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Rainy River-Baudette bridge turns 50!

10,000 attend the official opening on July 30, 1960
It was more than 40 years in the making, and last Friday marked the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Rainy River-Baudette International car bridge.
It was nearly built in the early 1930s when a concrete abutment was poured on the US side of the Rainy River. But the hard economic times of the Great Depression put a kibosh on that project. No one at that time would imagine that it would take another 28 years for a bridge to become a reality.
In 1950 the US senate passed legislation authorizing the construction of a toll bridge between Baudette and Rainy River.
Efforts spearheaded by T. H. Rowell, of Baudette, on both sides of the border, would move forward over the next decade. In 1956 the Rainy River and District Chamber of Commerce borrowed $1,885 from a private source to pay Rainy River’s share of the architectural preliminary report and survey of the bridge project. A little over a year later in April of 1957 the bridge loan was approved.
Baudette held the title to the $1.4 million bridge. Of that total 10% was raised through the sale of bonds to citizens in Baudette, Rainy River and other parts of Minnesota and North Dakota.
That was required before the US federal government’s home and housing finance agency would agree to buy the remainder of the bonds.
Also approved in April of 1957 was $90,000 towards approach cost on the Canadian Side by the Ontario Government. They would eventually spend an approximate total of $400,000 on the approach.
President Eisenhower also signed the federal bill to extend the international bridge in 1957.
In 1958 Rainy River Town Council sold the land for the Canadian approach to the Ontario Government for $700.
The general contractor for construction of the bridge was Barnett-McQueen Ltd. of Fort William, Ont. Construction began later that year. It did incorporate the original abutment poured in 1932 and perhaps that is why the abutment had to be repaired about ten years ago when the bridge was closed for about a week.
Work on the customs buildings began in October of 1959. Both buildings would serve for more than two decades. The Rainy River structure was replaced in 1990-91.
The original building was moved to the east end of town where it served as a laundromat and a restaurant for a time.
The US customs building was replaced in 1996-97. The old building was demolished.
The official opening of the bridge was held July 30, 1960 and estimates put the crowd at 10,000.
Many politicians and dignitaries attended as did media from major centers. Radio stations wanted sound effects for the event so instead of cutting the ribbon it was blown up using dynamite caps. T. H. Rowell gave the order to detonate at exactly 2:39 p.m. synchronized with a flyby of an F106 fighter jet from Duluth.
Witnesses said the plane flew so low that some ducked! The rope used for the ribbon was from the retired ferry service that used to take autos across the border for decades.
The very first vehicles to cross the bridge were the Shriners Motorcycle Brigade from Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Over the years the bridge saw increased traffic and once the Causeway bridge east of Fort Frances was completed it formed a vital link between east and west.
A toll was collected by Baudette for nearly 30 years with the money going to pay off the bridge bonds.
Once it was paid off Baudette collected it for a couple more years to build a fund to maintain the bridge. Then on Dec. 31, 1988 at 10 p.m. the last toll paying customer, Dorion Ozykowski of Rainy River passed through the crossing.
Baudette said it would turn over the bridge to government ownership providing it remained a toll free bridge. However, the federal government of Canada did not want to take ownership of it as they had no facilities in the region to conduct maintenance.
Eventually the feds agreed to fund the maintenance of the Canadian side as long as Ontario did the work. That would take several years. Now it is co-maintained by Ontario and Minnesota.
Recently Minnesota inspected all bridges in the state and said the international bridge between Baudette and Rainy River will need to be replaced around 2015.
The bridge is not only a conduit for tourist traffic. It provides a vital link between two communities that share sports teams, venues and many other social activities.