What happened: Plans for the 3rd Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis were presented to the commission charged with picking a design.


When: Nov. 25, 1912.


Complicated designs: The designs were impressive, considering the challenges. Railroads ran along the west bank of the Mississippi River, so the bridge would have to go over the tracks, which were below street grade. One design had a pier holding up the bridge deck; another boasted a tall, graceful suspension system anchored by towers.

The commission also had to decide whether the bridge should run straight across the river or curve. The architects hired by the commission recommended the curved design, since “the city engineer,” as the Tribune reported, “recently sounded the river and reported that it was unsafe on a straight route.”

The engineers also recommended that the bridge should march across the southern tip of Nicollet Island, then twist back to connect with 1st Avenue SE. (now Central Avenue). That didn’t happen.

The final design was the work of Frederick W. Cappelen, city engineer for Minneapolis. The cost was over $860,000. Without piers or towers, it’s a bridge of simple beauty and strength.

The Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge and the Stone Arch Bridge may get all the publicity, but the 3rd Avenue Bridge, which was once known as the St. Anthony Falls Bridge, has a grace all its own.


Municipal standouts: Cappelen would also give the city two water towers: the Kenwood Park Water Tower and the Prospect Park Tower (known locally as the Witch’s Hat). His greatest work started in 1919, when he designed the Franklin Avenue Bridge. At the time, it was the longest concrete span in the world.

Cappelen didn’t live to see the bridge finished. He died in 1921, two years before the bridge opened. The obituary for his wife years later said he’d died of “overwork and a nervous breakdown.”


What remains: The Franklin Avenue Bridge was named in Cappelen’s honor before it was finished, and that’s still its official name.

Wouldn’t hurt to use the official name now and then, just to say thanks.