The Third Street Bridge
by Marvin Kusmierz (March 2004)
I miss the old Third Street Bridge, it's a shame that no one today will ever be able to enjoyed it as I did when I was a youngster. I hate to see significant historical structures disappear from the scene. Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary if we are to continue to make progress.
The Third Street Bridge spanned the Saginaw River connecting Third and Midland streets. The first bridge built at this spot was a "wood toll bridge". It was the county's first bridge and it connected West Bay City and Bay City which were separate communities at that time. Up until then, people needing to cross the river did so by boat or barge. I can only imagine how relieved and excited they must have been when the bridge opened and they were able to walk or ride by horse to other side. The wood bridge was replaced by an iron structure, and this is the one I recall.
My earliest memory of the bridge isn't a pleasant one at all. It was scary! I'm guessing it was around 1946-47 when I was only five or six years old and making my first trip over the bridge with my mother.
The bridge had a walkway for pedestrians on each side of the roadway. At the center of the bridge at its highest point above the water was a swing span section that opened whenever boats needed to pass through. It was a high bridge with a tall skeleton frame of iron that held everything together. It was an intimidating sight, at least to a youngster like me. I had never experienced anything of its kind and I was instinctively feared that it threaten to harm me.
Mom wasn't about to let me decide whether or not we were going to cross this iron monster. My resistance was met with a firm grip of my arm as she lead me up the approach to the bridge. The louder I cried and screamed didn't seem to slow our progress -- mom was dragging me by the time we made it onto the wood planks of the bridge's walkway. One look down, panic set in -- I could see the flow river far below through the huge gaps between each of the squeaking planks. The harder I resisted only increase the firmness of mom's hold on my arm as she dragged me the rest of the way. I cried harder and screamed even louder, "No... No!" Nothing I did discouraged mom one bit -- with her loving encouragement, and the struggle of my life-time, I finally made it safety to the other side. I survived -- I didn't fall into the river! Thanks to my loving mom, I met the challenge of my first experience with fearing death.
Bridges back in those days were use more often by pedestrians than is the custom today. Many people didn't own an automoble, instead they used a bus or walked to wherever they were going. My mother always took the bus whenever she wanted to go shopping downtown, and that was quite often since it was about the only shoping area back then. Of course, whenever she did to to town I was with her. That usually meant a long day of walking from one store to another. Mom always liked to hit all of the bargain or discount stores. Often didn't buy anthing. I think she just enjoyed getting out of the house -- talking to the store clerks and seeing people. Some of her favorite stores were places like Knepps, Mill End, Kresges, Merrits Shoes, Sears, and Pennys. If we made it over to the west side, we always stopped at Billings on the northeast corner of Henry and Midland. When we had a snack, it was at the counter of either Kresges or Cunningham's drug store. A real treat was catching a hotdog at the Red Lion or sandwich at the Spot restaurant. If mom needed meat, we made a final stop at Muellers Meat Market (Northside of Center, btwn. Water & Saginaw.) before heading home on the bus.
Once I was old enough, and had a bike to get around on my own -- I always went out of my way to take a trip over the Third Street Bridge whenever I was in that area. It was close to Surath's junkyard (Just north of the bridge on the west bank.) where my buddies and I often went treasure hunting. Whatever I brought home, mom would check -- what she didn't want or wouldn't let me keep, went back into the junk barrel to be returned to the junkyard. We were recycling junk long before it became the environmentally thing to do.
My childhood fears behind me, the Third Street Bridge became a place of excitement and fun for me when biking. Hitting those squeaky wood planks at high speed provided a much better motor sound than what could be achieved by typing rubber balloon or piece of cardboard to wheel frame so it could hit the whirling spokes. The roar made by the bikes wheels hitting the planks almost equalled the sound of the cars crossing the bridge along side of me. You had to pumped hard and fast going up the slope of the bridge, but onced you reached the peak of the bridge you could glide the rest of the way onto the paved sidewalk for a long way. If I had a few coins in my pocket, they were usually deposited at the St. Laurence candy store.
The biggest thrill was when the swing span opened to let boats and ships through. You could get right up to close and almost touch them as they made thier way through the open span, especially the large lake freighters. The best spot was actually being on the swing span itself. However, I never had the joy of this experience as it was well guarded by the bridge tender who always shouted me off before opening the span.
The bridge was a favorite spot of many for watching the boat races or taking in the fourth of July fireworks. It was the only bridge downtown at that time, and unless you got there early -- there wasn't any room left for a bridge view of these activities. Being a swing span bridge, it was much lower to the water surface than the Liberty or Memoral draw bridges that span the river today.