La Crescent Swing Bridge

Through Truss Swing Bridge over Mississippi River
La Crescent, Houston County, Minnesota

Click the Photo Above to See All Photos of This Bridge!
Name La Crescent Swing Bridge
Built By Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway
Contractor Phoenix Bridge Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
Currently Owned By Canadian Pacific Railway
Length 1,055 Feet Total, 360 Foot Swing Span
Width 1 Track
Height Above Ground 20 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Pratt and Parker Through Truss and Deck Girder
Substructure Type Stone Masonry and Concrete
Date Built 1902
Traffic Count 30 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
MILW Bridge Number L-4
Significance Regional Significance
In April of 1852, the La Crosse & Milwaukee Road was charted between the respective cities. While the vast majority of tracks had been completed to New Lisbon, Wisconsin by 1857, the connection to the Mississippi River still lacked.

This connection came in 1858 when the final 61 miles of track were completed between New Lisbon and La Crosse. After the completion, the railroad filed for bankruptcy and became the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad in 1861.

While this was going on, a bridge was built across the Mississippi River for the St. Paul & Chicago Railroad in 1873. Soon after the completion between St. Paul and La Crescent (opposite of La Crosse) and the bridge, the two railroads merged forming the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. These lines created an extremely competitive railroad between the Milwaukee and St. Paul.

By 1902, the line was becoming increasingly busy. As a result, it was double tracked in its entirety between St. Paul and Milwaukee with the exception of the Mississippi and Black River Bridges (which were rebuilt that year).

By 1912, with the looming pacific extension the railroad was renamed the Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. (CMStP&P)

By 1977, the railroad was struggling mightily. This line was considered a core line, and stuck it out until the end. In 1985, Soo Line purchased the Milwaukee Road.

Nearly immediately, Candian Pacific, the current owners of this line purchased the Soo Line. Today, the line sees quite a bit of traffic.

View an article regarding the construction of this bridge.

Located entirely in Minnesota, this bridge is the westernmost span of four bridges crossing the Mississippi River between La Crosse and La Crescent.
The first bridge was built here in 1876, and consisted of a swing span, approached by several stationary trusses. This bridge was connected by trestle to the other three bridges, although the trestle was gradually replaced by earthen fill.

Historic Photo
Previous span, showing two spans reused at Eau Claire. From The Railway Age, Volume 34

By 1900, it was required to build a new span at this location. As a result, work began in 1901 to replace all four bridges on this crossing.
This bridge would be rebuilt with a new 360-foot pin connected Through Truss swing span, a 250-foot 9-panel pin connected Parker Through Truss and two 160-foot 6-panel Pratt Through Truss spans. In addition, a 40-foot deck girder was used on the east approach and a 75-foot deck girder on the west approach. The bridge reused some stone substructures, but new concrete abutments were also built.

Historic Photo
Constructing the swing span, from The Railway Age, Volume 34

Because of the incredible amount of steel required for this bridge, three contractors were involved with building the four bridges. This bridge and the truss span at French Slough were built entirely by Phoenix Bridge Company, while American Bridge Company and McClintic-Marshall Construction Company built the other structures.
Unfortunately, the truss spans of the East Channel Bridge, French Slough Bridge and the swing span on the Black River Bridge were replaced between 1998 and 2004.
Ranked as one of the most struck bridges on the Mississippi River, this bridge is in an immediate danger of replacement. Barges commonly hit this structure, and the Coast Guard desires to replace the structure with a modern span. Several options have been proposed, including adding a lift span in place of two fixed spans. However with a price tag of over $70 million, the bridge project has not been funded.
Overall, the bridge remains in fair condition, and is showing signs of aging. The west approach appears to have been replaced at some point, although there is no clear evidence of when this may have happened.

Historic Photo
Blueprints of the four bridges, from The Railway Age, Volume 34

The author has ranked this bridge as being regionally significant, due to the large scale design.
The photo above is an overview from the west bank.

Mississippi River Railroad Bridges
Upstream CB&Q Mississippi River Bridge (Winona)
Middle Channel CP Middle Channel Bridge
French Slough CP French Slough Bridge
Downstream Prairie Du Chein Pontoon Bridge


Source Type


Build Date Railway Age, Volume 34
Contractors Railway Age, Volume 34
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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