by: Mark Fedder
One can imagine that after enduring the Great Fire of 1871, people of Manistee would be extra concerned about fires. Since there was only one bridge to cross the river a theory arose that if the bridge were open for boating traffic or by some chance damaged then there would be no way for fire trucks to cross the river. Additionally the population of the city was growing more and more and it was deemed that a second bridge was in great demand.
DEMAND INCREASES AND A NEW BRIDGE IS BUILT
In the summer of 1893, the City of Manistee requested that the Manistee County Board of Supervisors build a bridge across the river. The petition was approved and a contract was signed with the Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Works Company at a cost of $21,226. The new bridge was constructed and opened the following year. A small, light, hand-operated, drum-bearing swing bridge providing two channels of 59 feet each was constructed and opened the following year . It was named the Smith Street Bridge because it was built between Smith Street on the south and Arthur Street on the north.
On July 10, 1931, an accident occurred when the coal barge J.E. Savage, after having dropped off a load of coal to one of the factories on Manistee Lake, became grounded in the river near the bridge. Not realizing how close the overpass was to the barge, the tenders lowered the structure which then allowed the ship to destroy the underpinnings of the bridge and in turn made it collapse. The head bridge tender fell 60 feet and later passed away due to related injuries.
To get things up and running again, rudimentary trusses were reconstructed and while closed to vehicular traffic, pedestrians were still able to cross the bridge. In the meantime it was decided by city and state officials that a new bridge should be built.
Throughout the remainder of 1931, with the help of city officials, the Board of Commerce, and the state highway department, plans were drawn up and bids were put out for the construction of a new bridge. Strom Construction Company out of Muskegon won the bid, and on July 2, 1932, with the headline “First work is started today on new bridge,” construction officially commenced.
As 1932 passed by, a vast amount of work continued in and around the bridge as workers dredged the river, removed the old pilings, and put new ones in. Additionally, in order to make more progress on the project, laborers began working double shifts and more men were hired to handle the work load.
By the fall of 1933, after over a year of construction, the bridge was finally complete at an approximate cost of $325,000. Since it was considered a state-owned structure, the state put up the brunt of the money but the city still had to pay five percent of the total cost.
Later that year, the bridge was renamed Memorial Bridge to pay tribute to the area’s war veterans. On November 11, 1933 the structure was formally dedicated with hundreds of people in attendance for the festivities which included a large parade down River Street.
The two main bridges in Manistee are unique in function and design and, because they both provide access from one part of town to another, they continue to form a link that connects the town to its people and to its past.
To learn more about the history of Manistee County visit the Manistee County Historical Museum.
Check out our Bridges and Dams Tour – Explore this multi-day trip through the unique bridges and dams of Manistee County.