Committee selects new owner of historic bow-string arch Kern Bridge
MANKATO, Minn. — A steering committee has selected the city of Mankato as the new owner of the historic Kern Bridge. Mankato will receive federal funding (80 percent of cost) to relocate and rehabilitate the historic bow-string arch bridge that traversed the Le Sueur River from 1873 to 2020 in Blue Earth County.
Mankato’s winning plan is to place the Kern Bridge less than five miles downstream from the original site over the Blue Earth River, connecting Land of Memories Park to Sibley Park, fulfilling a strong need identified in the Minnesota River State Trail Master Plan as well as other local and regional trail plans.
After eight initially interested parties, Mankato completed against three other Minnesota agencies (Fergus Falls, Sherburn County and Watonwan County) for ownership. The criteria that was used to evaluate the four competing proposals included consideration that the proposed rehabilitation would meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and be relisted on the National Register of Historic Places; its proposed location/setting; connection with existing trail systems; how much the bridge would be used and viewed; perceived risks in deliverability; and commitment to future maintenance. The applicant’s project team, support and planned funding sources were also important factors in the selection process.
Although Mankato is urban, the future setting is wooded, crosses a large river and is a similar context to the original site. The Kern Bridge will become an asset to the existing trail system and many users are anticipated, area residents as well as visitors. The bridge will be seen from the north via a scenic overlook and from the south via Highway 60/169. Though the proposal included use of extensive approach spans to meet the river’s width, the choice of a streamlined and minimal in appearance girder will allow the arch to be most visually present, an important consideration in re-listing the bridge.
The Mankato project team includes an engineering firm and historian group with historic bridge rehabilitation experience, demonstrated the ability to deliver a successful project. Blue Earth County, who partnered with MnDOT to save the bridge, fully supports Mankato’s plan as the Kern Bridge carries much cultural significance in this area.
Fergus Falls was a promising contender for the historic bridge and the city presented an excellent application with clear local support and interest. The project team was well versed in historic bridge rehabilitation and presented a way to utilize the full width of the bridge, which would be keeping with the SOI Standards. Ultimately, the proposal fell slightly below that of the City of Mankato due to the urban setting, surrounding context, and its location furthest from the original bridge site.
Sherburn County proposed a wooded site carrying a trail system that linked existing parks and schools. Though the application demonstrated a clear need and support, it lacked key pieces of information that would have provided the committee with additional knowledge of how the rehabilitation would meet SOI Standards and be relisted on the National Register of Historic Places.
Finally, Watonwan County proposed a rural setting for the Kern Bridge adjacent to a state highway, just outside of its former location. As proposed, very little modification of the bridge was needed, making the potential to relist the bridge on the National Register of Historic Places. However, the bridge would connect to a future trail system that was not yet developed, making the deliverability of the project less strong than other candidates.
“All the applicants certainly worked hard and presented proposals that would have provided a good home to this important piece of Minnesota’s transportation heritage,” exclaimed historian Katie Haun Schuring, who serves on the selection task force.
The Kern Bridge holds the distinction of being one of the oldest bridges in Minnesota, is made from a rare material (wrought iron), and of a rare type. It is the only bow-string arch bridge in Minnesota and is the longest of its type in the nation at 189 feet. The bridge was removed, carefully dismantled, and loaded into sealed containers last winter.
More information including photos and a video are posted at mndot.gov/historicbridges/L5669.html and mndot.gov/historicbridges/available-bridges.html. Or by contacting District State Aid Engineer Lisa Bigham at 507-304-6105 firstname.lastname@example.org or Historian Katie Haun Schuring at 651-366-3603 email@example.com.