Wabasha-Nelson Bridge Company
The Wabasha-Nelson Bridge Company was incorporated in 1929 to build and operate a toll bridge over the Mississippi River. The Minneapolis Bridge Company & C.A.P. Turner were contracted to design and build it.
In 1930, the local Board of Directors, W.B. Webb, Henry J. Mars, S. M. Quigley and Nick Marx, estimated the cost of construction to be $500,000. The board decided to offer to the public 4,750 shares of preferred stock at $100 per share, totaling $475,000, and to sell common stock to produce the additional $25,000. In a letter, the board explained, "Because investors desired the common stock for voting rights rather than preferred, the board has authorized this sale to the public." Final construction totaled $675,000.
On January 1, 1931 the builder officially turned the bridge over to the Wabasha-Nelson Bridge Company, and it opened to traffic. Oscar Overbeck of Alma, Wisconsin, was the first motorist to pay a toll on the bridge. Ed O'Reilly, Sr. was the first pedestrian. There were 190 tolls totaling $60.35 collected in the first 24 hours. The first four days produced $282.30, which was "deemed more than satisfactory" for that time of year. In 1947 the Minnesota and Wisconsin highway departments purchased the bridge from the local company for $400,000. This was the last known private toll bridge to be built in Minnesota.
C.A.P. Turner, Engineer of Wabasha-Nelson Bridge
Claude Allen Porter Turner is perhaps Minnesota's most significant engineer. One of Turner's most notable accomplishments was the design of a reinforced concrete system, in which concrete slabs are supported by columns that flair outward at the top, replacing the need for beams. The Wabasha-Nelson bridge was a prominent example of this system because the columns of its approach spans were clearly visible, unlike industrial buildings where the system is hidden from view.
Repairs, Replacement and Demolition
Two decades after the bridge became the property of the highway departments, repairs were needed. On June 12, 1968, a concrete pier on the Wisconsin approach collapsed and was replaced with a new steel pier. In 1970 a barge struck one of the new pier caissons; the repair cost approximately $6500. A statewide Department of Transportation plan called for replacement of the bridge. In 1988 the old Wabasha-Nelson Bridge was demolished and was replaced with a new structure. The community celebrated both the old and new structures with a grand celebration. In October of 1988 people from both Wisconsin and Minnesota had the opportunity to walk across the old bridge for one last time during the celebration prior to the opening of the new bridge.
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