Blue River Bridge Collapse of 1947

A truck loaded with tobacco falls into the Wisconsin River from the bridge over the south channel of the Wisconsin River near Blue River. Photo from Jack Kinney.

Bridges play a vital role in connecting residents to communities in the river valley. Without a bridge, a community would likely not be able to survive. In 1947, the middle span of the Blue River bridge (County Highway T) failed, sending a tobacco trunk into the water. The bridge was built in 1904. Jack Kinney, was a junior in high school at the time and remembers the day that the bridge failed and what happened afterwards.


“It was in the spring of 1947. I was a junior in High School and I was sitting in the back of the school bus watching out of the back window. We were going (driving) off of the bridge on the middle bridge which was called the Tiger at that time (south channel).”

“This tobacco semi was following us, but we weren’t off the bridge too far and he got to the middle of the bridge and the whole span just dropped right out. His front wheels hung on some steel on one of the bridge abutments. So he was still in there but the trailer just went right down the stream and all this tobacco was laying in the water. He was bringing the load of tobacco to the warehouse here (tobacco warehouse in Blue River) to be processed. He was coming from (Highway) 60 toward Blue River.”

“We were coming to school and I saw this thing fall and we hollered at the bus driver that the bridge fell in and we just went across. The bus driver just looked up in the mirror and said ‘guess it did’ and kept right on going. He didn’t stop, but when he got to town why he went in and called the principal and they called somebody. Then I remember the balance of my junior year in school we had either to go to Boscobel or to Muscoda to get to Blue River to cross the river  because there was no other way.”

“But later on in the summer they got a pontoon bridge built across, a floating bridge, and then we were able to go one car at a time over it.”

It took until 1958 until a new bridge was built at Blue River and that took a lot of effort on the part of local and state politicians. There was a big bridge dedication when the bridge was completed. Kinney had some feelings about that too.

“I recall one thing that I was upset about. When we went to get the new bridge, we had several meetings with area townships and the village and we got it all worked out with the assemblymen and senators and the governor. (Governor Vernon) Thompson called a special session of the legislature just to build this bridge and it was passed unanimously and if it hadn’t been for Governor Thompson, who came from Richland Center, it would have been a hard time getting a bridge there. They would have just as soon closed this town down. That was their attitude at the time. But he didn’t think we should and so he helped get the bridge and they provided the funds from the townships and the counties, Grant county and Richland county along with the state. They worked out how to pay for it and everything.”

“What I want to say about Vernon Thompson. We had a bridge dedication and he was here and it was just before an election, a state election and he was running for governor. And the thing that upset me the most is that he lost the election in Blue River. He also lost it statewide. That’s the year that Gaylord Nelson became governor who beat Thompson. But I felt that the Blue River people at that time were very unappreciative of what somebody had done for them. I think that was wrong. They went way out of their way to do it and to get everybody together  and pass the funds and up to this point as far as I’m concerned we had one of the best bridges on the Wisconsin River.”

In 1989, when this interview was conducted, Muscoda was still using a bridge built in 1929. That bridge was scheduled for replacement the next year. The Boscobel Bridge was built in 1936 and wouldn’t be replaced until 2000. The old tobacco warehouse at Blue River was demolished in 2019.

John M. “Jack” Kinney was interviewed during the summer of 1989 at his farm in Blue River, Wisconsin where he lived most of his life. He was born April 27, 1930 and died Jan. 2, 2017.

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