In 1871, the Hastings & Dakota Railway charted a railroad from Hastings, Minnesota to Cologne, Minnesota; with the intention of continuing to expand west.
The route generally followed a path to the south of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, connecting towns such as Farmington, Shakopee and Chaska.
The following year, the 72 mile segment from Hastings to Glencoe would be sold to the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway. The M&StP owned a sizable amount of trackage in the area, and this line became a natural assett.
By 1876, the railroad was merged to form the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, also known as the Milwaukee Road.
This route became unfavorable for the Milwaukee Road, as it bypassed the Twin Cities. In response, a route known as the "Benton Cutoff" would be built in 1882, rendering the Cologne-Hastings line as obsolete.
Between this time and World War II, the route saw a steady amount of traffic due to freight and passengers. However, after WWII, the passenger traffic was virtually non existent.
By 1978, the line became a major hole for the Milwaukee Road, which had been renamed the Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul & Pacific Railway in 1913 due to an extension to the Pacific.
In response, the route was abandoned in its entirety between Cologne and Hastings. Fortunately, Carver and Scott Counties worked together to preserve a portion between Chaska and Shakope as a trail.
The trail would be built in the early 1980s, and crossed a large trestle and a large swing bridge near Chaska. However, both these bridges would be damaged in 1996.
In August of 1996, the center pier of the swing bridge crossing the Minnesota River sunk in a matter of days, closing the trail and forcing the demolition of the historic structure.
Later that year, the large trestle on the overflow of the river caught fire and was partially destroyed.
The trail was severed from 1996 until 2008, when a new crossing parallel to the highway in Chaska was completed.
The once popular Chaska-Shakopee trail has never recovered from losing the landmark bridge, and the crumbling asphalt is a memory of the past highlight status of the trail.
One of the most intriguing structures in Minnesota was what sealed the deal with bridges for me. After discovering that my hometown had such an awesome bridge at one time, I set out in 2010 to find what happened to it, and to create a way to restore memories of it.
As I write this narrative in April 2018, it has been eight years since I created a small website to raise knowledge of Minnesota Railroad Bridges. With well over 1500 bridges covered (as of April 2018), a long forgotten relic that met an untimely demise was what started it all.
Even after eight years of research, some mystery still surrounds this very unique structure.
What was once perhaps Minnesota's greatest bridge preservation accomplishment now sits as a series of ruins near the town of Chaska.
Originally, the first bridge at this location was a wooden truss swing bridge, set onto stone substructures. Similar to the first bridge at nearby Carver, the bridge was replaced with a more durable structure in the 1880s.
The 1880s structure also featured truss designs, this time assembled of iron.
A new swing span was installed in 1900, which utilized a design typical of the Milwaukee Road. The new swing span was set onto the same stone substructures which previous bridges utilized. This span featured a pair of spans, connected with a simple tower over a pivot point. The spans contained pinned connections, typical for spans of this era.
By 1905, a new approach span would be relocated from a bridge over the Zumbro River at Kellogg, Minnesota. However, this span had a short tenure at this location, and would be relocated to Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1911, only 6 years later.
At this point, the final configuration of the bridge was assembled. A new 6 panel, riveted Pratt Through Truss was assembled at the site. In addition, the west abutment was rebuilt with a new concrete face.
The bridge changed very little between 1905 and 1980. In the early 1980s, the bridge was converted to trail usage. It was one of the first rail trail projects in the country.
Connecting Chaska and Shakopee, the trail was the most popular rail-trail in the state for quite some time. However, tragedy struck in August of 1996.
Engineers noticed that the bridge was shifting. Within only a few short days, the pier had sunk over a feet. A sinkhole was scoured near the upstream side of the swing pier, which gradually begun to fall in.
Within a short 24 hour period, the pier shifted three inches, a catastrophic amount for a bridge. While the public wanted the bridge saved, it would likely have collapsed within days.
As a result, the bridge was destroyed in a controlled explosion. Had the pier shifted less rapidly, it is very likely that the structure could have been stabilized, and would still be there today.
Without a critical river crossing in the trail, the route dropped in popularity. A fire on a nearby trestle further set back the plans for a new river crossing. The trail was abandoned, and stayed inactive until a new connection was made in 2008.
Currently, the mile segment of trail between Chaska and the site of the former bridge is severely damaged and overgrown. The Chaska-Shakopee trail still exists on the Scott County side of the river, but the popularity has never recovered. The trail remains as a shadow of its former self.
The author would have ranked this bridge as being regionally significant, due to the uncommon design and preservation efforts, prior to the damage.
The photo above is an overview from 1977. The photo below is a historic photo.
A special thank you is in order for John Hill, for contributing much of the photos from the extant bridge. In addition, the Chaska Historical Society provided newspaper articles and historic photos.
The Milwaukee Road Archives at the Milwaukee Central Library also provided some insight into the history of the bridge. A special thank you is in order to all contributors for making memories of this bridge alive again!
|Upstream||Carver Railroad Bridge|
|Downstream||Dan Patch Swing Bridge|
Newspaper Articles and Misc Photos