The world’s shortest swinging bridge is just one of the “feathers” in Alanson’s “cap”!
The original swing bridge was built in 1901.
A manual key was used to turn the one-lane bridge from 1901 until the mid1960s. The newer version of the bridge now uses a hydraulic motor to turn.
The Inland Waterway spans 87 miles. In it’s earliest history, it was used for Native American routes then fur trading. When the railways reached Petoskey, they brought tourists and steamer ships took passengers along the Inland Waterway.
From the late 1800s until the building of the swing bridge in 1901, Alanson had what was called the “High Bridge”. This bridge was approximately 14′ tall, standing over the river. During the “High Bridge” years, ships passing along the Crooked River had to hinge back their stacks to be able to pass under the bridge. The popular S.S. Topinabee, a double decker passenger ship, had to move it’s pilot house. Cumbersome, indeed.
In 1968, the bridge was in desperate need for repair, see article below.
Just ten years later, in 1978, the bridge was again being discussed due to need for repairs.
Then again, in 1984…
There are different reports on the actual length of the swing bridge. In 1909, a report of the Inland Water Route between Cheboygan and Petoskey (Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army dated October 9th. 1909) noted that the Alanson Swing Bridge had a span of just 22.3 feet. This may be where the bridge got it’s reputation as the “World’s Shortest Swing Bridge”. Other reports have the bridge at 53 ft. (above). Perhaps, this is due to the new construction or just poor data. Many of today’s reports have the bridge at 64ft.
The Songo Lock Bridge in Maine may actually be shorter than the purported “World’s Shortest Swing Bridge” in Alanson at 60 ft. compared to Alanson’s 64 ft. (latest figures) but they were both built the same year, 1901. The Songo Bridge is still manually cranked, see video here.
So, the Alanson bridge may not actually be the “World’s Shortest” or even America’s shortest but it is still significant in that it is one of very few of its type. Though it has had issues throughout the years, it remains a wonderful gem in Northern Michigan and piece of our history that for the foreseeable future will continue on.
See video here of the bridge from the water (Note, the boathouses fell into the river after a heavy spring snow in 2014 and the pizza shop was torn down and has not yet been rebuilt).