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IT’S OFFICIAL: High Bridge Added to State Landmark List

Wis. Historical Society puts 1881 bridge on State Register of Historic Places

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth, Tina Ecker |

HIGHLY HISTORIC. The High Bridge in Eau Claire became a recreational trail in 2015. (Photo by Andrea Paulseth)
HIGHLY HISTORIC. The High Bridge in Eau Claire, built to carry trains in 1881, became a recreational trail in 2015. (Photo by Andrea Paulseth)

Since it was built in 1881, the iron lattice deck truss bridge that soars more than 80 feet above the Chippewa River in the middle of Eau Claire has been a landmark for locals. Now, it’s officially a landmark to the state of Wisconsin, too.

The Wisconsin Historical Society announced June 5 that the 900-foot span – officially known as the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway bridge – had been added to the State Register of Historic Places. While the bridge became a city landmark in 2016, the new designation gives it added protections from alternations, said Ned Noel, planning manager for the city of Eau Claire.

Noel said the city pursued the designation as a way to better preserve the bridge “as an important part of our community’s history and recreational use today.” The bridge, which was manufactured by Leighton Bridge & Iron Works of New York, carried trains between 1881 and 1992, when it was abandoned. The city purchased it in 2007, and reopened it as part of the recreational trail system in 2015. The bridge was closed abruptly in June 2021 when cracks were found in a bridge deck and one of the limestone piers that support the massive structure. The city spent more than $3 million to repair the bridge, which reopened to the public the following year.

Structural repairs were made to the bridge and its limestone piers in 2021-22. (Photo by Tina Ecker)
Structural repairs were made to the bridge and its limestone piers in 2021-22. (Photo by Tina Ecker)

Megan Beer-Pemberton, an Eau Claire historian and real estate specialist, prepared the application for State Register consideration. The document outlines what sets the bridge apart, including its historical significance to the city and state, as well as its architectural features – including its lattice truss construction and its use of iron rather than steel. The report cites John Marvig, a regional railroad historian who documented 1,500 railroad bridge in the Midwest, who wrote, “This bridge is likely the most significant railroad bridge in Wisconsin based on its age and builders. It is the only quintuple lattice truss bridge known in the world and one of the last surviving products of the Leighton Bridge Works.”

According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, “The State Register is Wisconsin’s official list of state properties determined to be significant to Wisconsin’s heritage.” Being added to the list is often a precursor to another honor, the National Register of Historic Places, which Noel said will ideally happen soon. Other Eau Claire structures on the National Register include the Pioneer Block on Water Street, City Hall, the Carson Park Baseball Stadium, the Barnes Block on South Barstow Street, and others.