Bay City, MI - Saginaw River Bridge - (GTW)

Location: Saginaw River Bridge - Bay City, MI - (GTW)

GTW Bay City Double Drawbridge GTW Bay City Double Drawbridge This bridge was built in 1913 and allowed the Grand Trunk railway to come from the west side of the Saginaw River into downtown Bay City. A few depot and freight house were also built at the same time of building this bridge.

Photo info: Top, a view of the bridge in 1914 shortly after it was built. Note the two different swing bridge spans. 2nd photo, a drawing of the bridge with all of its spans. Both photos [REM-1914-02] and [JH]


This was one of the last new swing bridges built in Michigan that were not replacements.

The bridge had seven-spans of structural steel and two draw spans, 250' center to center of piers, and five spans 160' center to center of piers. It was designed for a minimum loading of Cooper's E-50.

The single track bridge was fabricated by the Wisconsin Bridge company of Milwaukee, WI. Site preparation was done by the William J. Meagher & company of Bay City. The east swing span was electrified by C. H. Norwood of Chicago, IL. This was a project of the Bay City Terminal railroad which was owned and operated at inception by the Grand Trunk railroad. Officially, it was on the GT line owned by the Cincinnati, Saginaw & Mackinac railway which ran to Bay City from Durand.

Until this bridge and east side depot were built, the GT reached the Bay City area on the west and north sides of the river with a depot located in West Bay City. This new line and bridge left the GT main line near Main Street Tower (where the GT crossed the Michigan Central) and went northeast across the Saginaw river.

The width of the river at the crossing is over 1,000' but the line of the bridge is on a northeast skew, making it 1,300' face to face of the abutments. At the time of construction, the river has two seperate navigable channels at this point necessitating two movable spans. The east (main) channel was deepened to 24' below mean low water (in 1911). The stream bed is stable here but requires it necessary to deepen the channel about every five years.

The bridge is tangent throughout, located at an angle of about 78 degrees with the general direction of the river. The grade is level.

The excavation was partially completed by dredges before driving piles. Piles were driven with a drop hammer and after the cofferdams were driven the excavation was completed by hand using pumps. All steel was raised by an Industrial locomotive crane. The delivery track was located at the west end of the bridge, since all steel was delivered over the lines of the Grand Trunk railway. The erection was begun in October, 1912 and finished in May, 1913. Total weight of steel was 1,500 net tons. For specific details of the construction, see Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way, February,  1914 [REM].

Only the east swing span is electrified. The span is operated by two 7 1/2 horsepower motors for swinging, and three 5 h.p. motors, one at each end for raising and locking. Another motor operates center and rail wedges. 

The west swing bridge is operated by hand. This channel is described as "unimportant"  but a movable span was finally decided upon for the possible future development of that side of the river. The west swing span is a counterpart of the other, and the same electrical machinery could be installed, as provision is made for possible electrification.

Power is supplied by the Bay City Power company at 550 DC volts at a cost to the railway company of 2c per KW hour. It was only necessary to build 800 feet of line to reach the bridge. Bay City Power gets its energy from the Au Sable River, about 100 miles north of Bay City.

Source: [REM] and [JH]

Other editorial notes

The Industrial crane mentioned in the article was likely made in downtown Bay City at the Industrial Works.

It is not known if the west swing span was ever operated or electrified. Further investigation is necessary.

To see the GT depot at east Bay City, and other GTW facilities, Click Here.

This bridge was one of four railroad bridges crossing the Saginaw River at Bay City. Other bridges were the Detroit & Mackinac bridge, the Michigan Central bridge, this bridge, and the Interurban bridge south of here. Most of these bridges, at one time or another, were damaged by lake freighters or storm damage. Only the D&M (now Lake States) bridge, and the MC bridge (now H&E) continue to exist.

Time Line

1890. The CS&M reaches West Bay City and Oa-at-ka Beach from Saginaw and leased to the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada. [MRL]

1913. September 28. The line from West Bay City, across this bridge is placed into service. The line crosses the bridge to each the new GT Depot at 7th Street in downtown Bay City. The line also crosses the MC South Water Street industriual line at the east enge of the bridge. Likely a gated crossing. [MRL]

1928. The Bay City Terminal railroad is merged into the GTW. [MRL]

1941. The railroad branch and bridge into east Bay City were abandoned, operated only 28 years. [MRL]





The following sources are utilized in this website. [SOURCE-YEAR-MMDD-PG]:

  • [AAB| = All Aboard!, by Willis Dunbar, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids ©1969.
  • [AAN] = Alpena Argus newspaper.
  • [AARQJ] = American Association of Railroads Quiz Jr. pamphlet. © 1956
  • [AATHA] = Ann Arbor Railroad Technical and Historical Association newsletter "The Double A"
  • [AB] = Information provided at Michigan History Conference from Andrew Bailey, Port Huron, MI

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