In order to find an idea for this column, I decided to open up the photo cabinet at the museum and just see “what looked interesting”. I immediately saw the books titled “Bridges Locks and Canals” and it took me down a path in memory lane. Not that I spent any time here in Becker County as a kid since I lived in Ohio.
The photos contained here are all made available from the Becker County Museum and they have little specific relevance to the text other than as I browsed the books, they became my muse. I love the one with the horse and ears all perked up at a funny angle.
The history of bridges and locks is a universal thing anyplace that water exists. I remembered canoeing and I was always intrigued by the various bridges that I would come across and pass under. I liked to study the way they were built and imagine who might use them. Some are obvious like roadway bridges on a main route, but when you slide under a low rickety bridge made of cables and random metal bars bent and rusty seemingly in the middle of nowhere, you wonder.
These things were and largely still are built out of necessity for travel and commerce or access to areas. It became apparent a long time ago that moving things via water when available was efficient and handy. The logging industry which was very prevalent here was very reliant on waterways to float logs to the mill, which is pretty clever.
I’m not sure why but Bridges and to a degree locks have become part of my permanent family memories. My sister with my dad’s help built a model of a suspension bridge 4 feet long for a school project. Later I incorporated that into my model railroad. To this day I kind of want to build a bridge someplace in my yard, most recently, I wanted to build a drawbridge to an out building from our deck. I was vetoed on that for now.
One time, while camping and canoeing with my dad, we climbed up a very tall railroad bridge from the stream below, that was quite the adventure! I remember writing about it on the way home in the car. That bridge was made of steel up top but the part we climbed was huge cement rectangles like large square baled hay, each step was almost 3 feet high.
I remember the first time I saw the bridge that raises up in Duluth and I still really admire that one. On the Maumee river growing up as you got closer to Lake Erie and the port there where railroad bridges that rotated 90 degrees to allow boats to pass. I watched those for hours from shore and boat.
My first introduction to locks was very near my home at the historic Isaac Ludwig Mill with the locks still working along the section of the Miami and Erie Canal that ran through the area. This was preserved as a part of the local Metroparks system. We would visit there and I remember studying it intently for as long as we could stay.
At some point, when my mom was older and took up traveling, she would seek out covered bridges and find them and take photos for her collection. She had rules of course, once found and photographed, she would be sure to cross the bridge both ways. I did series like that on lighthouses, but that’s a different story.
Flash forward a few decades and I arrive in Minnesota to live, and once again I wind up living very close to locks and bridges that are full of history. I still study them as I pass by and I’m still intrigued by the structures and the way they are built and used.
So on to the point, truthfully there is little point to this muse other than sharing some of my own history and encouraging you to take a moment and go look at a lock, a canal, or a bridge and really take a good long look. Once you have it in your mind, close your eyes and imagine what would have been happening there in 1908 or 1880 or some other time.
This is a funny time we are in right now and many entertainment options are off the table but these trusty bridges and locks and such offer up an activity you can still take part in. Go out into Becker County and experience some of our history through bridges, locks and canals. Go on a hunt and see if you can find the ones depicted here and if they are still there or rebuilt!
This column is a regular feature of the Tribune's monthly History page. Kevin Mitchell may be reached at the Becker County Museum by calling 847-2938.