River and Creek

THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER; THE SWINGING BRIDGE

by Marcella Zinda Dingmann


Before 1855 there were no public bridges across the Mississippi River. The residents on the west side of the River had to use their own boats, ferries, and toll bridges. In 1855 a bridge under construction was near completion when a high wind lifted the superstructure from its supports and causing it to collapse into the river.

In 1900 the Sartell Brothers ran a ferry near the site of the old bridge. In 1903 Joseph B. Sartell gave flowage rites to the Watab Paper company to organize, construct and operate a dam across the river. In 1914 the old girdered truss bridge was started to be built by the Northwestern Bridge Company, J.B. Sartell principal.

After the paper mill construction was completed, a “Swinging Bridge”, a suspension bridge was built to accommodate workers access from the west side of the river. Suspension bridges were used as bridges for chasms where there was no footing. The “Swinging Bridge” floated above the dam. It’s length was that of the dam. From the west bank to the sluiceways. Each side of the bridge had many vertical cables fastened above the two dam length cables which were anchored at each side of the dam. Except for its steel cables and wire fencing on the sides, it was made of wood planks, allowing replacement of damaged floorboards and other bridge pieces.

Our bridge was unique because of it’s long span and narrow structure. When the wind would blow, it whipped the bridge and occasionally damaged it.

People came from miles around to see it and to walk across it. In cold weather the employees and residents of the north end of town made a path diagonally over the river ice from a block above the dam’s west end to the platform above the power house.

As young children, my sister and I carried my Dad’s lunch across this bridge. He worked a lot of overtime and weekends. My Mother could pack two meals in a basket and we would carry it over the bridge to the paper mill.

He would lead us through the mill. My sister and I would each take long streamers of paper out of the bins and carry them with us. Sometimes we would watch the men spear logs and put them in the big crushers. We also watched the beaters, where the pulp was mixed with water. Sometimes the alarms would go off and the machines were shut down for a torn felt. They also had to cut and take the large layer of pulp off the felt. They used wooden sticks to cut the pulp, then they folded it and put it on skids. We didn’t go upstairs to the machine room very often. We just saw the huge rolls of paper.

When we were done sight seeing, my Dad, Roman Zinda, would take us through the mill to the west end. He would always check the weather before we were allowed to go on the “Swinging Bridge” to return home.

It was both fun and scary, walking across the wooden planks. The bridge would make a loud noise, and swing more when we ran across it on the wooden planks.

I can remember seeing the large fountain in front of the paper mill office building, and really looking at the deer in the deer park on the east side of the road into the paper mill. My sister and I always enjoyed the walk.

This excerpt is taken from the book “History of Sartell, Minnesota Lumber, Paper, Valves And Progress A Century of Progress, Welcoming a Century of Promise” page 134



The swinging bridge that crossed the Mississippi River in Sartell

A person walking across the swinging bridge in Sartell