Bridges and Dams


A City divided by a river always pays special attention to its bridges. The present site has always been the location of bridges. Gullies on each side of the river meet to provide a natural level crossing point on a river bank lined with 60-foot ledges.

Early crossing was done on raft or boat or on the frozen river until 1849 when a dam was completed just upstream from the present bridge. Records show school children walked across the river on the top of the dam to reach the school house on the northside. The first wooden bridge was completed in 1853. Whether this was a foot bridge or wide enough for team and wagon is unclear, a few bridges made of wood were constructed. These early attempts to cross the river were often damaged each spring with the outgoing ice and needed to be repaired or rebuilt.

Finally, in 1870 the new incorporated village opted for a more permanent solution, and contracted with the Cleveland Bridge Co for $9,800 to build the Iron Bridge. This bridge rested on a single pier in the middle of the river. It was constructed at a higher elevation from the water to provide an easier, less steep, crossing for teams on approach to the bridge. The frame was of iron, but the roadway was of wooden planks.

In 1910 this narrow bridge was again replaced. The new bridge was constructed of concrete and featured a road bed to allow two lanes in each direction. The bridge cost $50,000 and was supported on three piers. Three graceful arches supported the 800 ft bridge. The central arch was 85ft and each outside arch was 75ft wide. Concrete was used to form the structure and dirt was used to fill the form. The roadbed remained dirt until about 1915 when Bridge Street was paved with brick.

In preparation for the new bridge, a temporary wooden bridge was built just downstream of the bridge. As in the previous bridge, this one was constructed again at an even higher elevation from the water to provide a seamless crossing level with Bridge Street without having to face inclines at either end of the bridge. A consequence of this was that buildings built to be entered on the level of the old bridge were now too short. The City Iron Works, where Fitzgerald Field is now, had to add an additional story to the building to be above the street level.

Although the concrete provided for a wide, strong bridge, the dirt used to fill the bridge would be a flaw. This dirt was prone to erode through cracks into the river, leaving voids and weakening the bridge. Finally, in 1991 a new bridge was constructed. Again, made of concrete, this bridge was built by the State. After much debate, the bridge was again rebuilt in its historic location. A temporary bridge was used during the construction period. This time the temporary bridge was built upstream of the construction site, from behind the Opera House to the corner of N. Bridge and E. Front Streets. The Halsted Home on the corner had to be removed during this construction.

High Bridge

In 1887 the Detroit, Grand Rapids and Western railroad built the railroad trestle or High Bridge. This iron trestle is supported on two piers. One falls on seventh island while the other rests in the river stream. This bridge brought the railroad over the river and allowed it to proceed on to Grand Rapids.


The first dam was built by Abram Smith, William Russell and David Taylor in 1849. The dam was used to provide power for a sawmill on the southside and soon afterward a flour mill on the northside.

In about 1878 S. M. Hewings built a "temporary" dam near the site of the present dam. This was made of stones and logs. The top layers of the dam would be removed in the Spring to allow for the flow of ice. This dam allowed for deeper water for boating.

Stone dam or Lower dam was built in 1887 by J.S. Mudge the new owner of the Seven Islands Resort. This dam replaced the temporary one but was also used to create a deep body of water for pleasure boating and swimming. This dam has been modified at least twice. Fist gates were installed at the northern end to allow the dam to be opened to lower the water level. In the 1970s fish ladders were installed on the southern end to allow for the migration of fish along the Grand River.