You learn something every day. And I learned quite a lot today! It all started when I went out with my camera, taking advantage of the mild afternoon to practice taking photos. We live just across from Amity Creek at the start of Seven Bridges Road. I thought I’d follow the water upstream hoping to find some scenic wintry shots of ice and snow. Rich recommended walking upstream – literally, on the ice. But the gurgling sounds and tinkling melodies of flowing water under the ice made me feel queasy about that approach, so instead I chose to walk the road and periodically followed the deer tracks down to the creek’s banks. As it turned out, the creek offered limited photo opps, so I turned my attention to the road and bridges.
Seven Bridges Road is a treasure. I grew up taking family drives there, marveling that this winding, steep tree-lined road following Amity Creek could lie within the city of Duluth. As its name implies, the road crosses the creek seven times in its short 1.5 miles. Or so I thought. Lesson number one for the day. Since moving here, I have become intimately acquainted with this road, frequently running, cycling or walking up to its top and beyond. So I know that there are in fact eight bridges. But I always thought the bridge at the top of the road was the “extra” as it appears to be around the bend and on the start of Skyline Parkway, and therefore didn’t count. Today I learned differently! In fact, it is the legitimate seventh bridge, and the one at the bottom, just beyond our house is the imposter. It was not built with the original bridges, but came many years later as part of Lester Park.
That leads to lesson two. I was always under the impression that the marvelous stone bridges were built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), but as it turns out, the bridges predated that project by two decades. Samuel Snively built the original road and wooden bridges in 1899-1900, and it was he who engineered the route that continually criss-crosses Amity Creek. But without proper maintenance it all deteriorated within ten years. The road was handed over to the Duluth Park Commission in 1910, which turned out to be good news. According to the History of Seven Bridges Road, “During 1911, the roadway was regraded and graveled, and several first class stonemasons from the Duluth area were hired to build the bridges simultaneously. Each bridge had a concrete and reinforcement bar arch structure, and was artistically faced wtih native basalt and bluestone rock collected from the creek bed or blasted from nearby outcrops. The cap rocks consist of pink opal granite quarried in St. Cloud, Minnesota.” Nine stone-arch bridges were built that year.
Nine? Yes, there are two more bridges above what I thought was the top of the road. Following what is now a hiking and snowmobile trail, sure enough I found them. Lesson three. These bridges apparently fell into disuse by automobiles in the 1930’s when the road was extended to Hawk Ridge.
And that rogue first bridge? It was built in 1928, to replace an earlier bridge which connected carriage paths on either side of Lester Park. It was only a poor replica of the other bridges, lacking much of their finer detail.
Just over a century after Snively first started his road and bridges, a restoration project was begun on the bridges. From 1996-2007 each of the eight bridges was restored to its original condition – that included the Lester Park Bridge, which is now identical in construction to the seven others.
I may not have advanced my photography skills today, but I did learn what a wonderful heritage we have, right outside our doorstep.