Jay Cooke Swinging Bridge is a 100-year story of resilience

A photo tribute to an iconic state park bridge that has held hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans and defied time and disaster.

There have been five versions of the heavily tramped Swinging Bridge at Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton, but there is one number that's relevant this summer: 100.

Envision Jay Cooke and the mind's eye goes to standing on the iconic suspension bridge over the churning, and at times mesmerizing, St. Louis River and its gorge. First built in 1924 by the U.S. Forest Service, the bridge is marking its 100 year with special programs that capture its rise, its fall (more than once), and rebirth. It's that longevity and resilience that make stepping on it special, said Kris Hiller, the park's interpretive naturalist.

Related programs on the bridge's history happen this weekend, including Saturday, one of the state's Free Park Days when there is free admission to all of Minnesota's state parks and recreation areas.

"When you are walking across the bridge, you are connecting to other generations of visitors who have been walking across this bridge for 100 years," she said. "I think it just is very cool to think about that."

Those first users in 1924 were on a saggy, wooden boardwalk, 18 feet above the river. (Today, the bridge sits about 25 feet above the river.)

The Conservation Corps produced a substantial upgrade in 1934, installing stone pillars that remain today that replaced log cribs. A higher deck was installed in 1940, and dramatic, record flooding in 1950 and then again in 2012 forced two more reconstructions.

Centuries ago, the hardwoods and red-clay river gorge were traveled by the Dakota and Ojibwe people and voyageurs, among others. Today it's present-day inhabitants laying down tracks. Hiller, who has been at Jay Cooke 24 years, reflected on how the bridge is the ultimate connector to the past.

"That others looked out on the river, too … you can't help wondering about what were they thinking about and experiencing," she said.

-Bob Timmons, Star Tribune

The first bridge was built in 1924. It is shown in an image from the Karen Bromen family.
The Conservation Corps constructed a new Swinging Bridge, including its distinctive stone pillars, by 1934.
More flooding in 1939, forced building of bridge No. 3. Here it is shown in 1940. Workers raised the deck.
1950 flooding heavily damaged the bridge, forcing its reconstruction.
Another view of the 1950 flooding.
Water in the St.Louis River raged, washing out major sections of Hwy. 210 and wrecking the Swinging Bridge in 2012.
2013 reconstruction after 2012 flooding.