Lift bridge closes amid great fanfare

A 1931 Stutz owned by Mark Desch became the last vehicle to cross the Stillwater Lift Bridge before it closed around 9 p.m. Aug. 2. Desch drove, while Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski and members of his family rode along and crowds of people looked on. Here, Desch’s car drives onto the lift bridge as part of a procession heading to Wisconsin. It would return to the Minnesota side as the official last cars to cross the bridge before it closed. (Gazette staff photo by Alicia Lebens)

When the Stillwater Lift Bridge opened July 1, 1931, fireworks marked the occasion.

When the bridge permanently closed to motor vehicle traffic on Aug. 2, 2017, fireworks again punctuated the event, launched from multiple points in the city.

A party-like atmosphere reigned in downtown Stillwater as thousands gathered to celebrate the closure of the bridge and the anticipated decrease in commuter traffic.

“Tonight we’re going to see a new era,” said Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski during a brief ceremony in Lowell Park downtown. The ceremony, scheduled for 6 p.m. was delayed when speakers got caught in traffic related to the lift bridge.

The irony was not lost on Kozlowski.

“It’s the last time that’ll ever happen,” he said.

“I’ve never heard a crowd call to close a bridge,” Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle told the crowd gathered in the park.

“To me, it’s like a weight lifted off our shoulders,” Kozlowski told The Gazette.

The last vehicles to cross the bridge before it closed was a parade of vehicles representing each decade during which the lift bridge was in service. The final car across was a 1931 Stutz, owned by Mark Desch and carrying Kozlowski and his family members.

The crowd cheered as the cars drove by and when the barriers were moved in front of the bridge.

When the lift bridge opened in 1931, there was a similarly festive atmosphere.

According to estimates in the Stillwater Gazette at the time, more than 15,000 people showed up for the event.

“Bursting of bombs, blowing of whistles and cheering of crowds heralded the official opening of the new, free, interstate bridge across the St. Croix River at Stillwater Wednesday,” the paper said in 1931.

That account continued: “The water front and bridge were lined with people many rows deep, as a colorful ceremony was carried out at the dedication. A Minnesota delegation headed by Governor Floyd B. Olson and escorted by the Stillwater band marched to the center of the bridge while a Wisconsin delegation headed by General Ralph Immell, adjutant general of that state and personal representative of Governor [Philip] La Follette, escorted by the New Richmond band, marched to the center from the Wisconsin side. At the center Governor Olson and General Immell exchanged formal greetings across a tape which divided the Minnesota and Wisconsin sections of the bridge. The tape was cut and the joined groups proceeded to Lowell Park.”

The lift bridge has come full circle. It closed around 9 p.m. Aug. 2, 2017. It will be rehabilitated and is expected to open as a pedestrian and bicycle bridge in 2019.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]

Workers put up road blocks on the lift bridge in Stillwater around 9 p.m. Aug. 2, ending the flow of commuter traffic through downtown Stillwater. (Photo by Alicia Lebens)
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Workers put up road blocks on the lift bridge in Stillwater around 9 p.m. Aug. 2, ending the flow of commuter traffic through downtown Stillwater. (Photo by Alicia Lebens)