed.
• Bridge Type: Iron Center Pin Swing Bridge.
• Length: 1,400 Feet (Estimated), 125 Foot Longest Span (Est.).
• Width: 1 Track.
• Navigation Channel Width: Non-Navigable.
• Height Above Water: ???.
• Date Built: 1879.
The Winona & Saint Peter railroad started building west from Winona, Minnesota, during the 1860s. It reached Saint Peter in 1871. The railroad pushed west through New Ulm, and later to the state line and into South Dakota. The Winona & Saint Peter was incorporated into the Chicago, Milwaukee, Saint Paul, and Omaha Railroad, more commonly known as the Omaha Road. The Omaha Road was later controlled by and eventually purchased by the Chicago & North Western Railway. The C&NW later merged with the Union Pacific. The line running across southern Minnesota is now operated by the Dakota, Minnesota, and Eastern Railroad.

The Minnesota River was a significant obstacle at that time. The railroad approached Saint Peter from the southeast, crossed the river just south of the city, then ran north through Saint Peter before turning west and heading towards New Ulm. Later, it was decided to shorten the railroad and reduce the grades. A new line was built in 1899 around the south side of Mankato, avoiding a crossing of the Minnesota River. This new line joined the older route near New Ulm, also bypassing the Minnesota River bridge at Redstone. The line through Saint Peter and Redstone was still used as a secondary route for many years.

The first bridge at Saint Peter was built in 1871. It was a long timber bridge that included timber truss spans. That bridge was replaced by an iron bridge in 1879. The rail line was used into the early 1950s. I have not yet determined exactly when the route through Saint Peter was abandoned, and when the bridge over the Minnesota River was removed. The bridge at Redstone still stands. It carries a rail spur to a quarry on the north side of the river.

The 1879 bridge at Saint Peter featured a center pin style swing span. This style of bridge has a single large truss that pivots in the middle. They are a bit tricky to build and to keep balanced. More modern swing spans will have two truss spans that are joined over the pivot point. In addition to the swing span, the bridge had another through truss span. The remainder of the bridge was a trestle supported by iron piers. There are 4 piers that remain from the 1879 bridge. The supports for the iron trestle appear to be gone. The western abutment appears to have been removed when US-169 was rerouted past the west end of this railroad bridge. I have not yet determined if there are any additional remains on the east side of the river.

The photo above is a view of 3 remaining piers from the Omaha Bridge, including the round swing span pivot pier. The vantage point is a parking area maintained by the Department of Natural Resources located 1200 feet due west of the bridge remains. The river makes a bend between this parking area and the bridge site making this photo look like it was taken from the middle of the river channel. The photo below is an aerial photograph taken in 1937. The city of Saint Peter starts at the north edge of this photo. The state hospital for the criminally insane is at the left of the image. The Omaha Bridge is just below the hospital. The highway bridge is marked as US-169. That highway is now MN-22, and US-169 runs on a new alignment between the hospital and the river passing near the location of the north abutment of the Omaha Bridge.


Omaha Bridge Ruins
Omaha Bridge Ruins
The photo above is a view looking downriver towards the northeast at the former main river span that was once bridged by the eastern half of the swing span. The photo below is looking east across the former river crossing along the upriver side of the piers. This photo is looking directly into the midday sun, so it is a bit washed out.

Omaha Bridge Ruins
Omaha Bridge Ruins
These two photos are views of the pier that once supported the western end of the swing span. The photo above is the west face of that pier looking towards the Minnesota river. The photo above is looking at the north and east face of the pier.

Omaha Bridge Ruins
Omaha Bridge Ruins
These two photos, also shot looking directly into the midday sun, are views of the river channel from a vantage point next to the pier that supported the swing span pivot point. The photo above is looking at the downriver side of the piers from north of the pivot pier, while the photo below is looking at the downriver side of the piers from the south side of the pivot pier. Note that the leading edge of the piers are well worn. That is from over 100 years of fighting floods and logjams on the Minnesota river.

Omaha Bridge Ruins
Omaha Bridge Ruins
These two photos are views of the pier that supported the swing span. It is round, a shape dictated by its function, which was to support the swing span on a set of rollers that followed a circular rail mounted to the top of the pier. The photo above is the northwest side of the pier, while the photo below is the southwest side of the pier.

Omaha Bridge Ruins
Omaha Bridge Ruins
These two photos are views from a vantage point located just upstream of the bridge site. The photo above is the easternmost bridge pier, while the photo below is the mid-river pier that once supported the eastern end of the swing span. The pile of stones in the river in the upper photo is interesting. That pier appears to be in excellent condition. Those stones are not from that pier. I wonder if they were dumped there during construction, or were discarded in that spot after the bridge was demolished.

Omaha Bridge Ruins
Omaha Bridge Ruins
The photo above is a view of the swing span pivot pier as seen from a vantage point located upstream of the former river crossing. The metal rail on top of the pier is visible int his view. This bend in the river accumulates a lot of driftwood and timber. I suspect that the dry land next to the pier was once a river channel that was filled in by a sandbar. The river looks like it has shifted a bit to the east since the bridge was built. The photo below is a view of the land on the west side of the river at the bridge site. An F4 tornado blew through this area in 2006 leveling every tree in a narrow half-mile long path. The timber was being salvaged in 2008 and 2009. A haul road bulldozed for this salvage operation provided a relatively easy path to walk to the bridge remains on the west side of the Minnesota River.

Omaha Bridge Ruins
Omaha Bridge Ruins
These two photos are views of the abutment at the northwest end of the Omaha Bridge. These ruins are hiding right out in plain sight adjacent to the shoulder of the southbound lanes of highway US-169. This structure is normally obscured by snow in the winter and brush in the summer. While driving in this area, I typically look towards the river, but I never spotted it until March of 2010. I had suspected that the abutment was on the grounds of the state hospital, or had been destroyed when US-169 was built. I was pleased to find that it still exists and is easily visible if you know where to look.

Omaha Bridge Ruins

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