Whether you are a Minneapolis native, or a visitor looking for things to do in Minneapolis, you’re sure to have happened across the Stone Arch Bridge. Yet, while this beautiful bridge at the heart of the Twin Cities is hard to miss, you may not know anything about it! Luckily, you’ve come to the right place. This beginner’s guide will introduce you to the history, architecture, and experiences that make the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis a Minnesota landmark.
History of the Bridge
If you visit it now, Minneapolis’ Stone Arch Bridge is a path for pedestrians and bikes that is connected to local parks, but it began its existence as a railway crossing. In the 1880s Minneapolis was a fast-growing industrial town looking for a way to connect the east and west sides of the Mississippi by rail.
At the time the only crossing for pedestrians and commuter vehicles was the Hennepin Avenue Suspension Bridge. So, in 1881 the director of the Great Northern Railroad James J. Hill commissioned the bridge to be built at its current location near St Anthony Falls. Construction of the bridge was completed in 1883, over 5 months, and cost $650,000 in 1880s currency ($18.1 million in USD today).
At the height of its use as a rail bridge more than 43 passenger trains a day crossed the bridge, bringing thousands of rail passengers into Minneapolis, but throughout the 20th-century rail travel declined. By the 1980s the bridge was barely in use and Burlington Northern (once Great Northern) offered to sell the bridge to Minneapolis for $1, but the city declined the offer as they did not believe they could afford to maintain the structure.
In 1989 the railroad sold the bridge to Hennepin County for $1,001. The county believed they might eventually use the structure for the construction of a light rail. When the light-rail project was transferred to the state, the state of Minnesota took over ownership of the bridge in 1994. Eventually, this project was scrapped and, wIth the help of a $2 million federal grant aimed at repurposing historical transportation structures, Minnesota legislators and the park board put together a team to convert the bridge to the pedestrian structure it is today.
Design & Construction
The 2,100 foot long Stone Arch Bridge was designed by Charles C. Smith and built between 1882 and 1883. Originally intended to be made of iron, it was decided that, in the interest of preserving the eroding sandstone of St Anothy’s Falls, it would be better to make the bridge of stone.
This final design was intended to work with the natural surroundings of this beautiful area! The 23 stone arches that make up the bridge’s structure were constructed using stone sourced from granite from Sauk Rapids, and magnesium limestone from Mankato and Iowa.
In the 130+ years since the bridge was constructed, it has undergone many upgrades and repairs, including an expansion in 1925 to allow for larger railcars, and the final transformation in a pedestrian walkway in 1994.
The most notable change in the bridge’s appearance was the replacement of two of its arches with a movable truss so barges could pass through as part of the Upper Lock and Dam that was completed at St Anthony Falls in 1963.
If you’re curious about the way the structure currently looks, enjoy this 360 view of the present-day bridge.
Plan a Visit! (Things to do at the park!)
There are lots of things to do at the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. You can walk through from Father Hennepin Bluff Park on the east bank of the river to the Mill Ruins Park on the west bank of the river and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. There are informational displays on the history of the bridge, the river, and St Anthony Falls were developed by the St Anthony Falls Heritage Board along this path. Many people plan weddings and events in these public parks!
For the tourist or the history buff, you can learn more about the history of the bridge and this area by visiting the Mill City Museum, on the east bank of the river connected to Mill Ruins Park. Not only is this museum a beautiful architectural structure, with a gorgeous rooftop observation deck, it is also the starting place for many walking tours of the city, including a waterfront tour that features the Stone Arch Bridge.
You can also take a Segway Tour from St Anthony Main near The Aster, where a guide will share the history of this area, along with other Minneapolis landmarks.
If you’re looking for a great picture opportunity, there is an amazing sky-high view of the bridge from the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam Visitor Center, where you can also take tours of the Dam and surrounding area.
Stone Arch Bridge Festival
For 27 years a music and arts festival has gathered at the Stone Arch Bridge. Taking place over Father’s Day weekend, the Stone Arch Bridge Festival brings together artists, musicians, food and drink vendors, and more to celebrate the creativity of the Twin Cities. This fabulous festival will show you why Minneapolis is one of the great art cities in America and takes excellent advantage of the natural beauty of the area around the Stone Arch Bridge!
Beauty for All
The historic Stone Arch Bridge is still a central part of Minneapolis! Though railways are no longer central to passenger travel in the United States, the buildings and bridges left from this era of American construction are beautiful and give character to the cities they remain in, and this bridge has found a second life as a center of art, history and natural beauty for all to enjoy. This stone structure and the surrounding nature, including St Anthony Falls, are absolutely not to be missed!