Hastings High Bridge in Hastings, Minnesota

Photo taken in September 2010

When traveling home to southwestern Minnesota from the Twin Cities, it is almost always natural to take the shortest possible route so that one can reach their destination in the shortest time possible, whether it is through Mankato or Albert Lea.  When I travel home to southwestern Minnesota from the Twin Cities (which is my preferred destination for all German-American flights), I usually take a more scenic route, which is along the Mississippi River and through parts of southeastern Minnesota, passing through Northfield and Fairibault. The area is filled with a variety of landscapes to choose from, from hilly to flat all in the span of 30 miles. There are numerous towns and villages to see, including Hampton and New Trier, which is rich with history and heritage. But there is another reason for traveling through the area, to pay homage to a blue beauty over the Ole Miss.

The Hastings High Bridge is one of my most favorite historic bridges in the state of Minnesota. Built in 1951 by Sverdrup and Parcel, the same company that built the first I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, this through arch/truss bridge is the only one of its kind in the state and one of a handful of bridges of its kind remaining in the US. It is one of the longest in the Upper Mississippi River Valley, at 1857 feet (the arch span being 600 feet) and is one of the towering figures of the City of Hastings.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society via wikipedia. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hastings_Spiral_Bridge.jpg

The bridge also has a deep history which makes it one of the icons of the city of 18,000. It was here that the first bridge with a spiral approach was built in 1895. Designed and built by the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works Company (WisBI), the original Hastings Spiral Bridge featured a Parker through truss bridge as the main span followed by two wooden and steel trestle approaches. Because a high bridge was needed to clear the height clearance for ships and barges to pass through, an engineer at WisBI constructed a spiral approach in the shape of a curly Q on the south end of the bridge, providing drivers with a chance to make an easy descent into the historic business district.  The bridge became a treat for the city of Hastings and it became a poster boy for many engineers to design bridges with this spiral approach. This includes Friedrich Voss, who adopted this unique approach design for the railroad viaduct in Rendsburg, Germany, which was built in 1913 and features a spiral approach on the north end made of a combination of a grade, arch bridges over streets and steel trestles slicing through the city before approaching the main span- a cantilever through truss with a transporter underneath, spanning the Baltic-North Sea Canal. It is still in service today and is the only one of its kind in the world.  Even today, these bridges were being built, big or small, and regardless of what they carry for vehicles and people, like the pedestrian bridge in Bad Homburg vor der Hoehe, near Frankfurt/Main in the German state of Hesse.

Pedestrian Bridge at Bad Homburg near Frankfurt/Main. Photo taken in February 2008
Spiral approach of the Rendsburg High Bridge. Photo taken in April 2011
Main span of Rendsburg High Bridge. Photo taken in April 2011

Sadly, the bridge showed sign of wear and tear and in 1951, it was replaced with the current structure. The future of the Spiral Bridge was in doubt as many people wanted to keep this historic icon, yet despite the split decision, a pocket vote on the part of Hastings’ mayor sealed the structure’s fate, and the bridge was brought down by explosives, as seen in the video here.  As a consolation, one of the piers was preserved as a historical marker. However, a replica of the bridge was built in 2005, using a Thacher through truss bridge imported from Lac Qui Parle County. It is now at the Little Log House Pioneer Village, located south of Hastings.

Now the fate of the second bridge seems to be sealed. After 61 years in service, the bridge is being replaced by a tied arch bridge, which is supposed to be the longest in the western Hemisphere. Like the Spiral Bridge, the High Bridge showed signs of wear and tear, caused by increase in traffic combined with weather extremities. Even salt used for deicing the roadway has eaten away at the structure to a point where the cost for rehabilitation would be exorbitant. There are many who believe that it is not necessary for a new bridge to be built at the site of the present one. Yet the question is where should the new bridge have been built without having a negative impact on the city’s commerce? That question is difficult to answer and probably will not be presented until after the 1951 structure comes down in 2013.

Yet the people in Hastings and the surrounding area welcome the change as many are afraid that the structure will collapse. Little do they realize is they are losing another important icon, which could have been saved, had there been ways to rehabilitate it years earlier and most importantly, maintained it. The bridge’s heavy steel used for the structure provided truckers and commuters with a sense of security that it was meant to last for 100 years, as is the case for many railroad truss bridges. Yet with as much traffic as US Hwy. 61 carries through Hastings, maintaining it would mean painting the bridge biannually at least, as it is seen with the maintenance on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The costs would be high and with the current economic problems we are facing, it would have been impossible to keep up the maintenance on the bridge.  But one should expect to dole out the funds for the new bridge as well, as it will need just as much tender loving care as the first two crossings.

We have seen many of Minnesota’s historic relicts (bridge’s included) become part of the history books, as seen in Jack El Hai’s Lost Minnesota, published in 2005. I’m sure that a second volume is in the making and that this bridge will be in there with others that have fallen victim of modernization, including its neighboring bridge to the north at Inver Grove Heights. Even though the new bridge will present a sleek design made to entice the modernists and passers-by, many people in Hastings as well as those with connections with the High Bridge will remind them of the icon that will be soon by history. It is unclear whether this bridge will last as long as the first two, but it will take time for the people of Hastings to adapt to the new bridge.

While I’ll probably visit the bridge on my next USA trip in 2013, I will always think of the Blue Beauty over the Ole Miss. And therefore, as a tribute to one of the finest landmark bridges, I’ve enclosed a gallery of bridge photos for you to enjoy, which you can click here to view. A video of the trip across the bridge can be seen here.

Side view taken from the city park. Photo taken in Dec. 2007
Oblique view. Note the retailer building was removed to make way for the new bridge. Photo taken in December 2007
Behind the portal bracing. Photo taken in Dec. 2007
Oblique view from underneath. Photo taken in December 2007
Photo taken in September 2010
Approaching the bridge and Hastings. Photo taken in Dec 2010
Hastings Bridge during construction. Photo taken in August 2011
Photo taken in August 2011
The Hastings Bridge in the background with the new bridge’s piers in the foreground. Photo taken in August 2011