Bob asks: “While walking Seven Bridges Road, I count eight stone bridges across Amity Creek. So, why isn’t it called Eight Bridges Road? There must be a reason. Is the upper bridge not counted, and, if so, why not? As a side note there are two more stone bridges across Amity Creek on a trail near the upper bridge.”
The answer, Bob, is a just little bit disjointed — much like the longer Skyline Parkway route to which Seven Bridges Road belongs.
As Skyline’s easternmost section, the road crisscrosses Amity Creek north of Lester Park, carried by its iconic bridges. But there never have been just seven (or eight) of them, as you correctly note.
Simply put, the very first bridge you cross heading north isn’t officially one of the seven. It was originally built in 1928 to connect Lester Park’s two carriageways, Occidental Boulevard, which still exists today, and Oriental Boulevard, which now remains only as a ski trail.
All of the bridges along Seven Bridges Road were rebuilt between 1996 and 2007, and only then was that first bridge — which the city quirkily refers to as “Bridge No. 0” — matched to the others.
But there’s more to the story. Why is Seven Bridges Road even there? Let’s have a history lesson.
In the 1880s and 1890s, today’s Skyline Parkway was slowly taking shape high above the city, thanks in large part to William K. Rogers, who had arrived in Duluth in about 1870 and soon dreamed of a parkway that crossed the city.
Rogers had already started some of this work on his own when, in 1889, Duluth’s new park board took up construction of what was unofficially called the Terrace Parkway. In 1894, the route was renamed Rogers Boulevard, a year after Rogers himself had died.
The park board oversaw a steady western expansion of the parkway as far as the upper part of Fairmount Park, near Thompson Hill, by 1913.
The board, however, made no plans to extend the parkway east of Chester Creek, and East Enders of the day weren’t happy about this. As Duluth historian Tony Dierckins of Zenith City Online wrote, to get to the parkway at Chester Creek, horses and buggies had to make the steep climb up Fifteenth Avenue East and Chester Park Drive, which put a strain on the animals.
Enter Samuel Snively, who decided to build an eastern parkway of his own.
In 1899, Snively, a property developer, investor and eventually mayor of Duluth, bought up land along Amity Creek and started work on a winding road from Lester Park to his farm about 2 ½ miles up the hill, Dierckins wrote.
In 1901, Snively Boulevard opened to public traffic, with nine wooden bridges carrying it over Amity Creek. But Snively struggled to maintain it, and with the bridges in disrepair, he approached the park board for financial help in 1909, essentially giving control over to the city.
The city hired a landscaping firm to design stone arch bridges to replace the old ones, made with stone from local quarries and topped with pink St. Cloud granite. The new roadway, rechristened Amity Parkway and later renamed Seven Bridges Road, opened in 1912.
Snively was elected mayor in 1921 and served four terms before losing re-election in 1937. His tenure saw the extension of Duluth’s scenic parkway west to Fond du Lac and the road to Jay Cooke State Park.
In 1929, he declared the parkway complete, and the News Tribune held a contest for a single name for the entire route. Six people suggested “Skyline Parkway,” and the name was adopted that August.
Snively died in 1952. Despite his successes, he never did find a perfect solution for Skyline’s route between Chester Creek and his own road farther east.
Today, the route wends around the University of Minnesota Duluth and up Woodland Avenue to the present Snively Road — part of a 1903 extension of his original road that once led all the way to the city’s Congdon Park neighborhood, according to biographer Mark Ryan.
Heading east, the Skyline name picks up again at Glenwood Street, past Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, before connecting to Seven Bridges Road.
Here’s where those two extra bridges come in, Bob.
When Skyline’s final Hawk Ridge section was finished in 1939 and connected to the Amity Creek stretch, it bypassed two of the stone bridges on Snively’s original road. The city more or less abandoned them, and today they’re only accessible on foot.
But maybe Sam Snively would be fine with that. The great irony, Ryan noted, is that Snively, storied road builder of Duluth, never himself learned to drive.
Adelie Bergstrom is a freelance columnist and a former News Tribune reporter. What do you wonder? Send in your questions! Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.