Sunday, 27 July 2008

Dear Diary...

In search of ancient technology (1)

(Road trip, Part 3)

On Sunday we went looking for a lift bridge.

When I was checking the web for road information before my departure, I ran across a web page for a project to preserve and restore a historic vertical lift bridge on the St.Croix river, just east of St. Paul. As it was already getting late, I just glanced at it, and made a mental note. And because I had several states’ pages open in different tabs, I got confused and believed that I was looking at a Wisconsin-hosted site.

So anyway, jump to Saturday. “Anything special you want to do tomorrow?” Well, unless there’s something else on offer, what about taking a drive out east to look at that bridge?

Now I knew the bridge was on the St.Croix, specifically somewhere on the 40-mile stretch between I-94 (on the south) and the point where the St.Croix bends westward (in Chisago county near Harris, if you want to know).  But I didn’t recall the town the bridge was near, or the highway it was on.  All of this would have been easily resolved with an internet connection, but my sister (in some ways more of a luddite than I[1]) doesn’t have internet service at home. We tried using my brother in law’s Blackberry– not a pretty thing with high-graphics sites.[2]  No luck.  But as Sunday promised to be bright and sunny, and as my brother in law owns a convertable, we decided there would be no problem: We’d just drive over and find it.


And so, bright (but not particularly early) on Sunday morning, we set off for the St.Croix.  The plan was to drive north along the Minnesota side of the river to the town of Taylors Falls.  There we’d cross over to its twin, St.Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and then come back downriver on the Wisconsin side. Somewhere along the way we’d stop for lunch.  If we could spot the bridge, we’d stop and look, otherwise we’d ask.

The last exit for eastbound I-94 in Minnesota is state highway 95.  At that point, you’re only about 11 miles out of metropolitan St.Paul.  The river here is more of a long lake, its waters impounded by Mississippi River Lock and Dam #3.  The river is lined with marinas, and there’s a lot of recreational boating.

Northward, state road 95 follows the river fairly closely.  We passed through the town of Bayport, with the Andersen Windows plant on the river side of the highway.  Shortly afterward came Oak Park Heights, and then Stillwater, an old lumber town that has re-invented itself as a tourist destination.  While most of modern Stillwater lies on the bluffs above the river, the road runs just below the bluffs, marking the west edge of old town “lower” Stillwater. There are caves in the bluffs, caves which once housed a brewery.  The old downtown was to our right, between us and the river. We couldn’t see much and traffic was a bit heavy, so we continued north.[3]  Just as we were leaving town we passed the Stillwater Depot, with the Minnesota Zephyr dinner train parked beside it.  Hmmm.... maybe next time.

North of Stillwater the river enters the St.Croix National Scenic Riverway, and, after passing a boat launch site, the road climbs onto the bluffs.  There’s an overlook (We stopped and looked.  Somebody needs to trim some trees.), then the road bears left, away from the river.  For the next six miles it passes through farmland; the only way you’d know the river is there is the occasional “riverview property” sign.  At 2 miles, we crossed a railroad track that runs eastward to the steel-arch “High Bridge” over the river.[4]  At 6 miles the river bent back westward to rejoin the road.  We passed Marine on St. Croix, a mill town that had also been the Minnesota-side terminus of a river ferry (closed, 1954).

Eight miles further, we were starting to wonder if we’d missed it. When we reached the junction of road 243 to Osceola, Wisconsin, we made the right turn to look: Yes, a bridge. No, nothing special.  So back to 95 and onward to Taylors Falls.


[1] Actually, they say it’s because it would be a distraction. (They both have high speed at work.) But, OTOH, they don’t have cable TV, either.

[2] And since I was still thinking “Wisconsin,” we were looking in the wrong place anyway.

[3] A mistake. As it turned out, we were less than a block from our goal.

[4] Which is quite spectacular.  (Another photo.)  Too bad you have to hike/canoe in to see it.

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