The Bridges of Eau Claire, Wisconsin (USA)

Photo taken by John Marvig

When you go out and hunt for bridges, it is not rare to find a city that has a pocket full of antique bridges. What I mean for antique bridges in this case are structures built prior to the second World War, which one can find at least a third of them in most cities with a population of 15,000 or more. However it is rare to find a city or metropolitan area with a high number of notable antique railroad bridges.  One of these cities happens to be Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Located about 140 kilometers east of Minneapolis-St. Paul along Interstate 94, the county seat with 65,000 inhabitants is part of a triangular metropolitan area shared with neighbor cities Menomonie and Chippewa Falls and is located at the junction of the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers. It is home to four colleges (two of which being public) and is one of the greenest cities in the state of Wisconsin.  Yet when it comes to historic bridges in the city and its surrounding area, there are quite a few diamonds in the rough, especially with regards to railroad bridges, as John Marvig discovered during his recent visit to the city.  Mr. Marvig is a photographer and writer on railroad bridges in the upper Midwest and Eau Claire was one of the stops on his bridgehunting tour. Yet little did he realize that his trip brought more than what he bargained for and is providing you with a tour of the historic bridges in the greater Eau Claire area. Some of the bridges have been converted to bicycle trails but there are others that have the potential to become part of a recreational trail and it is certain that there are many people interested in restoring them- more so after reading his tour guide here, as a guest columnist. Enjoy!

Hello, I am John Marvig.  You may have heard of my work photographing historic railroad bridges in the upper Midwest.  If you have not, then now you have :) Thanks for looking and enjoy these photos!

When you think of historic railroad bridges in the upper Midwest, you probably think of the massive arches of stone gracing the mighty Mississippi below St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, or perhaps the massive steel arches north of Stillwater.  Or maybe you think of the bridges in places such as Green Bay.  Or what about bridges such as the Kate Shelley Bridge near Boone, Iowa?  But I doubt anyone thinks of Eau Claire, Wisconsin as a place to find large, historic railroad bridges.    After over three months of planning, I finally got to go out here on Mother’s Day weekend.  And I was not disappointed by what it produced.

We start our little tour of Eau Claire on the north part of downtown.  There lays a bridge not really famed, but definitely worthy of it! This bridge is the oldest in Eau Claire.  The four main spans were built 1880, with the current approaches being added 1898.
Northwestern Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago, St. Paul Milwaukee and Omaha Railroad
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire
Total Length: 890 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 180 Feet
Width: 1 Track
Height: 80 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Lattice Deck Truss
Approach Type: Deck Plate Girder
Date Built: 1880, approaches rebuilt 1898
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is abandoned)
Link: http://pegnsean.net/~johnm/Northwestern%20Railroad%20Bridge.html

The bridge consists of four large lattice deck truss spans, a major difference between the warren deck truss bridge that succeeded mainline traffic just north of this bridge.
Crossing the Chippewa River, his bridge served traffic until 2007, when there was no longer a need to access the Nestlé plant.  The bridge was purchased by Eau Claire because of the gas pipeline running on the bridge.  So now in 2012, the bridge is fenced off, but easy to get to.  Several people have fallen off this bridge.  Even though there are fences and people are aware of this information, bicyclists still cross this bridge, and will continue until this bridge is the newest bridge on Eau Claire’s vast trail system.  Hopefully we aren’t too far off from that time!!!
Getting to the riverbank on the east side is easy, as there are stairs leading down from an access road.  The west end is much more challenging.  One must be able to get down limestone bluffs on steep paths and climb and crawl back out.

This photo is looking from the east bank of the river. There are stairs leading to this view.

This is what one of the approach spans looks like. This is the eastern approach.

 

And this is a typical stone abutment. It was built for the old approaches, which were smaller deck truss spans. This is the east abutment.

The bridge being as high as it is should be fenced off. This is looking west across the bridge.

 

These are bridges just east of the bridge. They cross Forest Street. They were both built 1918. The tall one served the mainline, while the shorter one served a spur.

The bridge north of here consists of a deck plate girder span, 4 deck truss spans and 3 more deck plate girder spans. This photo is of that bridge from the west end. The new bridge was built 1911 as a giant double track bridge.

This next bridge is located directly south of the last bridge.  This bridge is also over the Chippewa River.  This one is a lot smaller, and is a lot lower lying.  I now introduce, the Phoenix Park Railroad Bridge.

 

Phoenix Park Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road)
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin DNR
Total Length: 526 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 232 Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Whipple Through Truss
Approach Type: 2 Spans Through Pratt Truss
Date Built: 1903
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)

This bridge is the second bridge over the Chippewa River on the former Milwaukee Road in Eau Claire.  The bridge has a 146’ and 148’ Pratt Through Truss and a 232’ Whipple Through truss.
This bridge was abandoned 1981 after a failed attempt to put traffic back on it after the Milwaukee Road abandoned it.  Then it was turned into the state trail.  Phoenix Park was also built up very well in this area.
The best views are from Phoenix Park.  There are overlooks and grassy areas to look at this bridge.  The west bank is a little more challenging to get down to, but is fairly easy once you find a path.

 

This photo is also looking from the east bank. But this is the other side of the bridge.

 

Phoenix Park is also a trailhead. This is looking west across the bridge from Phoenix Park. 50 years ago this was all rail yards.

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The date stamp is located on the west abutment.

 

Snaking across the Eau Claire River in the industrial section of Eau Claire is this bridge.  The famed Soo Line S Bridge.

Soo Line “S” Bridge
Built By: Soo Line Railroad
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire
Total Length: 431 Feet
Length of Largest Span: Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Warren Deck Truss
Approach Type: Deck Plate Girder
Date Built: 1910
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)

Although this bridge is wonderful as a trail, it is hard to get a clear view of the entire structure.  In fact, it is an unfortunate fact that it is near impossible.
But as hard as it is to get to, it is a good bridge.  It was converted to a trail in 2002.  It is very famed around western Wisconsin.  The bridge was built at an S shape so it could cross the river between tracks running parallel to the river.
And as far as the views go, who knows!  You may find the new best view!  Good luck and happy hunting!

This photo is looking across the bridge from the north side.

Looking from the north bank is challenging, but it can be done.

The south bank is also obstructed by trees :(

Finishing with the major bridges directly in Eau Claire, we come to the Clairemont Ave Railroad Bridge.

Clairemont Ave Railroad Bridge
Built By: Chicago Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific (Milwaukee Road)
Currently Owned By: City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin DNR
Total Length: 670 Feet
Length of Largest Span: 145 Feet
Width: Formerly 1 Track
Height: 15 Feet (Estimated)
Main Type: Pratt Through Truss
Approach Type: Wooden Trestle/Concrete Slab
Date Built: 1886, rebuilt at a later date
Traffic Count: 0 Trains/day (Bridge is a trail)
Link: http://pegnsean.net/~johnm/Clairemont%20Ave%20RR%20Bridge.html

This bridge is the first bridge over the Chippewa River on the former Milwaukee Road in Eau Claire.  Has 4 Pratt truss spans ranging from 128’-148’ in length.  There is also trestle approach on the south side and concrete slab on the north.    The original four main spans were built 1886.
This bridge was abandoned 1981 after a failed attempt to put traffic back on it after the Milwaukee Road abandoned it.  Then it was turned into the state trail.
The best views are from atop Clairemont Ave.  Clairemont Ave (US 12) is a large road running at an angle from this bridge.  It is a very busy road.
This bridge also might be the reason the line was abandoned.  It was abandoned because of a very weak bridge in the Eau Claire area.  And this bridge could be that bridge.  It was converted to trail use in 2004.

Looking from Clairemont Avenue will provide the best overview photos.

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Looking from the north bank can also provide some interesting photos.

There are trestle approaches on the north side of the bridge.

 

 

The Builder’s Plaque. Note: As you can see, this bridge is very old (but not as old as the Northwestern Bridge!) :)

Even though I did not include all the bridges in Eau Claire in this column, I would recommend if you ever have the chance, get out to this area.  You will be happy you did!  I hope you enjoyed the photos and thanks for looking!

Author’s Note: Apart from the four gorgeous looking railroad bridges one can see while visiting Eau Claire, there are a couple other notable ones one should keep in mind. One is a railroad bridge and another is an ordinary roadway bridge. More information and photos of the bridge is available by clicking on the title of the bridge.

Union Pacific Chippewa Railroad Crossing:

Type: Warren Deck Truss (main span) with through and deck plate girder approach spans

Location: Chippewa River south of North Crossing Bridge

Built: 1911 by American Bridge Company (New York City) for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad

Status: Still In service

Comment: Mr. Marvig was also at this bridge during this tour and the only way to view this bridge is by boating on the river, as even though the deck view of the bridge is great, finding side views of the bridge from shore are difficult, as can be seen by the pics. However, one is not advised to cross this bridge as it is still in service.

 

Dewey Street Bridge:

Type: 2-span open spandrel arch bridge

Location: Eau Claire River on Dewey Street

Built: 1931

Status: Still in service

Comment: This is probably one of the most beautiful roadway bridges in the city; especially given its arch design and its aesthetic appearance and conformity to the residential area. This bridge is the third to last structure on the river as it empties into the Chippewa River on the north edge of downtown Eau Claire.

Note: You can visit Mr. Marvig’s website on railroad bridges by clicking on the link here.

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5 Responses to The Bridges of Eau Claire, Wisconsin (USA)

  1. I really enjoyed your article. Well written and great photos. The Lattice Truss is intriguing to me, is it the elusive Triple Whipple? The design seems to be more aesthetically based than mathematically proven, which for me reflects the Victorian era sensibilities of structures that share beauty with function. The stone piers are also quite artistic to me. They are so graceful and elegantly tapered as well. Magnificent !!!!
    I look forward to your next road trip!!!

    Thanks again – Bridgehunting Texas

  2. Pingback: The Bridges of Dunn County, Wisconsin (USA) | The Bridgehunter's Chronicles

  3. John Marvig says:

    Unfortunately I do not think it is the triple whipple. But it is certainly an engineering achievement. It is a more common lattice deck truss.

    It is the oldest bridge in Eau Claire (that I know of). Either way, it is quite the bridge!

  4. Pingback: The Bridges of Chippewa County, Wisconsin (USA) | The Bridgehunter's Chronicles

  5. alvin e thomas says:

    Since I have lived here only since 2000, I reailly enjoyed the pictures. They are very nice and thank you.

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