Historic Stone Bridges Over Amity Creek
The Seven Bridges Road is a four mile section of Skyline Parkway on the east end of Duluth, Minnesota, where the Parkway follows Amity Creek from the top of the bluffs down to Lake Superior. This 400 foot drop is essentially one long cascade of waterfalls. The Seven Bridges Road is open to both vehicles and pedestrians. It typically sees about 150 cars per day. The best access point is from Superior Street by turning to the north just west of the Lester River.
Bridge #0 is not part of the Seven Bridges Road. It was built in 1928 to connect Oriental Drive to Occidental Drive, two carriageways that ran along opposite banks of the Lester River. The original bridge was not built to the same design as the other seven bridges, and the stonework did not have the same level of detail. Today the bridge connects Occidental Blvd to the Seven Bridges Road. The bridge itself was in such disrepair that it was no longer feasible to repair it. As a result, it was replaced in 2007. The new bridge is better aligned to serve as the connection to the Seven Bridges Road, and the style and detail match the other seven bridges.
This is Bridge #1 on the Seven Bridges Road. The 32 foot length is the actual river span of the bridge. The approaches are walled off with stone retaining walls that are another 30 feet each, making the overall length of the structure about 90 feet. The original bridge was too far gone to be saved. As a result, it was replaced with a new bridge in 2002 that used some of the same materials from the old bridge.
The Seven Bridges Road was the idea of a local land developer named Samuel Snively. Building parkways was a big fad back in the 1890s. Cities across the country, including Duluth, were building parkways through scenic areas. Snively envisioned a parkway that connected his land to the city below, and to the Skyline Parkway to the east, and showed off the beauty of Amity Creek.
Bridge #2 was in the worst condition of the seven bridges by the 1990s. It was the first bridge to be rebuilt, starting in 1996 and finished in the summer of 1997. The work turned out so well that it was decided to rebuild the remaining seven bridges and maintain the parkway for future users. The work on this bridge stands out due to the wide grout lines between stones. This was due to the bridge needing to be tuck-pointed to fix the joints between stones.
The first bridges on the Seven Bridges Road were built by Snively starting in 1899 were finished 1900. These bridges were all wood timber trestles. Snively donated land and money, and received donations from other local landowners and benefactors to pay for the project. When finished, the parkway was donated to the City of Duluth.
Bridge #3 is also a replacement bridge, having been built in 2004. The look of the bridge is very much like that of the original bridge, but using modern reinforced concrete behind the stonework. While many of the seven bridges are built on curves, this one happens to be ruler straight. The pink stone used as caps on the rock walls is from a stone quarry near Saint Cloud, Minnesota.
Snively's parkway was a popular attraction, but the city did not invest money to maintain the road. As a result, the timber bridges rapidly decayed and fell into disrepair. The road was no longer safe for travel by 1910.
Bridge #4 is nearly a duplicate of Bridge #3. Bridge #4, however is an original 1912 structure that has been rebuilt as opposed to being a replacement bridge. The photo above is a close view of the stonework. Notice that the walls have a rough top on the cap stones, while the piers have a flat top cap stone.
In 1910, Snively's road was turned over to the Duluth Park Commission. The park department decided to rebuild the road. It would follow a slightly different path that had a more even grade, and it would feature a total of 9 stone bridges. The new road opened in July of 1912.
Bridge #5 is the largest bridge of the structures on the Seven Bridges Road. It has a double arch, each arch being about 32 feet wide, with a total bridge span of 67 feet. Add in about 40 feet for each approach, and the overall length is about 150 feet. With the top of the arches being 32 feet above the water, this is also the tallest of the seven bridges.
While Snively's road was now a first class parkway, it did not connect to Skyline Parkway as he had envisioned in his original plan. In fact, it would take decades for the extension across Hawk Ridge to be built. To help move the project forward, Snively eventually ran for and was elected Mayor of Duluth.
Bridge #6 is an original 1912 bridge. It was rebuilt in 1999. It looks much the same today as it did nearly 100 years ago when it was first opened to traffic. It is interesting to note that the bridge is built level, but the roadway is sloping downhill towards the lake. You can see how the road is lower on the far end of the structure. Bridge #6 is the last bridge on the Seven Bridges Road before the intersection with Skyline Parkway and Maxwell Road.
Snively was elected Mayor in the late 1930s. One of his projects was to develop the connection between Skyline Parkway and what was then called Amity Parkway. The connector road would cross the face of Hawk Ridge. It was finished about 1939. This was the last section of Skyline Parkway to be built, with the remainder of the road having been completed in the late 1920s.
Bridge #7 is considered to be the final bridge on the Seven Bridges Road. The roads were modified in the late 1930s when the Hawk Ridge extension was built, so the bridge is located on Skyline Parkway today. The Seven Bridges Road starts about 150 feet north of this location. Notice the yellow double-arrow sign through the trees on the very far right side of the photo above. Also note that this is a new bridge, the old bridge was considered to be too far gone to be worth repairing.
When the Hawk Ridge extension was built, the Seven Bridges Road as finally connected to Skyline Parkway. The City of Duluth now had a continuous loop of parkway running for nearly 30 miles around the city at the top of the bluffs. The parkways had some of the most spectacular scenery of any road in the Midwest.
Bridge #8 was abandoned in 1939. It is used as a ski and hiking trail today. The bridge is structurally sound, but the walls are falling away and are no longer safe.
When the Hawk Ridge extension was built, the road was placed slightly south of where Snively had originally planned. As a result, bridges #8 and #9 were no longer needed, and they were abandoned. The old roadway has since been developed into a cross-country ski trail, and is used for hiking in the summer. These two bridges are a very easy walk from the small parking area by Bridge #7.
Bridge #9 is another 1912-era bridge that was abandoned in 1939. It too, appears to be in sound condition as far as the main span goes, but the side walls have been damaged and need to be fixed.
By the 1990s, the forces of water, accidents, and vandalism had left the 1912 bridges in rough shape. The city responded by starting a project to inspect, repair, restore, and if needed, replace the bridges. This would ensure that the Seven Bridges Road would be open for many years into the future. Bridge #2 was the first to be repaired in 1997. It was followed by #6 in 1998, and later #5. Once the major repairs were completed, it was decided that some bridges would be easier to rebuild than repair. That includes the newly replaced bridges #0 and #7.
Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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