Historic Covered Bridges

    1858 was a banner year for bridge building in the city of Grand Rapids. The toll bridge at Bridge Street, which had burned, was rebuilt. To the south, the impressive Pearl Street Bridge was erected. October of that year saw a third crossing rise over the Grand River at Leonard. All three were toll bridges demanding a fee of 2 cents per foot passenger except on Sundays when churchgoers were allowed free passage. A one year pass could be purchased for $1.00.

 

Bridge Street Covered Bridge

Bridge Street Bridge circa 1870

The Bridge Street Bridge, note icebreakers in river.
Photograph courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library
    The Grand Rapids Bridge Company invested $9,000 into the building of a toll bridge at Bridge Street in 1852. When it was destroyed by fire in 1858 the company rebuilt anew and continued to collect tolls for nearly twenty years. When maintenance costs became too demanding the Bridge Street Bridge was sold to the City of Grand Rapids for $1,000 and freed from tolls.
    The bridge was nearly victimized by fire yet again in the 1860's when a steam-powered threshing machine stalled midway during its crossing. Embers and steam belched into the cobweb covered rafters and ignited a blaze. The bridge-tender hastily formed a bucket brigade and doused the fire.

 

Pearl Street Covered Bridge

Pearl Street Bridge

The six-span Pearl Street Bridge as it looked in 1874. Photograph courtesy of State Archives of Michigan.
    When planning began for a 4th of July celebration dinner to honor Grand Rapids soldiers returning from the Civil War a suitable location large enough to house the guests could not be found. It was finally decided to close off both ends of the 620 foot Pearl Street Bridge and hold the dinner there. Armed with brooms, rakes and mops the mighty span was cleared of nearly a decade's worth of cobwebs and dust. Townspeople and soldiers seated themselves at two long rows of tables and enjoyed the feast.
    In 1883 a massive logjam of cut timber came surging on flood waters down the Grand River. Stretching from bank to bank the logs rose higher and higher until they wedged themselves between the river and the floor of the Pearl Street Bridge. Crowds lined the riverbanks to witness the impending destruction, but despite terrific battering the bridge remained firm. Three years later the Pearl Street Bridge succumbed to progress when it was replaced by a wrought iron crossing.

 

Leonard Street Covered Bridge

Leonard Street Bridge circa 1880

The Leonard Street bridge in 1879. Photograph courtesy of State Archives of Michigan
    In 1879, at a time when other bridges were being replaced by wrought iron spans, a new covered bridge was erected by City Engineer William Seckel at the Leonard Street crossing. This bridge, at a length of 832 feet, earned the distinction of being the longest covered bridge ever built in the State of Michigan. This ornately portaled, lattice truss bridge served the city's traffic until 1913.

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