August 8, 1905: A cyclone destroyed the 630-foot Portage Bridge which spanned the Wisconsin River. The bridge, built in 1868, was the second bridge to span the Wisconsin River at that location. The original bridge had been built in 1857.
Portage Weekly, Aug. 8, 1905
OLD WOODEN STRUCTURE HIT BY CYCLONE
Storm Rips It From Its Piers - No One On
it - Worst Wind Storm In Portage
For Years - Fine Trees Laid Low
During the worst wind storm known here in years the old Wisconsin river wagon bridge was blown from its piers Tuesday evening and is a total wreck. The storm occurred shortly after seven o'clock in the evening. Its main course was right down the river and by those who saw it approaching it is described as having been a genuine cyclone. Chas. McSorely Jr., who resides near the city approach to the bridge went to the front door of the house when he heard the storm. He says a low circling black cloud was coming down the river at a terrific rate of speed. When he first saw it, the cloud was about opposite the pumping station and it was hardly a half minute later that he saw it strike the bridge and the further section resting between the second and third piers whirled from the supports and carried several hundred feet down the stream. The other section seemed to crumple right in toward the north shore. The noise of the cyclone was so deafening that no crash of the bridge was heard at all above the roar.
Several Narrow Escapes
Edward Shanks who had been visiting with his mother-in-law in Calendonia was probably the last person to cross the ill fated bridge. He was driving home and hurrying in order to get in ahead of the storm. As he reached the Barden place the storm broke with all it fury. Up the river he noticed low hanging clouds but as he was so near the city he did not stop but whipped up his horses taking the creaking bridge on the run. He did not know that the bridge had been destroyed until he had reached his home. He says that the storm was the worst just as he turned at McSorley's the roar was fierce and as he had side curtains up he saw nothing, but that he got off the bridge in the "nick of time," he has no doubt.
Some boys driving home cattle had just reached the south approach of the bridge when the structure was destroyed, several of the cows were on the small approach to the main structure and had to be driven back.
History of the Bridge
The bridge destroyed Tuesday night was the second structure to span the Wisconsin river at the same point. The first bridge was so far completed in 1857, as to allow the passage of teams and the following year it was finished. This first bridge was 640 ft. long and 18 ft. wide inside. It was not a sound structure and before the end of ten years there were several movements on foot to replace it by a better structure.
In March, 1868, the legislature passed two large bridge bills, the first authorizing the city of Portage and the town of Caledonia to jointly erect a free bridge; and the second, if they should deem it inadvisable to construct such a bridge, authorizing the city of Portage to build another toll bridge. The latter measure provided for the same rates of toll allowed in the old charter, and authorized the city to assign its charter to an individual, or individuals, should any such which to make the bridge a private enterprise. In the meantime, the council employed an experienced bridge-builder to inspect the old concern, and a report was made to the effect that an expenditure of $2,000 would keep it up for a couple of years longer. Before any definite action was taken, however, Messrs. Chapin & Wells of Chicago, appeared upon the scene and submitted a proposition to remove the old bridge for $1,000 and place a new one - a Howe truss - upon the same piers for $18,000, allowing the city the market value for any old materials which might be used. A contract was closed with the Chicago builders, and in May the work of tearing away the old structure was commenced.