Stone Arch Bridge
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"Hill's Folly"
The Building of the Stone Arch Bridge
by Ray Lowry

Originally published in the Hennepin County History, 1988

Stone Arch Bridge streaming video by Ray Lowry

In 1880, Minneapolis was a blossoming city of over
45,000. Just eight years had passed since the city
had merged with St. Anthony, its sister city on the
east bank of the Mississippi River, and during that
short period of time the population of the combined
cities had more than doubled. Yet little had been
done to bind the two parts of Minneapolis together.

The main business hub of the city, like today,
was located on the west side of the river, as were
most of the city's flour and saw mills. On the east
bank, one could find a few smaller mills, scattered
shops and hotels, and less than twenty percent of
the city's total population. This sense of urban
schizophrenia was compounded by the fact that the
city's main railroad links, so crucial to urban
growth in the 1880s, were also located on the
underdeveloped east side of the river.

As the only Mississippi River crossing open to
Minneapolis pedestrian and passenger traffic,
the Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge was of vital
importance. Yet this structure, while only
twenty-five years old, had fallen into a state
of disrepair. "We do not believe there is a city
on the civilized globe outside of Minneapolis
which would permit a bridge of the importance of
this - forming the connecting link between two
great divisions of the city - to get into such
a shameful condition of dilapidation," wrote
the editors of St. Paul's Pioneer Press (April
20, 1882).

According to the Pioneer Press, travelers arriving
at the rail depot on Minneapolis's east side were
taking their lives into their own hands by even
crossing the bridge. "A swamp corduroy (road) is
a delightful pleasure drive compared with the
holes, the ruts, the pitfalls and the snares which
the rotted pine blocks in this thoroughfare
constitute," the article added.

Although the Pioneer Press's description of the
bridge was undoubtedly exaggerated, the availability
of ready transport into central Minneapolis was of
great concern to the city's business community.
Management of the Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge
was, it seems, a bit of an embarrassment to the
city. The structure was a toll bridge under control
of the mayor's office. Although the bridge had
been completely refurbished in 1876 at great
expense, the condition of the structure remained
deplorable. Consequently, many of the city's
business leaders came to believe that the bridge's
renovation funds had been squandered by city officials. (1)

The fact that various mayors treated the suspension
bridge as an item of personal property didn't help
matters either. One mayor had gone so far as to
allow the penniless widow of a former crony to move
into the bridge's tollhouse where the destitute woman
resided until her death. (2) What was needed, in the
eyes of Minneapolis businessmen, was a new bridge - one
not in the hands of the politicians - that would
bring railroad passengers directly into the central
business district of Minneapolis.

To embark on such an undertaking, Minneapolis business
leaders turned to St. Paul's up-and-coming railroad
entrepreneur, James J. Hill. Hill eagerly plunged
into the task and, within a few short years, managed
to bring the venture to completion. Known to critics
as "Hill's Folly" at the time of construction, the
resulting bridge still stands, as solid today as on
the day it was completed in 1883. Known simply as
"the Stone Arch Bridge," this 2,100-foot-long, 100,000
ton structure helped usher the railroad age into
Minneapolis. The eye-pleasing design of the bridge,
with its twenty-three gracefully curving arches, soon
became a landmark of the city, adorning numerous
postcards and the letterheads of countless Minneapolis

In all likelihood, "Hill's Folly," perhaps the oldest
major structure in the city of Minneapolis and the
second oldest bridge spanning the Mississippi River, (3)
will remain intact for a second century; perhaps even
a third or fourth. This, then, is the story of James
J. Hill's Stone Arch Bridge, one of the most remarkable
pieces of nineteenth-century architecture still in
existence in Hennepin County.

The Man

In the early 1870's, James J. Hill was considered
something of a buffoon by many Minnesota businessmen.
When the area around Winnipeg, Manitoba was first
opened up to white settlers in 1858, Hill had managed
to make himself a small fortune in what many regarded
as a wildly lucky business venture. A few of Hill's
business associates had purchased two dilapidated
Mississippi River steamers in St. Paul, which they
dismantled, loaded on oxcarts, and hauled all the
way across the state to the Red River country.

The steamers were then reassembled and put to work
hauling much-needed Red River freight from the oxcart
trails in Minnesota to the booming settlements
around Winnipeg.

Jim Hill, recognizing a fantastic business opportunity,
acted as purchasing agent for much of this Winnipeg-bound
freight. When rail lines were pushed through to
Breckenridge and Moorhead, Minnesota, settlers flocked
to Manitoba and Hill dreamed of a business empire
in the north. But river steamers were a seasonal
form of transportation, and during the long winter
months Winnipeg was accessible only by dog sled.

Hill, who had made this grueling journey on numerous
occasions, dreamed of a more practical means of
exploiting the growing market in the north.

Jim Hill soon had his eye on the St. Paul and Pacific Railway
Company, a pretentiously named bankrupt line whose tracks barely
reached the Dakota border. Years earlier, a $13,800,000 bond issue
had been floated to fund this supposed transcontinental line,
yet only five hundred miles of mostly unusable track had ever
been laid. A classic case of nineteenth-century railroad looting,

most of the St. Paul and Pacific's capital had been
siphoned off to a number of dummy construction companies
and shadowy managers, leaving the bondholders—mostly Dutch
venture capitalists—with "two streaks of rust and a right of way"
for their trouble. (4)

The line was in such dismal condition that when it went bankrupt in 1873, the
receiver had to inspect some of the company's property by handcar
because the line's single, rickety locomotive was unable to
negotiate many of the poorly constructed stretches of track!
This was the railroad Jim Hill dreamed of acquiring.

Convinced that the St. Paul and Pacific could be a money-making
operation. Hill ignored his critics and moved to acquire the
bankrupt line. In a complicated stock transaction, Hill and a group of
Montreal financiers managed to gain a controlling interest in the
line. Critics howled with laughter, yet Hill had the last laugh. The
rechristened St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway,
or the "Manitoba Road" as it was more commonly known, almost
immediately became a profitable enterprise.

Hill's first major chore was to replace the Manitoba Road's
existing track. He steadily replaced the original low-grade iron
rails with rails of high-quality steel, and the Manitoba Road
soon became known as a quality road. By 1880, four of the major
railroads serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul market used Hill's track
when they ran their trains between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

A union depot was eventually constructed in downtown St. Paul
for use by these lines, and it rapidly became one of the busiest
and most efficient rail terminals in the country. When Minneapolis
business leaders expressed interest in building a similar union depot
in downtown Minneapolis (with a viaduct connection to the
Manitoba Road's track on the opposite side of the Mississippi
River), Jim Hill was the man to whom they naturally turned.

The Plan

On November 28, 1881, James J. Hill and several Minneapolis
businessmen met at the old Nicollet House Restaurant to
discuss construction of a downtown rail terminal and a short-line
railroad linking that terminal with the Manitoba Road's St. Paul-to-
Minneapolis line. The men organized the Minneapolis Union
Railway Company for this purpose and formally incorporated
the company on December 1, 1881.

On January 9 of the following year, the company held its first
stockholders meeting, and James J. Hill, as owner of 232 of 250
shares of stock, was elected president. Col. Charles C. Smith
was appointed chief engineer of the project, the Central Trust
Company issued $3,000,000 worth of bonds (guaranteed at 6%
per annum by the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway
Company), and a contract was entered into with Edward
Darragh and Michael Haviland to construct a stone-arch viaduct
across the Mississippi River. (5)

Hill had originally proposed to build an iron bridge across the
Mississippi River at Nicollet Island, just upriver from the
existing suspension bridge. The river reached its narrowest point
at that location and he believed construction costs could be kept
to a minimum. Such a location would also provide the most
direct route into downtown Minneapolis where Hill wanted to
build his union depot. But Col. Charles C. Smith, Hill's West
Point-trained engineer, believed the massive stone pillars needed
to support a railroad bridge might create a choke point in the river,
causing ice and log jams.

Smith also feared that any major construction on the Mississippi
riverbed above the Falls of St. Anthony might cause a
destabilization of the falls.(6) Year after year,
the sandstone layer underlying St. Anthony Falls was steadily being
eaten away by erosion. This erosion was causing the falls to
gradually "migrate" upstream. Smith feared that punching
through this sandstone layer with bridge piers might fracture the
entire foundation of the river floor, accelerating the migration
of the falls. This, in turn, would result in wholesale disruption of
the water power upon which the flour and lumber milling industries
of Minneapolis depended. A similar break-up of the falls had
occurred in October 1869 when a tunnel being dug between
Nicollet and Hennepin Islands collapsed. Millions of gallons of
river water gushed through the tunnel, taking large segments of
the two islands with them. Workmen labored frantically to plug
this huge leak, but the Herculean task wasn't accomplished until the
following spring. No one, least of all Jim Hill, wanted to see a
repetition of that disaster. Col. Smith's answer, then, was to build
below the falls at considerably greater expense.

Smith proposed to construct a solid stone bridge cutting diagonally
across the Mississippi River. The west end of the bridge would
lie just below the St. Anthony Falls mill district and the east end
would lie 500 feet downstream from the Hennepin Avenue suspension bridge.

The proposed double-tracked bridge would terminate at a union depot located
between Nicollet and Hennepin avenues. Believing that the project-
would be of "direct and immediate benefit" to the mill
owners. Hill hoped "to have the fullest and most earnest cooperation
of the people at the falls on both sides of the river.(7) But Jim
Hill soon learned that the benefits of one party often conflict with
those of another.

To build his bridge. Hill needed to acquire certain tracts of land
along the river. He had begun this process eighteen months earlier
when he purchased the St. Anthony Water Power Company for
$425,000. The sale was widely reported in the press, as was Jim
Hill's motive in making the purchase. No one believed Hill
had the slightest interest in getting into the water-power business.
That Hill needed to acquire the necessary right of way for his
proposed railroad bridge was readily recognized.

But two parcels of land along the proposed bridge route lay beyond
Hill's immediate grasp. The first of these, located on the St.
Anthony side of the river, was occupied by the Mornson Sawmill
Company. The second, a piece of land at the foot of
Hennepin Island, was occupied by the Farnham & Lovejoy
Sawmill Company. Dorilus Morrison, Sumner Farnham and
James Lovejoy, the proprietors of the businesses in question, were
aware of Hill's plans. The three men drove hard bargains when
Hill sought to buy them out. The Farnham & Lovejoy operation
was initially offered $35,000 to surrender their site, but the pair
scoffed, demanding $150,000. The Morrison Company was
equally adamant.

In desperation, Hill wrote to his friend Cadwallader C. Washburn,
president of the Minneapolis Water Power Company and
former business associate of Farnham and Morrison, imploring
him to assist Hill in acquiring the sites: "In lieu of the enormous
amount we have to invest in the bridge and Union Depot and the
fact that our resources wouldn't be materially increased, I ask that
you will consider the enterprise on our part, awfully beneficial to
all property in Minneapolis, and that in asking a price, these facts
will be borne in mind.(8) Washburn was sympathetic, but
had little influence over his former business associates. Eventually
Dorilus Morrison came to terms with Hill, but Farnham &
Lovejoy continued to hold out. In the end. Hill gave in, purchasing
the pair's property for $112,000. This was one of the few
occasions when Jim Hill was outfoxed in a business deal and
the thought must have stung him. When he reported news of the
deal to his lawyer, he sheepishly wrote: "I trust you will not
consider that I was too free in making this purchase." (9)

The Task

On a cold January morning in 1882, press reports indicated that
ground had been broken and construction begun on "the great
viaduct." Although control of the two disputed pieces of property
had not yet been resolved, Darragh and Haviland, the contractors
on the project, began work in earnest. A small crew had been
hired to begin the project and within days derricks, tool houses
and steam-driven engines were assembled and put into place on
both sides of the river. "The gentlemen comprising the firm
are among the most successful and energetic railroad builders in the
country," reported the Pioneer Press on Jan. 13, 1882, "and
before many days the people of Minneapolis will be enabled to see
how much can be accomplished in a short time by concentrated
and well directed energy." Within weeks, nearly 600 men were at
work on the project. About 300 of these were employed as a day
crew and 125 made up the night shift. Another 150 were set to
work cutting limestone blocks from a quarry on the east bank of
the river.

The workers were paid $1.25 a day for their labors and most
certainly earned every nickel of it. While heavy construction has
always been grueling work, in 1882 it could be brutal. On
February 21 of that year, the Pioneer Press noted that "twenty
or thirty men were busy up to their waists in the icy waters."
These laborers were constructing a number of coffer dams—circular
structures in the middle of the river from which the water could
be pumped with steam-driven centrifugal pumps. When completed,
these dams allowed workers to prepare the necessary
foundations of the bridge upon the temporarily dried floor of the
river. While the workers were provided with "great rubber
boots," said to be "necessary for the amphibious character of the
employment" (Pioneer Press, Feb. 18, 1882), it is hard to imagine
that the work was anything but torture. Yet, the icy waters were
only one of the dangers that the river posed for these men. During
the winter of 1882, those hardy souls who braved the icy chill of
the Mississippi River also struggled with its raging currents,
currents capable of sweeping a man to his doom.

On February 26, after just forty-five days of work on the bridge,
the first casualty occurred. Joseph Schmidt, a young Prussian
immigrant, met his death in the rapids below the falls. Schmidt
was helping to build one of the piers on Hennepin Island when
his foreman ordered him to take a message to a crew doing similar
work on Upton Island. While maneuvering a small rowboat
through the strong river currents, Schmidt apparently lost control of
the craft and was swept into the rapids downstream. Once in the
churning rapids, the small boat struck a large cake of ice, upsetting
the craft and throwing the occupant into the river. Schmidt
struggled for a few moments before sinking into the churning
waters. When the victim's foreman was questioned as to the
wisdom of sending a lone man to navigate a tiny rowboat through
such waters, the foreman retorted: "Schmidt became thoroughly rattled
and was drowned through lack of nerve and ordinary presence of mind"
(Pioneer Press, Feb. 27, 1882).

By the spring of 1882, all but one of the bridge's twenty-three
foundations were completed and the entire site was connected by a
series of rickety wooden tramways. Horses were employed to
drag huge stone blocks along these tramways, where equally
rickety derricks swung the huge blocks onto the growing piers.
Four sputtering steam engines provided the power necessary for
some of the derricks to hoist the stone into place. But more often
than not, the blocks were raised and lowered by means of horse-
power. A number of windlasses were employed for this purpose—
devices that permitted draft horses, walking in circles, to coil
thick ropes around wooden drums. On one of these contraptions,
the bar passing through the shaft of the windlass snapped,
causing an 800-pound block of limestone to tumble into the river.
The weight of the limestone caused the windlass to be spun
with "lightning rapidity" and a piece of the shattered windlass
was hurled away with great velocity. The flying debris struck
the operator of the device, a young immigrant named John
Donovan, instantly crushing the poor man's skull, "Knocked into
Eternity" read the newspaper headline (Pioneer Press, April 30,

In many respects, the technology used in building the Stone Arch
Bridge had been around since antiquity. The very idea of draft
animals and gangs of sweating workmen moving huge stone
blocks into place brings to mind the Egyptian pyramids. But in
spire of the primitive engineering techniques employed by Hill's
men, the Stone Arch Bridge could have been built during no earlier
time period. While much of the limestone used on the bridge was
quarried on the spot, thousands of tons of stone had to be shipped
in, often from hundreds of miles away. The stone quarried at these
diverse locations could never have been efficiently transported ro
Minneapolis without the growing rail network that existed in the

The foundations for the bridge's piers were built of solid granite
hauled in from Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. All exposed, work on
the upper portion of the bridge was built of magnesium limestone
quarried at Mankato, Minnesota and Stone City, Iowa. Marble,
used for the trimming on the deck of the structure, came from
Bridgeport, Wisconsin. Limestone, used for the unexposed
portions of the bridge, was quarried on the site. In all,
100,000 tons of stone were needed for the project and the
logistics of supplying such a huge amount of material was no simple
matter. From June 1882 until November 1883, not less than five
marble-laden railroad cars were contracted to leave Bridgeport
each and every day. During the same period, 2,000 carloads of
Mankato limestone were used. Hill, ever the stickler for derail,
was a very quality-conscious businessman. When he became
dissatisfied with the quality of stone being shipped from
Mankato, he solved the problem in typical Jim Hill fashion—he
simply purchased the Mankato quarry.

In order to bond such a huge amount of stone together, an
equally large amount of mortar was required. In all, 30,554 cubic
yards of various cements were used on the project. Because much
of the masonry work was done during the winter, a method of
preparing cement in subfreezing temperatures had to be devised.
Col. Smith, the chief engineer of the project, came up with a simple
solution to this problem. Eight quarts of salt were incorporated
into each barrel of cement and then mixed with hot water. The
salt content of the solution prevented the cement from freezing
and, upon drying, the salt was simply absorbed into the pores of
the stone.(10)

By the spring of 1883, the last of the foundations had been
completed and the bridge's piers were rapidly rising above the waterline.
The graceful arches of the bridge began to take shape. As they rose
above the water, the piers curved outward on either side, forming
the bridge's distinctive arches. The arches were designed to be of
varying sizes, spanning from 40 to 100 feet. Like any self-supporting
arch, they were incapable of standing without external support
prior to completion. As a result, thousands of heavy timbers were
used to prop up the unfinished structures. These creaking and
groaning timbers shivered under the weight of the half-completed
arches. Sometimes they collapsed, with tragic results. The third, and
final, casualty on the project involved a young man who was
crushed when a violent gust of wind caused the timbers holding
one partially completed arch to give way. But when things went
as planned and the two halves of an uncompleted arch approached
very near to one other, the uppermost stone—the keystone—
could be dropped into place and hammered home with huge
wooden mallets. Once completed, the arches became as solid as the
granite and limestone deposits from which they were quarried.

The Legacy

"Speed is the characteristic of American civilization; everybody
is in a hurry, and no sooner is one device for overcoming time and
space successfully put to use, than people find it too slow, and brain
and money are drawn upon to start an improvement." So reads
the account in the Pioneer Press of the completion of the Stone Arch
Bridge (Nov. 17, 1883). One of the most important features of
Hill's creation, it seems, was that it reduced travel time between
Minneapolis and St. Paul to an astonishing twenty minutes.

Because the Minneapolis/St. Paul route crossed no city Streets, trains
leaving one city could immediately put on full steam and
rush through to the other. Even when crossing the new bridge,
trains could achieve top speeds. The heavy stone walls on either
side of the structure's upper deck were said to be so massive that,
in the event of a derailment, trains could neither jump over nor crash
through them. (11)

This was quite different from most railroad viaducts. The
typical railroad bridge of the day was a wobbly wooden affair over
which trains literally had to creep. They were usually cut-rate structures,
built of timbers felled on the spot, and intended to last only a few years.
Hill's bridge, by contrast, was a $650,000 stone monument built for the
centuries. "Firmer than the earth," is how the Tribune described Hill's
creation (Nov. 23, 1883). "More solid than the ground itself,"
declared the Pioneer Press (Nov. 17, 1883).

While a union depot had yet to be completed, contractor George
Brackett's shovel brigade was said to be "tearing up the dirt at a brisk
rate." The original plans called for a depot between Hennepin and
Nicollet avenues, but the site being prepared by Brackett's men
was located on the river flats beneath the Hennepin Avenue
suspension bridge. Pedestrians leaving the new facility would
climb a set of stairs and emerge from the building in the middle
of Bridge Square—the very center of activity in Minneapolis. In the
meantime, a temporary depot was established at the end of Fourth
Street, and at long last travelers were able to step off a passenger
train in the heart of Minneapolis.

The Union Depot was completed in April 1885. The design of the
building was said to be "almost severe in its simplicity," but the
Tribune insisted "one must enter the building to appreciate its
beauty, convenience and spaciousness" (April 23, 1885). The
Northern Pacific Railway; the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis &
Omaha Railway; and the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway
immediately joined Hill's Manitoba Road in using the facility.
Within a few years, the Chicago, Burlington & Northern Railway;
the Eastern Railway Company of Minnesota; and the Wisconsin
Central Railway Company followed suit. Every passenger
railroad then serving Minneapolis used Hill's Stone Arch Bridge and
Union Depot with one exception—the Milwaukee Road.
Although officials of the Milwaukee Road entertained the
idea, they just could not bring themselves to rent space in
another line's depot. Milwaukee Road officials eventually

constructed a passenger depot of their own a few blocks away.
When the Rock Island Line and the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault
Ste. Marie Railroad (or the "Soo Line") began serving Minneapolis
in later years, they, too, used the Milwaukee Depot rather than
the Union Depot.

Nevertheless, the Stone Arch Bridge and the Union Depot were
the pride and joy of the downtown Minneapolis business
community. On September 10, 1884, a group of downtown
businessmen held a testimonial dinner for Jim Hill and presented
him with a massive silver tray as a token of their appreciation. The
tray, a two by two-and-one-half-foot solid silver work of art, was
inscribed with a detailed engraving of the Stone Arch Bridge, as
well as eight smaller engravings representing significant
developments in Hill's career. One could see the oxcart trains crossing the
Minnesota plains, a dogsled journey to Winnipeg, steamboats on
the Red River. This beautiful gift was a creation of Tiffany &
Company of New York City and is now part of The Minneapolis
Institute of Arts' permanent collection.

Hill's partners in the Minneapolis Union Railway Company were
also present at the testimonial dinner. They, too, had reason to
feel proud. The company's Union Depot was destined to become
one of the busiest rail terminals in the country. Their Stone Arch
Bridge was already one of the best-known landmarks of the city.
Construction of both would certainly contribute to rapid
growth for the city of Minneapolis.

In later years, however, one thing may have. pleased these men above
all else—the Minneapolis Union Railway Company became an
incredible financial success. Although the Union Railway
Company owned no rolling stock and operated no trains—and
while the total mileage of the company's track amounted to less
than two-and-one-half miles (stretching from present-day
"Dinkytown" to the Hennepin Avenue terminal site)—the Union
Railway Company became one of the bluest of blue-chip railroad
investments. In 1887, the company paid a whopping 38 percent
dividend on its stock. The following year it paid 10 percent,
During the next three years, the stock yielded 15 percent—each
year. (12)

By 1910, rail passenger service to Minneapolis had outgrown the
original Union Depot and the facility was bursting at the seams.
A much larger terminal was needed, but the Minneapolis
Union Railway Company, the builder of the original facility, had
dis-incorporated three years earlier. Jim Hill's Great Northern
Railway Company (formerly the Manitoba Road) had absorbed
the property of the Union Railway Company, including the
bridge and depot. The Great Northern had become a
phenomenally successful enterprise with tracks stretching from
the plains of the Midwest to the cliffs of the
Pacific coast. Hill's company agreed to provide funds for a new
downtown rail terminal, but this terminal was to be utterly unlike
the original. The first Union Depot was plain and utilitarian.
The second was to be ornate and grand.

Lofty ceilings, ornate chandeliers, huge crystal windows, polished
brass doorknobs and handrails, gigantic murals of Blackfoot and
Kootenai Indian powwows, and ticket and baggage agents dressed
in immaculately pressed uniforms—this was the type of
facility Jim Hill wanted for his Great Northern Railway. And this
is exactly what he built. Completed in 1914, the Great Northern
Depot was a veritable palace. The cost of the project exceeded
$1,800,000, but few complaints were heard. When visiting Minneapolis,
the Stone Arch Bridge and the Great Northern Depot were very often
the first glimpses visitors had of the city. They were invariably


During the heyday of rail passenger service, hundreds of
thousands of travelers passed over Jim Hill's Stone Arch Bridge each
year on their way into, or out of, the city of Minneapolis. A time
schedule from May 1948 shows 82 passenger trains, representing
nearly a dozen rail lines, leaving the Great Northern Depot every
day. Yet, by 1978 the number of departures had been reduced to
just four. Those remaining trains were operated by a single rail

Hard times had fallen on the Great Northern Depot. The long
wooden benches, once jammed with hundreds of waiting
travelers, now stood empty. The elegant chandeliers were gone and a false
ceiling hid the depot's once-ornate, now-crumbling roof. The
walls of the waiting room were painted a dingy green, and the
huge windows were coated with years of grime. Receipts from
ticket sales simply did nor justify the expense involved in maintaining
the once-grand structure. On March 1, 1978, the last passenger
train to cross the Stone Arch Bridge rumbled into the Great
Northern Depot, dropping off the very last load of rail passengers
ever to arrive in downtown Minneapolis. A grand age had
come to an end. Within months, the Great Northern Depot fell to
the wrecking ball, and the Stone Arch Bridge, itself surrounded by
crumbling, abandoned flour mills, fell into obscurity.

When this bridge was completed in 1883, the Minneapolis Tribune
had made a rather extraordinary prediction concerning the
structure. "It is constructed to stand the rest of time," said the Tribune,
"until the golden age shall arrive when the problem of aerial
navigation shall have been solved, and the railroads and railroad
bridges will be useless works of engineering" (Nov. 23, 1883).

After the closing of the Great Northern Depot in downtown
Minneapolis, the few trains still serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul
area made their stops at the new Amtrak Depot in St. Paul's
Midway area. The site was chosen, in part, because of its proximity
to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.


When the last train pulled out of the Great Northern Depot in
1978, the riverfront area surrounding the depot was littered
with abandoned mills, factories and warehouses. Today, this
portion of the city is undergoing a miraculous transformation.
Within the past ten years, Riverplace and St. Anthony Main
have been constructed, Nicollet Island has been rehabilitated, and
modern hotels have sprouted amidst old mill ruins. The Stone
Arch Bridge has mutely witnessed these changes. City officials hope
to acquire the bridge for use as a pedestrian walkway, and if all goes
well, our great-great-grandchildren may one day stroll across the
Mississippi River on Jim Hill's monument to the railroad age.

3 above pictures taken in July 2001 during GNRHS convention in St. Paul.


1. See comments of various leading citizens of Minneapolis quoted in "The City,"
Minneapolis Tribune, April 22, 1885, p: 3, col. 1-5.

2. "Gone At Last." Minneapolis Tribune, Jan. 4, 1882, p. 6, col. 1.

3. Ralph Budd, President, Great Northern Railway. "Address Before the American
Railway Bridge and Building Association. Oct. 19, 1927." James J, Hill Reference Library,
St. Paul, Minnesota.

4. Joseph G. Pyle, The Life of James J. Hill (New York 1917) vol. 1, p. 164.

5. Organization and Corporate History, Minneapolis Union Railway Company, pp. 1-3.
See also Board of Directors Notes, Jan. 9, 1882. Minneapolis Union Railway Company.
Great Northern Railway Records, Archives and Manuscripts, Minnesota Historical

6. Charles C. Smith, Stone Railway Viaduct, Oct. 19, 1920, pp. 1-2. Archives and
Manuscripts, Minnesota Historical Society. See also text of speech by James J. Hill
quoted in, "A Deserved Testimonial" (St. Paul Pioneer Press) and "A Gracious Gift"
(Minneapolis Tribune), September 11, 1884.

7. James J. Hill to A. C. Morrill, Feb. 4,1880, James J. Hill Papers, James J. Hill Reference
Library, St. Paul, Minnesota.

8. James J. Hill to C. C. Washbum, May 20, 1881, James J. Hill Papers, James J. Hill
Reference Library, St. Paul, Minnesota.

9. James J. Hill to J. Kennedy. Feb. 13, 1882, James J. Hill Papers, James J. Hill Reference
Library, St. Paul, Minnesota.

10. Charles C. Smith, Stone Railway Viaduct, Oct. 19, 1920, pp. 13-14. Archives and
Manuscripts, Minnesota Historical Society.

11. "The Great Bridge," Minneapolis Tribune, Nov. 23, 1883, p. 5, col. 3. See also "A Stone
Bridge Over the Mississippi" Railroad Gazette, Nov" 23, 1883, p. 772, col. 3. "The Stone
Arch Bridge," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Nov. 17, 1883,p. 10, col. 1.

12. Organization and Corporate History, Minneapolis Union Railway Company, p. 7.
Great Northern Railway Records- Archives and Manuscripts, Minnesota Historical Society.

The following primary sources were particularly helpful:

The Great Northern Railway Company records at the Minnesota
Historical Society and the James J. Hill Papers
at the James J. Hill Reference Library.

Secondary sources that were especially useful included:

Pierre Burton. The National Dream (Toronto/Montreal 1970).

Lucile M. Kane, The Waterfall That Built a City (St. Paul 1966).

Albro Martin, James J. Hill and the Opening of the Northwest (New York 1976).