In May of 2014, I took a trip along the Red River to photograph a bunch of historic bridges for a potential future book, and found this place, a bridge I had never visited before.
Officially it is Traill County and North Dakota Highway Departments Project No. FAS 71A. Locals refer to it as the Nielsville Bridge, after Nielsville, Minnesota, the closest community to the bridge (Cummings, North Dakota is a few miles west).
Built in 1939, the bridge was in pretty bad shape when I visited in 2014–it had been repaired a number of times, and asphalt patches were visible in the road deck in several places. In 2015, a hole opened up in the deck and the bridge was closed. It has been closed ever since, and the question remains–What will become of this historic bridge?
This bridge was completed in 1939. For historical context, it was the same year Lou Gehrig retired due to the illness that would later bear his name. World War II was just about to begin, and the sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt’s head was dedicated on Mount Rushmore.
I paid particular attention to this bridge and several others on this trip because they are becoming more rare all the time. As the years pass, these steel truss bridges are being torn down in favor of modern highway bridges, which is good for transportation purposes, but bad for nostalgics who get a thrill from driving under the romantic arches of these relics from the industrial revolution.
Last I heard, locals were trying to raise awareness about the need for funding to restore this river crossing, whether that be through a new bridge, or a restoration of this beautiful span. As it is, local farmers are forced to drive 8 miles one direction or 7 miles in the other direction to cross the Red River on the next available bridge.
Update: Plans are moving forward for a new bridge, which is not a good sign for this bridge.
Update 2: Shortly after we posted this, Max Schumacher sent us a link to drone video he captured at this bridge. See it here.
Just around the corner from this bridge, on the North Dakota side of the Red River, is this rural church.
Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © Sonic Tremor Media