Mar 2, 2005

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Clipson Mill and Bridge
to Douglas ca 1898

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Blue Star Highway Bridge
Approach Construction 1936


The history of crossing the Kalamazoo River is a three part story. The story begins in the 1830s with an every man for himself ferry service utilizing canoes and boats.  Twenty years later there is evidence of an early swing or draw bridge that was located where the ferry crosses today. In 1857 the bridge collapsed and was replaced by a village franchised ferry service that still exists in foot traffic form. 

As Douglas and the surrounding fruit farms grew to the south, a better way to cross the river was needed.  But the area topography and the volume of boat traffic below the villages presented a considerable challenge. The solution was a low bridge-causeway-drawbridge which was constructed for $5000 in the fall of 1870.  It is visible in the 1874 panorama and in the left photo. In 1901 this crossing was rebuilt with a higher steel truss bridge on the Saugatuck side and a swing bridge on the Douglas shore.

This arrangement remained in use until 1936 when U. S. 31 was re-routed to become the present-day Blue Star Highway. The highway required the building of a new bridge and the construction of a huge earthen approach across the Clipson Bayou. Much of the material for that work was secured from a very large and low island that lay just offshore at the end of Griffith St. A large sand-sucking dredge was used to pump the material from Kalamazoo Lake to the causeway area.  The right photo is interesting in that it shows the causeway under construction, the dredge, the old steel truss portion of the 1901 bridge and the back side of the Twin Gables B & B.    By Jack Sheridan

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