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Missoula's historic Higgins Avenue Bridge begins construction

Higgins Street Bridge
Posted at 5:07 PM, Oct 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-05 13:29:39-04

The Higgins Avenue Bridge in Missoula has undergone a lot of facelifts, and is about to start construction again.

Local history buff and photograph collector Stan Cohen knows all about the Higgins Avenue Bridge.

“It’s been a very interesting four bridges through the years. It was the only bridge across the river for quite a while," said Cohen.

This is what it looks like today.

But in the early 1800s, settlers first started building on Missoula's North side.

"If you wanted to get to the other side, you had to go by boat. Or, not swim across, but the Clark Fork River is not that deep, I’m sure you could float a boat across, and I’m sure that’s how they had to get across, although there was nothing much on the other side of the river at that time.”

By 1873, the first edition of the Higgins bridge was built, and then rebuilt in 1893.

In the early days in Missoula- there was a lot going on.

But in 1908, a flood washed the bridge away.

Cohen says this archway over the Madison Street footbridge is "where people go to cross over to go to the University and the football games," is a portion of the Higgins bridge from after that wipe out.

"Here's your spans, I dont know if it's this one or this one," said Cohen.

On Higgins-they built a temporary swinging bridge.

“But it really was not sufficient to get much material or anything from North to South or South to North," said Cohen.

Hellgate High School even delayed it’s opening for two months, because it could not get building supplies across the river.

“Because of economy, they cut the width of it down. There were starting to be cars. The trolley was going, and it was built too narrow even at that time. You had cars, and you had horse and wagons, and you had some congestion right there at the entrance at the Wilma theater," said Cohen, "I’m sure people were very happy when we decided to get rid of that and build a new bridge which we have today. And apparently the bridge today is even too narrow.”

So in 1909, they built yet another bridge.

Cohen, who’s lived in Missoula for decades, remembers driving across that one.

“We crossed that bridge quite a bit. But we never thought about how old it was or anything, it was just a bridge to get from North to South, to South to North," said Cohen.

In the late 50’s they decided they needed a better bridge, so in 1962 they built what is now the Higgins Avenue Bridge, but when they built it, they had to change the whole course of the Clark Fork River, which at one point was called the Missoula River.

Before Cara's Park was built, the Clark Fork River actually came up a lot closer to the Wilma.

"This is a neat one, because this is the current bridge that was built in 1962, where they hadn't filled in the middle. It's concrete I guess," said Cohen.

And that concrete is holding up-at least until they start rebuilding again on Monday.