Courtesy of Anuta Research Center
Readers will have to put their best imaginations to work in looking back to the 19th century when the above Middle Bridge was the main crossing between Marinette and Menominee. In the days of horse and buggy and no sidewalks, pedestrians and horse-drawn passengers shared the same pathway. Timbermen used the Menominee River to drive their logs from the virgin forests to the sawmills that dotted the river banks on each side of the waterway.
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center

Readers will have to put their best imaginations to work in looking back to the 19th century when the above Middle Bridge was the main crossing between Marinette and Menominee. In the days of horse and buggy and no sidewalks, pedestrians and horse-drawn passengers shared the same pathway. Timbermen used the Menominee River to drive their logs from the virgin forests to the sawmills that dotted the river banks on each side of the waterway.

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There’s something about the transportation sector that keeps political bickering alive in Marinette and Menominee. Even the celebrated and much-publicized M&M football rivalry, with its history of combative encounters on and off the gridiron, are more refined today than in years past.

There is a complete reversal when it comes to building and maintaining airports and bridges. The wrangling spans three centuries, dating to 1867 when the first bridge was built across the Menominee River. That’s a long time to carry a grudge.

The hassles have been going on for 148 years. The cities of Marinette and Menominee weren’t even chartered yet.

Present-day readers are familiar with the latest blowup at the Twin County Airport, a facility jointly owned by the two counties. The joint ownership format was intended to have one airport to serve both counties rather than each county attempt to operate its own airport.

Neither county would be able to sustain the costs of building and operating its own airfield without state and federal funds. The feds, for sure, wouldn’t plow money into two airports located only a few miles apart. There are signed documents from previous state and federal aeronautical commission ruling out such thought.

But for those people who think the current airport feud is one big political mess between twin counties, they should consider some of the hotly-contested bridge scraps of yesteryear.

Bridges have been the pivotal link of transportation for the Twin Cities since men and women began streaming into the area in the 19th century. It was marine transit that brought them here. There were no railroads and no roads for automobiles. Aviation was a fantasy.

There was no bridge across the river between the two cities before 1867. The early settlers employed scows to transport horses, cattle and other cargo. They used small boats to move people.

The Wisconsin and Michigan legislatures enacted a bill in 1863 during the height of the Civil War which offered assistance in the construction of a bridge to connect the two cities. The plan called for the State of Wisconsin to provide 10 sections of land and the State of Michigan to allocate five sections. 

Michigan’s governor signed the bill. The governor of Wisconsin sat on the bill rather than veto it. The delay killed the deal until a new governor was elected.

When John T. Lewis was elected governor, he promptly signed the bill. Then a problem cropped up on the Michigan side. Because the bridge wasn’t built in 1863, the statute of limitations kicked in and nullified the previous actions.

A new bill was submitted at the 1865 winter session of the legislature. Lawmakers made some changes in the proposed bill, including increasing its amount of land sections to match the Wisconsin allocation. The governor signed the new bill.

After lawmakers in the two states did their part, a rift developed in the two developing cities. Location of the bridge turned into a political skirmish.

Industrial and business leaders in the Menekaunee area and in Menominee’s downtown district wanted the bridge to be positioned at the mouth of the river. Community leaders in other parts of the town lobbied for the bridge to be erected in the vicinity of where the current railroad bridge is sited.

After two more years of arguments, the parties finally settled on a location. The settlement called for the bridge to extend from Dunlap Square on the Marinette side to former Bridge Street (19th Street) in Menominee near where Reindl West End Park is located.

North Ludington Co. of Marinette was chosen to build the passageway across the river. The company was one of a few available at the time to undertake such a project. North Ludington’s compensation was to take ownership of the 20 sections of land previously donated by the two states.

Isaac Stephenson, wealthy lumberman and political heavyweight, was president of the Ludington company. He strung together his army of workers, teams of horses and other resources to complete the wooden structure in 1867, four years after initial talks commenced.

Probate Judge E.S. Ingalls, the man who paved the way for the organization of Menominee County in 1863, was a cogwheel in settling the political arguments.

The lone bridge crossing served the two cities until a second extension was added on the east side in 1888. The Hattie Street Bridge was constructed in 1895.

One year after the Hattie Street Bridge was opened, negotiations began for replacing the wooden bridge built in 1867. Proponents of a new iron bridge claimed the first structure was designed for pedestrian and horse traffic. It was time for local politicians to resume debating the issue.

Instead of wrangling over location, political leaders zeroed in on the length of the bridge to be built by each city. Mayor John J. Sherman of Marinette and Mayor Andrew Stephenson of Menominee headed the debate sessions where charges and countercharges were hurled back and forth.

The face-off reached the boiling point when Mayor Stephenson ordered the Michigan side of the bridge to be barricaded. An angry Mayor Sherman, a physician by trade, led a group of Marinette protesters who bowled over the obstruction.

The participants couldn’t even agree on bid specifications. Two separate bids were let. Marinette’s bid called for solid iron to be used in supporting the spans. The Menominee specs called for filling large drums with concrete. The corridor eventually was constructed.

Another major bridge dispute resulted in the spring of 1967 when Mayor Edward Woleske of Marinette ordered the Menekaunee Bridge closed to vehicular traffic. The order came after an automobile accident that weakened the bridge that was erected in 1888. Mayor John W. Reindl vehemently opposed the closing.

Woleske wanted a new bridge. Reindl wanted it repaired. Woleske stuck to his guns and the bridge was demolished in 1971, four years after the auto accident.

Tension calmed and community leaders on both sides of the dispute huddled to resolve the issue with the help of state and federal grants. Menominee voters showed their good faith by approving a bond issue. Finally, a $2.4 million bascule bridge was opened to traffic Dec. 15, 1972.

To show how time heals political wounds, mayors Woleske and Reindl held a reception to celebrate the event. A huge cake was the table centerpiece. It was shaped like a bridge.

It may take years, but eventually, Marinette and Menominee will find a way to settle their differences. The dreams of the future are always better than the history of the past.