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Fairview Lift Bridge


Fifty years ago the National Historic Preservation Act was created to help preserve the diverse archaeological and architectural treasures of America, and today’s Datebook considers another North Dakota example, the Fairview Lift Bridge.

By the turn of the Twentieth Century, the Northern Pacific and the Great Northern Railroads had transcontinental lines running across the state, but there remained areas that lacked rail service. Rail lines sought to link these communities, but the area comprising McKenzie and Dunn Counties, north of Dickinson and south of Williston, was proving difficult to access. For the Northern Pacific, running a line from the south meant crossing almost one hundred miles of the Bad Lands with its rugged, nearly impassable terrain. For the Great Northern, serving the area with a large bridge over the Missouri River would be a costly endeavor. The sparsely-populated region promised too small a return on the investment. However, by crossing the Missouri and the Yellowstone above the confluence of those rivers, two smaller bridges would mean a much lower cost.

On this date in 1913, construction had begun on the Fairview Lift Bridge across the Yellowstone. At 1,320 feet in length, the bridge consists of solid concrete piers encased in steel, topped by spans 271 feet long. Steel trusses support the spans. Two 108-foot steel towers stand at each end of the span above the main river channel. These towers contain counterweights equal to the weight of the deck, designed to let the span lift for riverboat traffic.

A tunnel of approximately 1,500 feet runs through a ridge east of the bridge. Due to the nature of the soil, most of this was dug by hand and then lined with timber. The Cartwright tunnel is the only significant railroad tunnel in North Dakota. It eliminated an open cut that would have readily filled with snow during the winter.

A bridge of similar design was constructed at Snowden, Montana across the Missouri River connecting the line to the main trunk of the Great Northern.

Ironically, the lift feature of the bridge, required under federal code, was never used, except once, in a test. It seems the railroad all but eliminated the need for riverboats. Although not in use today, the bridge and tunnel remain as unique symbols of the railroad influence in our history.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


National Register of Historic Places Registration Form-North Dakota, Fairview Lift Bridge: March 14, 1997

Bismarck Daily Tribune, March 20, 1914

Ward County Independent September 18, 1913