The wrecking of the Wisconsin River bridge
Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids battle over structure
By Kyra Jagodzinski
On the morning of Jan. 25, 1922, the talk around town was centered on the Grand Rapids-Centralia (Wisconsin Rapids) bridge. The old, steel superstructure bridge, was being torn down and replaced in the days following. The materials after the deconstruction were to be sold for parts by the city.
Pioneer George N. Wood could recall when the bridge was first constructed. Originally, the bridge was built when the only boats crossing the river were ferries, so a skiff system was constructed, but was swiftly succeeded by a steel and wood Howe truss bridge.
The Wood County Bridge Co., constructor and operator of the bridge, first sold tickets in exchange for a stamped copper coin in substitute of money. Once shifting to federally recognized money, the tickets were much higher than competitors, to make a profit in regards to the low traffic of the bridge.
As the traffic increased, the cost was reduced to two and one-half cents for pedestrians, which falls short of a dollar today. For groups and companies, the bridge charged 10 cents, or just under $3 today.
After Wood County purchased the bridge from its originator, the toll bridge became free for all citizens and visitors.
The bridge remained a free bridge for citizens until April 1888, when an ice storm washed out a section of the bridge, restricting passage on the old bridge.
A dispute ensued between the city of Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield, as citizens and the government of both cities refused to rebuild the bridge.
The legal battle eventually made its way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. As the legal battle continued throughout the year, traffic had come to a halt; boats lined coasts and traveled over ice during the winter.
It was later decided that the county was to rebuild the bridge and front the cost, and the bridge would then remain a free bridge.
The bridge was completed in the spring of 1889, open for traffic once again.
Wood recalled the awe surrounding the bridge, “it was a marvel of the people… everyone was proud of the structure.”
The Wisconsin Rapids bridge was dissembled in the early 1920s regardless of its history in the county, and a new bridge was built to further increase transportation and connect the people of Grand Rapids-Centralia and Marshfield.