Q: I have lived in the vicinity of the Kern Bridge for years. It was commonly known as the Jaeger Bridge. My question or thoughts are, “Why can it not be relocated at the same location after the necessary repairs, etc. are made?” It is close to the railroad trestle, the new county/city park and the Red Jacket Trail, plus it’s the original location.
A: A bit of background. The 188-foot Kern Bridge, which spans the Le Sueur River southwest of Mankato, is the longest remaining bowstring arch bridge in the United States. Built in 1873, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. But the bridge has been closed to traffic since 1991, and the two townships that share ownership spent a quarter-century unsuccessfully trying to find someone willing to dismantle and reassemble it elsewhere.
Finding no takers and concerned about liability, the townships’ boards of supervisors voted last year to dismantle and scrap it. Coming to the bridge’s rescue were officials in the Mankato regional office of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, who successfully applied for $340,000 in funding to dismantle and store the bridge for up to a decade in hopes that a new owner will step forward with $1.2 million to reassemble it as a pedestrian or bike-trail bridge.
So, to the reader’s question about returning the bridge to its original home after repairs are made, there are several problems with the idea, said Blue Earth County Public Works Director Ryan Thilges, whose department has accepted the assignment of overseeing the bridge’s removal and disassembly.
There were no plans by Blue Earth County, even long term, to add a side trail off the nearby Red Jacket Trail to that area. That’s because when the townships shut down the bridge, the portion of the township road just west of the span was sold and a house was built there. That private home at the foot of the bridge precludes adding a trail through the area.
Which leaves only the possibility of creating a historic site that visitors could access from the east. In theory, they could view the bridge and walk on it, which might be nice. But it would also be a very costly historic site and it would likely have been Blue Earth County taxpayers singlehandedly shouldering all of the costs. Transportation funding from federal and state sources would almost certainly require that bridge-repair funding be used only for a bridge that actually allows people to move from one place to another, Thilges said.
“When there’s no transportation purpose, that significantly inhibits any funding we could get for restoration of the bridge,” he said. “... It would be a very expensive project.”
Q: It would be interesting to know if the Kern Bridge is related to the Kern Village in North Mankato, established in 1853. Then the bridge would be on the same road that went to that village (old Nicollet County Road 6).
A: Yep, two Kern Bridge questions were received following a Free Press story earlier this year about the efforts to save the structure. Ask Us Guy couldn’t find any explanation for why the wrought-iron bridge was called the Kern Bridge. Also known as the Jaeger Bridge, it is on the National Register of Historic Places — but the 1980 application for inclusion on the register didn’t provide any background on the name.
Ask Us Guy did find a map of Blue Earth County from 1874 that doesn’t use either name, instead describing the then-new bridge as “Iron Bridge.”
There is a slight difference between the name attached to the bridge and to the historic village that’s now a neighborhood on North Mankato’s west side.
“It was ‘Kerns’ with an ‘s’,” retired North Mankato City Administrator Wendell Sande said of the village that was on old Nicollet County Road 6.
Ask Us Guy called Sande for the answer to a different question a couple of weeks back and decided to toss the Kern Bridge/Kerns Village question his way. Sande couldn’t think of any connection between the bridge and the village.
“I don’t believe the two are related,” Sande said, while cautioning that both the village and the bridge were constructed slightly before he began his long tenure as North Mankato’s finance director and city administrator.
As the reader referenced, primitive frontier roads were often originally named for where they led. Examples include Nicollet County’s Fort Road and its Judson Bottom Road. That 1874 map shows the “Iron Bridge” road connecting to the south to a road leading to Rapidan. To the north, the road went along the western shore of Indian Lake and continued north toward Mankato, joining the road that would later become known as Minnesota Highway 66 about a mile south of west Mankato.
So it’s hard to figure why the road crossing the Le Sueur River southwest of Mankato would have been seen as leading to Kerns Village rather than leading to Mankato or to Rapidan. Anyone using the road to get to Kerns Village would have hit Mankato on the way and then would have needed to cross the Minnesota River before climbing the bluff to Kerns Village. (Sande noted there was a ferry crossing where Sibley Park is now, so that would have been an option to get to Kerns Village.)
That’s all Ask Us Guy’s got on this one. Because it isn’t a very satisfactory answer, he feels obligated to provide one bit of unrelated information as a consolation prize. On that 1874 map, published by A.T. Andreas of Chicago, the tourist stop just west of Mankato was listed as “Minnie-innie-opa Falls.”
Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org; put Ask Us in the subject line.