River Falls on path to add swinging bridge to national list of historic places

Posted September 18, 2016

Residents of River Falls may see a favorite local spot become more popular if it gets listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The River Falls Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) recently completed a Historical and Architectural Resources Survey of notable buildings and structures in the city. The “Swinging Bridge” over the Kinnickinnic River, also known as the Glen Park Suspension Footbridge, came out on top of places for the city to consider for historic preservation.

“Tourism is a big deal,” said Tony Steiner, River Falls city planner. Having more places on the National Register of Historic Places could bring more people to River Falls.

Four sites in River Falls are already on the National Register of Historic Places. Two are buildings on the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus (South Hall and North Hall), one is a private residence known as the Freeman House on North Third Street, and another one is the Glen Park Municipal Swimming Pool.

HPC members recently decided that they would move forward with adding the bridge to the register.

“I looked up the other remaining footbridges in the U.S. and one of those bridges may have been torn down since the survey,” said Steiner. The survey revealed the Glen Park Suspension Footbridge may be only one of two similar types of footbridges left in the United States. The other bridge is in Copper Falls State Park in Ashland County. The bridge was originally built in 1925 by the Minneapolis Bridge Company and was rehabilitated in 1986.

“We are a certified historic preservation community and have been since the ’90s,” added Steiner. The goal of the survey was to help the HPC identify places and properties and then apply for grants to help preserve those places. Most communities don’t have a lot of money for historic preservation, he said.

It’s not uncommon for many communities across the United States to have multiple places on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the National Park Service website, almost every county in the U.S. has at least one building on the register.

Many sites were listed as potential historic places on the survey, but the bridge, which connects pedestrian traffic north of Cascade Avenue to Glen Park, garnered the most attention by HPC members. Having a site on the register helps with keeping that structure preserved and allows for tax credits.

Heidi Heinze, the chair of HPC, said the process to get on the register is an arduous one and the HPC needs help.

“This isn’t costing the taxpayers anything,” said Heinze. The city applied for a grant from the Wisconsin Historical Society to hire a consultant to help with the process of getting the bridge on the register, Heinze added. She anticipates the bridge will be added by this time next year.

The bridge is also part of a bigger historical project. The city has been working on an online walking historical tour that people will be able to access with a smart phone, tablet and computer.

“I think it’s really cool,” said Tyler Galde, a University of Wisconsin-River Falls student, referring to the online tour. He has been working on the project as an intern with the City of River Falls. Galde also said he thinks the bridge is a great piece of history to officially add to an already historic town. Galde is majoring in field biology with minors in geographic information systems and conservation.

The online walking historical tour of River Falls will be done late this fall, according to Galde. The tour will help guide people to the most notable historic sites in River Falls. In addition to the walking tour, the city has been creating old-time postcards.

“We have been handing out the postcards that tell the story about the bridge along with a historic picture of it on the front,” said Jeff Bjork, a lifetime River Falls resident and HPC board member. Bjork is also excited about the online walking tour and said he hopes more can be done. Bjork and generations of his family have been residents for more than 150 years. He would like to see more places highlighted to generate more interest in River Falls. The HPC has been creating a new postcard highlighting a new historic site every year for the last few years.

Dan Giester, local resident and unofficial historian, said the Swinging Bridge of all the historic sites in River Falls makes the most sense to get on the National Register. Giester, who has lived in River Falls his whole life, can recall many memories and time spent in Glen Park. He said the bridge is a place that many locals young and old have fond memories of. He is also glad it will be on the online walking tour.

According to the National Park Service, many more sites in cities near River Falls are registered as historic places. For more information about historic sites in Wisconsin, go to www.nps.gov/nr/.