Arsonist destroys state’s longest trestle bridge

Debra Kellner | State Historic Preservation Office

From the “Department of We Can’t Have Nice Things” comes word that the longest trestle bridge still standing in Minnesota has burned, thanks to the work of an arsonist.

The Blackduck trestle, spanning Coburn Creek, was a favorite of snowmobilers and hikers, the Bemidji Pioneer reports.

The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as “Minnesota and International Railway Trestle at Blackduck.” M&I was a subsidiary of Northern Pacific that provided a rail link between Bemidji and Koochiching, which is now International Falls, according to the National Register.

“The land in this region of north central Minnesota is dense pine forest punctuated with terrain comprised of swamp and marshland. The marshland proved difficult to traverse and required the erection of timber trestles to span the otherwise impassable sinkholes frequently encountered on the route,” the Register states.

“The M&I Railway Trestle at Blackduck is historically significant for its method of construction and the considerable length required to span Coburn Creek and the surrounding marsh. It is the longest structure on the former M&I and is widely recognized as the most difficult bridge the railroad had to build.”

The bridge was constructed between 1901-1902 by veteran bridge builder, Frank O’Brien, according to the Register application. The Minnesota Department of Transportation took ownership of the bridge in 1992, after the railroad ceased operation, and the bridge was converted for pedestrians and recreational vehicles as part of the Blue Ox Trail.

Can it be rebuilt? Would we even know how?

  • Paul Weimer

    Senseless destruction.

  • TaxiManSteve

    Some years ago, arsonists torched and destroyed three New Hampshire covered
    bridges… Three. Fortunately people rallied and all were rebuilt.

    • Back in the town I lived in before moving to MN — Sheffield, Ma., — we had a lovely covered bridge that was broken by an overweight truck. Some residents wanted it rebuilt, but they didn’t have kin in the local cemetery or have roads named after their family and in New England, if you’re a newcomer, you’re second class.

      We had a big war in town over this but finally the bridge was torn down and a boring bridge built.

      “You have another covered bridge in town anyway,” the old-timers and good old boys said.

      And indeed we did — the oldest covered bridge in Massachusetts.

      A year or so later, someone burned it down.

      It turned out to be the sons of the good old boys.

      But I digress…

      • TaxiManSteve

        That’s sad. The NH bridges burned and replaced with authentic replicas include the Slate Covered Bridge of Swanzey, the Smith Covered Bridge of Plymouth, and the Corbin Covered Bridge of Newport.

        • It turned out to be an adrenaline junkie fire-fighter that burned the Corbin, he torched a few barns in the area also.

      • Jeff C.

        Why on Earth would the sons of the good old boys do that? What did they get out of it? That completely baffles me…As does this bridge burning. People are stupid sometimes. Grr…

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I understand that the state owned the bridge, but who owns the land? Could the bridge be a victim of similar forces that took out the champion jack pine last week? Inquiring minds want to know!

  • Bruce Tiemann

    Their was an old wooden trestle bridge just south of Blackduck that crossed the Mississippi west of Winnie, that was burnt down, that was several years ago. Where was the champion jack pine, Jack? Not the lost fourty, I hope.