Betty Wulf had no plans to be in Stillwater on Aug. 2 when the new bridge over the St. Croix River was opened to traffic.
Been there and done that, the Forest Lake woman said. Bridge dedications in Stillwater are old hat for Wulf, and she can be excused for missing this dedication. At four months shy of her 101st birthday, Wulf is perfectly content to watch television news coverage of the bridge opening.
A longtime resident of the St. Croix River Valley on both sides of the river, Wulf grew up enjoying life in the valley. She was not yet 15 when the Stillwater Lift Bridge was completed and dedicated on July 1, 1931.
She remembers the excitement in the valley as the day drew closer when the lift bridge would be open to traffic. When an uncle, Theodore, made plans to attend the dedication, Betty, a sister and a number of other youngsters from Somerset, Wisconsin, piled in the uncle’s van. They were part of the 15,000 spectators on hand for the dedication, according to a story published in the Stillwater Gazette.
“That was a big deal at the time,” Wulf said, recalling that day of 86 years ago. “There was nothing more exciting than that.”
It was a festive day, for sure. According to a Gazette story, Gov. Floyd B. Olson led the Minnesota delegation. They were escorted to the center of the lift bridge by the Stillwater band where they met with a Wisconsin delegation led by the New Richmond band.
After the ribbon was cut, the two delegations made their way to Lowell Park in Stillwater where the celebration continued. As the lift bridge was hoisted for the first time officially, a yacht owned by the Mayo Brothers of Rochester passed beneath carrying the St. Paul Police Band.
In the 86 years since the lift bridge opened, it has served its purpose but overstayed its welcome to downtown business owners in Stillwater, who for years have endured clogged streets as motorists snaked their way to and from the bridge. When the drawbridge would be lifted to allow boat traffic, downtown streets became a parking lot. The new bridge was decades in the debate and construction process but is expected to be a big bonus for Stillwater businesses.
Wulf can remember her frequent trips to Stillwater as a kid growing up in Somerset. She was one of 13 classmates to graduate from Somerset High School in 1935.
The lift bridge greatly improved the ability of residents on both sides of the river to move east and west. It replaced an old wooden structure built in 1876. The wooden bridge contained a pontoon section in the middle that would swing open to allow the rafts of logs to pass through during the peak of the lumbering era.
Wulf can’t recall for certain how she traveled to Stillwater that day with her uncle. They may have taken the wooden bridge or driven north to a ferry landing that moved cars and people to a ferry landing in Marine on St. Croix.
The Stillwater Lift Bridge would serve as the most modern St. Croix River crossing in northern Washington County and southern Chisago County for more than two decades. The bridge from Franconia Township to Osceola, Wisconsin, was built in 1953. The bridge from St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, to Taylors Falls was opened two years later.
Wulf is among those who say they won’t miss the lift bridge as a route for cars and trucks.
“They’ve talked about a new bridge for years and years,” she said. “The lift bridge was a nuisance.”
In her 100 years plus, Wulf has not strayed too far from the St. Croix. She married Herb Wulf, of Somerset. He was a longtime employee of Northern States Power Company. They lived in Forest Lake from 1955 until his retirement in 1977, when they returned to Somerset. Their only child, Jean, is a 1964 Forest Lake graduate. During her years in Forest Lake, Wulf worked for School District 831 in the food service department.
After her husband’s death in 1984, Wulf lived in Wisconsin until 2011, when she moved to Minnesota to be closer to a sister, Polly. Polly’s passing three years ago led Wulf to relocate to an assisted living facility in Forest Lake. She now looks forward to her 101st birthday on Nov. 26.
As for the lift bridge, the opening of the new bridge meant the old bridge would be closed to vehicle traffic. For the next 18 months, the old bridge is slated for rehab and conversion to bicycle and pedestrian use only. It will eventually become part of a 5-mile loop on both sides of the river connecting the new river crossing bridge with the historic lift bridge.
The lift bridge will continue to accommodate boat navigation during construction and rehab.