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Across the Bridge


Around this time in the fall of 1914, new Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel opened for traffic. The Great Northern Railway had begun construction in 1912 as part of its Montana Eastern Railway, a line that was never finished.

The lift bridge spans the Yellowstone River south of its confluence with the Missouri – between Fairview, Montana and Cartwright, North Dakota. The bridge is a quarter-mile long. Its lift span was raised only once, in 1914, just after steamboat traffic stopped on the Yellowstone. The bridge was never raised again, but its lift apparatus tested successfully over 80 years later.

The Cartwright Tunnel was dug with hand tools, horse- and mule-driven scrapers, and a little help from blasting powder. It is the only tunnel in North Dakota, and it stretches over a quarter-mile.

For 40 years, trains and automobiles shared the narrow bridge and tunnel. Phones were installed for use by motorists and a watchman whose job was to alert motorists to oncoming traffic. No trains were ever involved in the accidents that happened, and no deaths occurred.

Automobile traffic stopped using the bridge in 1955, and passenger trains stopped the following year. Thirty years later, the last freight train crossed.

Car and train traffic also shared the Snowden Lift Bridge upriver in Montana. A study years later called that bridge “so dangerous that it was safe,” since drivers used extreme caution when crossing.

In 1997, the lift Fairview bridge and Cartwright tunnel joined the National Register for Historic Places for their historical and architectural features. Soon after, the Fairview, Montana chamber of commerce turned the structures into a walking trail. It starts at a parking lot on the river’s west bank, crosses the bridge, goes through the tunnel and exits on private land. The trail is a mile long to and from the tunnel’s east end, and is free to walk.

Well used in its day, the Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel now have a new purpose a century after construction.

Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura