Sturgeon Bay Bridge

Also known as: Michigan Street Bridge
Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Through Truss Bridge and Scherzer-type rolling lift bscule bridge


Bascule Span Open

Photo taken by David Yates, August 2008

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Through Truss Bridge and Scherzer-type rolling lift bascule bridge, undergoing rehab in 2010.

Sturgeon Bay's Steel Bridge 

Written by J.R. Manning

The Sturgeon Bay Bridge, also known as the Michigan Street Bridge, is a multi-span through truss with a two-leaf, Scherzer Roller Bascule bridge in the northern portion of the bridge, the only span of its type remaining in the state of Wisconsin.

The first bridge to cross Sturgeon Bay, was a toll bridge that also carried the Ahnapee & Western Railway. The bay was connected to Lake Michigan through the digging of a canal that opened in 1890. When plans began to span the very busy Sturgeon Bay Canal, accommodations had to be made for larger ships navigating the canal to cut 124 miles off the trip from Green Bay to Chicago and avoid the dreaded Porte du Mort ("Death's Door") a graveyard of ships and cargoes between Door County and Washington Island. A dependable and large movable bridge was required, so a Scherzer rolling bridge, designed by William Scherzer for railroad bridges spanning the Chicago River, was selected for this bridge for several reasons.

The Scherzer-type bridge, unlike the Chicago or Milwaukee style trunnion-type bascule bridge, utilizes a counterweight that is above the roadway. This means it does not require a sub-terranean pit for the counterweight, as the trunnion type does. The bridge rolls on a track, resembling a rocking chair, and actually moves away from the river channel, making a wider opening. The Scherzer-type bridge, is resistant to wind loads, necessary in this channel. For its capacity, ease of opening and closing, and a wide enough opening for Great Lakes freighters, the Scherzer-type was selected for this bridge, despite being called an obsolete design at the time of its construction.

Built in 1929-1930 and opened in 1931, the bridge reached its 50 year, planned lifetime in 1981. A ship collision resulted in a repair project in 1960, the bridge underwent rehab in 1979 but by 1986, the State of Wisconsin wanted to replace and remove the bridge.

Although eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, it did not make it to the registry until 2008 and a listing on the NRHP does not guarantee survival, as many historians can attest to. The battle to save the bridge started in 1995 when the State of Wisconsin declared a new concrete bridge would replace the familiar steel trusses.

Local support for the bridge was enormous, and a ground swell of demands to restore and keep the bridge continued for years in a contentious fight. Christie Weber, a member of the Sturgeon Bay Main Street program, joined other civic leaders to save the historic structure. A 501(c)3 organization called Citizens for our Bridge, Inc. was founded to raise funds to continue the battle. An annual music festival, the Steel Bridge Songfest, an annual music festival that continues today, even though the bridge has been saved.

Thanks to the grassroots efforts, the bridge was saved and restored in a three year project that began in 2009. The restored bridge re-opened to great fanfare in 2011 and remains a vital part of the historical community.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on January 17, 2008
Reference number
Architectural style
Other architectural type; Truss bridge
Area of significance
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic function
Current function
Period of significance
Significant year

Update Log 

  • September 23, 2015: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • September 23, 2015: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated Status and Added Photos