Four finalists in running to claim and reuse historic Minnesota bridge

The Kern Bridge - seen here in June 2019
The Kern Bridge - seen here in June 2019 - spanned the Le Sueur River south of Mankato, Minn., starting in 1873. It was removed on Feb. 6, 2020 - and four finalists are in the running to claim and reuse the span.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News 2019

Four communities are vying for the chance to claim and reuse a historic bridge from southern Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been hosting a competition seeking a new owner for the nearly 150-year-old Kern Bridge. The bridge spanned the Le Sueur River south of Mankato until last year, when it was removed from crumbling abutments and disassembled in the hope that it could find another use carrying pedestrian or bike traffic.

The recipient of the bridge must be able to rehabilitate the bridge to its historic standards. After receiving about eight applications and letters of intent, MnDOT narrowed the pool to four finalists: Watonwan County, Sherburne County, Mankato and Fergus Falls.

District 7 State Aid Engineer Lisa Bigham said it's not common for MnDOT to give away a bridge, but the historic nature of the bridge made the agency decide to search for a community that would take care of it and breathe new life into it.

“We want (the bridge) to be re-listed” on the National Register of Historic Places, Bigham said. “We want it to be used. It wasn’t just to put it somewhere and forget about it. We want it to be restored and used and maintained.”

The 189-foot-long Kern Bridge sits on the east side of the Le Sueur River
The 189-foot-long Kern Bridge sits on the east side of the Le Sueur River after being moved from its failing limestone abutments on Feb. 6, 2020. The historic bridge was disassembled and preserved until a new home can be found.
Pat Christman | Mankato Free Press 2020

Federal funding would provide the recipient of the Kern Bridge 80 percent of the money needed to relocate the span, which Bigham estimated would cost about $2 million.

Last February, two cranes hoisted the 189-foot-long wrought-iron bridge from its perch above the Le Sueur River. The bridge was then placed on the riverbank, disassembled and now sits in four storage containers, waiting for a new home.

The bridge was built in 1873 and is one of the state’s oldest bridges — and it's the only remaining bowstring arch through-truss bridge in Minnesota. It was originally used for horse and buggy traffic and was closed to pedestrians and vehicles in the early 1990s.

Bigham anticipates a decision to be made next month, with the installation of the bridge at its new location sometime in 2024, once all the parts are refurbished and reassembled.

Buy a bridge for $1

Another bridge in Minnesota, this one spanning the Minnesota River, is available for $1 — however, Bigham said that whoever purchases the span must haul it away themselves.

The Eden Bridge in Brown County, southeast of Franklin, Minn., is a Warren pony truss bridge built in 1918. It carries County State Aid Highway 8 over the Minnesota River and links Eden Township in Brown County to Camp Township in Renville County.

Brown County officials say it's in fair condition, but at just 18 feet wide it's too narrow for modern farm equipment — and needs to be removed to make way for a new span. They are hoping it can find a new use in a park or on a trail.

The county is accepting letters of interest through the end of June.

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