A significant piece of early Minneapolis history is close to vanishing with this week’s collapse of one of two remaining piers from the long-gone 10th Avenue Bridge.
The pier that’s long stuck out of the Mississippi River just downstream from the east end of the Stone Arch Bridge is now down to a nub of stone. It was undercut by erosion that’s been eating at the pier base for years, exacerbated by a surge in the river’s pace to more than 41,000 cubic feet per second this week. A dogwalker said the pier collapsed sometime between his late morning and evening walks on Wednesday.
The bridge carried pedestrians, horse-drawn wagons and, later, cars and a streetcar line across the river between 6th Avenue SE. and 10th Avenue S. on the downtown side. It was built in 1874, closed to traffic in 1934 and sold for scrap for the war effort in 1943, according to a bridge reference guide maintained by John A. Weeks III.
The bridge played a prominent role at a time when bridges were few, and workers trudged from jobs on one bank to housing on the other. It also led to the city’s red-light district.
John Anfinson, a National Park Service historian, said remnants such as the pier make for a richer heritage. “This historic fabric is something that makes the past real.”
The crossing was near one of the three original bridges built in Minneapolis, two of which washed away in 1859, according to Weeks. That left only a single crossing that spanned Nicollet Island, where today’s Father Louis Hennepin Bridge stands.
According to Weeks, when the older St. Anthony merged with youthful Minneapolis in 1872, part of the deal was that the combined city would erect new bridges at Plymouth and 10th avenues.
The new 10th Avenue Bridge had stone piers that held an iron truss with a deck roughly 60 feet above the river. Weeks estimated the length at 1,100 feet. The bridge eventually was closed because it wasn’t designed to stand up to motor vehicles.
“I’m told by people who were around in the ’30s that it was really exciting to walk on, and not in a good way,” said Penny Petersen, a riverfront historian.
By then, the sturdier 3rd Avenue Bridge and a different 10th Avenue Bridge had been added.
The pier that collapsed has also provided spectator interest. Several years ago, a Canada goose nested atop it, leading bridge walkers to speculate how well the goslings would make their maiden flight to the river about 30 feet below. One day they were gone, presumably landing safely or getting nabbed by one of the area’s eagles.
A 2011 column by river area resident Lisa Peters invited guesses on when the pier would collapse. Now only an intact but less visible pier on the east bank remains.
Coincidentally, another historic riverfront pier is due for removal near the western pier of the Franklin Avenue Bridge. That’s taking care of a Coast Guard order issued almost a century ago to remove the remnant of an earlier bridge that somehow was never accomplished.