The Bridges of New Ulm, Minnesota

6th Street Overpass in New Ulm. Photo taken by the author in 2010

Going back to the series on Ulm and New Ulm with sister column The Flensburg Files, we will take a look at the bridges in the American counterpart. Located along the Minnesota River at the junction of the Big Cottonwood River, New Ulm, with a population of 13,400, has some of the characteristics of Main Street USA. Yet as you pass through, everything you see is German, from names to buildings and monuments, as well as the market square and the Oktoberfest.

New Ulm is served by two key highways: Minnesota Hwy. 15 between St. Cloud and Iowa going north to south, and US Hwy. 14 between Mankato and Rochester in the east and Walnut Grove and Brookings to the west. The railroad line owned by Canadian Pacific runs parallel to this highway. These highways and railroad had once made New Ulm a key trading center when it was established in 1854 and rebuilt after the Dakota War of 1862. With that came the crossings along the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers, which helped serve this purpose. Today, the highways are modernized and with that, longer and wider bridges to serve traffic- at least for the east-west route as New Ulm and Mankato are located only 15 miles from each other, making commuting easier. Yet many traces of history can also be found mainly to the south of New Ulm, where historic bridges once stood but today only a pair of vintage railroad bridges are still standing. This guide takes you through the city of New Ulm and the historic bridges that had once existed but have been replaced. The purpose is to remind visitors of their existence and the bridge companies that were responsible for turning New Ulm into a city of commerce, a title still held as proudly today as its German heritage. Most of the bridges profiled are located to the south and east, with a pair of outlyers to the north. You can find them on this map, when clicking here.

6th Street Arch Underpass:

The stone arch bridge spans 6th Street North, carrying the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The 38 foot long stone arch bridge was constructed in 1909 and had originally served both the east-west route (owned by CP) and a north-south route which was once owned by the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. That line connected New Ulm with Winthrop (in the north) and Storm Lake, Iowa (in the south) until its abandonment in 1970. The bridge now only serves the CP route, but it serves as a key entrance to German Park, located just to the west of this bridge in the northern part of the business district.

12th Street Overpass in New Ulm. Photo taken by John Marvig in September 2011, shortly afterwards it was replaced.

12th Street Overpass: 

This bridge is located at the far end of New Ulm, spanning 12th Street North, carrying CP Railroad. Built in 1911, the 30-foot bridge featured a plate girder decorated with wooden railties. However, due to structural concerns, the bridge was replaced with a combination steel and concrete structure in 2012. It still serves traffic today.

Redstone Bridge (side view). Photo taken by John Marvig in January 2013

Redstone Railroad Bridge

Located over the Minnesota River opposite the city center, the Redstone Bridge is the longest of the bridges in New Ulm and one of the longest of the railroad bridges spanning the Minnesota River. The 880 foot long bridge, consisting of two quadrangular truss spans with Town Lattice portal bracings and a 207-foot long swing span built of Pratt design and featuring a beam-style with heels portals, was built in 1880 by the Leighton Bridge and Iron Works Company in New York. It originally served the main line of Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, connecting New Ulm and St. Peter. However, the line was detoured in 1971 to have it connected with Mankato, thus rendering the line to St. Peter useless. The bridge still serves rail traffic but only to the quarry near the Courtland Cutoff before it terminates. The piers of the swing span was reinforced with concrete in 2014 to stabilize the structure, but overall, the bridge is still in use and maintains its historic significance. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Portal view of the approach span. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2015

DM&E Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge west of the Minnesota River in New Ulm. Photo taken by John Marvig in May 2015

D,M&E Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge:

Located only a half mile northwest of Redstone Bridge, the Cottonwood River crossing is the longest bridge over the Cottonwood River (and the last crossing before its confluence with the Minnesota River only 600 feet to the east) at 733 feet total. The bridge features two quadrangular truss main spans with A-frame portal braces, each measured at 157 feet, with the rest being wooden trestle approach spans. These were replaced with concrete and steel trestle spans in 2009. The bridge was built in 1913, using the piers of the 1890 span, which had deteriorated to a point where replacement was necessary. The bridge continues to serve rail traffic to Mankato today, for it is the main line served by Canadian Pacific Railroad. 


Poor Farm Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER
Poor Farm Bridge before its replacement. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

Poor Farm Bridge:

Located just west of MN Hwy. 15 on Cottonwood Street, Poor Farm Bridge represented a lone example of a bridge built by the Security Bridge Company based in Billings, Montana. The structure was built in 1907 and featured a pin-connected Pratt through truss with Howe lattice portal bracings with heel bracings, with a total measurement of 155 feet. The bridge continued to serve traffic until a cracked eyebar in the bottom chord led to its closure in February 1991. It was replaced with its present structure 3 years later.  Had the advancement of historic bridge preservation been as predominant as it is right now, chances would have been likely that this bridge would have been standing, serving light traffic or at least be used as a pedestrian crossing. But the lack of technology pertaining to fixing broken iron and steel beams contributed to its demise.

Portal view with the builder's plaque. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER
Portal view with the builder’s plaque. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER

Courtland Cutoff 1

Courtland Cutoff Bridge

Located over the Minnesota River 300 feet north of the present 20th Street Bridge, the Courtland Cutoff Bridge featured two Pratt through truss spans with Town lattice portal bracings supported by 45° heels. The bridge’s end posts and vertical posts were both V-laced, and it appeared to be built of iron. Although there are no records as to who built the 1892 bridge, the portal bracings and the builders plaques are typical of that built by Massilion Bridge Company in Ohio. But more information is needed to confirm this argument. The 335-foot bridge served traffic until 1978, when the present bridge was built on a new alignment. By 1980, the bridge was moved to the history books with the parts being reused for other purposes. Today, like the truss bridge, the Courtland Cutoff serves as a shortcut to Mankato without having to drive through down town New Ulm.

Courtland Cutoff 2


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Metzen Bridge:

Spanning the Cottonwood River east of the present Hwy. 15 crossing, the Metzen Bridge was built in 1880 and named after a nearby farm that had existed since the establishment of New Ulm in 1854. The bridge was built in 1880 and represents an example of a typical Wrought Iron Bridge Company bridge with its ornamental Town Lattice portal bracings and builder’s plaques. The 441-foot bridge featured a pin-connected Whipple through truss span (148 feet) and steel approach spans. Until 1932, the bridge was the primary crossing for Hwy. 15 going south of New Ulm. After a new crossing was built on a new alignment 700 feet to the west, the ownership of the Metzen Bridge was switched over to the city, which owned it until its removal in 1981. The bridge originally was located where Shag Road makes a sharp right going north and east towards the Cottonwood River Railroad Bridge. It originally was called Bridge Street because of the bridge. Yet Bridge Street terminates nears the Jensen Motors site, 250 feet north of the bridge. Had the bridge been standing, it would have been listed on the National Register because of its rare truss design. Ideally, it would have an excellent crossing for a bike trail leaving New Ulm going either south or along the Cottonwood.

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Hwy 15 B 1

Broadway Avenue Bridge (Hwy. 15)

Built in 1932 replacing the Metzen Bridge, the Broadway Avenue Bridge featured a continuous deck truss design using a combination Howe and Pratt designs. The connections were riveted. At 66o feet, the bridge was the second longest along the Cottonwood River. It was built on a new alignment alongside the Milwaukee Viaduct, a steel viaduct built in 1899 that had served the New Ulm-Madelia-Fairmont line until 1971. The purpose was to eliminate the dangerous curves presented by the Metzen Bridge, making the straightened road safer for travellers entering and leaving New Ulm. This was kept in mind in 1983, when the bridge was replaced with its present structure.

Hwy 15 B 2


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Flandrau State Park Bridge (CSAH 13)

Together with the Minnesota River Crossing at Hwys. 14 and 15, the Flandrau Bridge represented a classic example of a multiple span steel truss bridge built by the Illinois Steel Bridge Company. This bridge was built in 1921 and featured a two-span Camelback truss bridge with A-frame portal bracing and riveted connections. It provided travellers with a direct access to Flandrau State Park from the south until its replacement in 1962.

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Hwy. 14 Minnesota River Bridge

Together with the Flandrau State Park Bridge, this bridge was built by the Illinois Steel Company in 1922. It featured a Parker through truss main span with two Warren pony truss approach spans (all with riveted connections), totalling a span of 350 feet. The A-frame portal bracings were replaced with Howe lattice portal bracings in 1939 to accomodate the increasing height of trucks crossing the Minnesota River going in and out of New Ulm. In 1963, as part of the plan to widen the highway to four lanes, the bridge was replaced with its present structure. Today, the crossing still serves Hwy. 14 between New Ulm and Mankato as well as Hwy. 15 between New Ulm and St. Cloud, providing New Ulm with commerce from the north and east.

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This article is part of a series on the cities of New Ulm, Minnesota and Ulm/ Neu Ulm, Germany, produced together with sister column, The Flensburg Files. To access the articles in the series, please click on the symbols for access….

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Many thanks to Pete Wilson from Minnesota Department of Transportation for his help in finding some information and photos on the bridges, as well as John Marvig for allowing the author to use some of his photos.