Growing up here in the 1980s, cruising was an every-weekend adventure. Of course, “cruising” in Duluth meant driving Skyline Parkway from one end to the other, radio turned up loud, laughing and talking and stopping to watch “submarine races” in the bay. Thus began my interest in Seven Bridges Road.
The eastern entrance to Skyline Parkway begins at Lester Park. Turn north on Occidental Boulevard from Superior Street, and just follow Amity Creek.
There’s a persistent rumor that the Eagles’ 1980 song “Seven Bridges Road” is about this four-mile gouge in the hillside, carved out during the last Ice Age. The song isn’t about Duluth, but wouldn’t it be awesome if it were?
Another rumor has the Army Corps of Engineers building the bridges as a Works Progress Administration project during the Depression. While this is true of a later portion of the road, most of the bridges were originally built with timber in 1899—the brain-child of Samuel Snively, a Philadelphia lawyer who would go on to be elected Duluth’s 25th and longest-serving mayor.
Photo by Jackie Bartosh
Seven Bridges Road was the vision of one man—but he wasn’t Glenn Frey.
In fact, it was originally called Snively’s Road, because he owned a 400-acre farm at the top of it. In 1899, Snively donated 60 acres of his land and gained right-of-way from the City to build his magnificent road, crisscrossing Amity Creek in 10 places. In the end, it cost more than $12,000—nearly $350,000 in today’s dollars—half of which Snively paid out of his own pocket.
He donated the finished product to the City, but within a decade, the bridges had fallen apart. The City turned the road over to the Parks Board, which brought a landscaper up from Minneapolis to construct the original 10 bridges (yes, 10; we’re getting to that) out of dark basalt and pink opal granite from a quarry near St. Cloud. The Parks Board rerouted the road and renamed it Amity Parkway.
In 1921, Snively was elected mayor, in part on a platform to connect all of Duluth’s boulevards, and he was finally able to route his road as he had originally planned, connecting it across Hawk Ridge to what was known then as “The Boulevard.” (Skyline Parkway was originally called Rogers Boulevard, but the name never stuck. It took two contests hosted by the Duluth Herald in 1910 and the News-Tribune in 1929 before “Skyline Parkway” edged out other name suggestions, like “Kitchi Gammi Drive” and “Zenith Promenade.”)
By 1939, the Hawk Ridge extension—which actually was a part of the Works Progress Administration—was complete, having removed two of the bridges from the route, at which point it was renamed Seven Bridges Road. (Yes, there were still eight bridges; we’re getting to that.)
From 1996 to 2007, the City did a major restoration of the bridges. At that time, one was added to connect Seven Bridges Road to Skyline Parkway, but the very first bridge north of Superior Street, originally built in 1928 to connect two carriageways that ran along opposite banks of the Lester River, has never been considered one of the seven.
Besides, “Eight Bridges Road” or “Ten Bridges Road” would have totally messed up the Eagles’ song.