November 22, 2022 at 4:16 p.m.
New Melrose bridge celebrated with ribbon cutting, dedication, history lesson
“It’s been a long seven, eight years,” Melrose Mayor Joe Finken said Nov. 17 in the Melrose council chambers at Melrose City Center during a reception following the ribbon cutting and dedication of the new Edwin Clark Memorial Bridge in Melrose, which opened Nov. 4.
Stearns County Engineer Jodi Teich held up both of her hands, indicating to Finken that reconstruction of this $3,173,430.79 county bridge was at least 10 years in the making, involving many entities and led by the county.
There were four speakers during the 30-minute program.
Stearns County Commissioner Steve Notch said he has been a commissioner nine going on 10 years and when he started this bridge was one of his first District 5 projects.
“It’s a good addition to Melrose and was a good cooperative effort between the city and the county to get it designed so it works for Melrose and the county for many years,” he said. “WSB was the engineer and Landwehr was the main contractor, and Jodi (Teich) and everybody got it done on the timeline recommended.”
He thanked Melrose businesses, residents and school bus drivers for their patience during the almost year-long old bridge demolition and new bridge construction.
Earth Evans, WSB director of water resources, said she was proud to be standing here and for WSB to be part of the project that finally came to fruition.
“It took a long time to get to this point with a bunch of challenges along the way, and it turned out to be a great product,” she said also singling out the Department of Natural Resources for their efforts and “a lot of other partners along the way.”
The most interesting speaker was Melrose Area Historical Society President Roger Paschke, who talked about Edwin Clark, considered the Father of Melrose, who the bridge was dedicated to.
When Clark came to Melrose there was no commerce in town, Paschke said.
“He wanted to build up the community,” he said.
Clark’s cousin, Ben, ran a small grinding business in Melrose five years before Clark. Edwin Clark built his own mill by the dam, and Earl’s Bar used to be the mill’s office.
“Ben probably operated it for a short time, while Edwin did the publicity, book work, financing and general management,” Paschke said.
Clark also had a cooper shop to make barrels for shipping his flour, just west of the mill, employing 14 workers.
Clark encouraged area farmers to bring wheat to his mill for grinding, and he got paid for grinding their wheat.
“He drummed up more business by getting the U.S. Army to buy his flour for feeding the troops, and he made a ton of money,” Paschke said.
Clark built the first lumberyard, first little store and the brick block, known as the 400 block, a portion which burned six years ago.
“There were lawyers, doctors, dentists in offices above (in the brick block buildings),” Paschke said.
In 1872, Clark brought the railroad to Melrose, which helped to make it a bustling town.
“That brought shipping, people and businesses started here. It also brought a lot of workers,” Paschke said. “He and his cousin plotted all the streets and avenues. They named these streets, and the street we are on here at one time was Clark Street. He did everything to make this a wonderful place.”
Clark built what Paschke called a beautiful house.
“And you’re sitting in it right here,” he said.
Well, not really the same structure. Clark’s house later became the Melrose Hospital and the city purchased the building for their offices, and in 1990 it was torn down and the Melrose City Center was built.
“One reason we wanted to memorialize Clark was everything he’s built is not here anymore,” Paschke said. “It’s a great honor, and I don’t think he will be forgotten.”
It was fitting the dedication was Nov. 17.
Mayor Finken said city planner Sheila Hellermann, researching Edwin Clark, discovered Nov. 17 was the anniversary of the date Clark first purchased land along the Sauk River in Melrose.
Finken said in his eyes this bridge project is perfect.
“It is well lit, nice sidewalks, and it complements the city well,” he said.
Finken said the bridge portion of the project took a lot of brainstorming. Known as the River, Bridge, Dam project, it also included realignment of the Sauk River and dam work.
“When Tony (councilor Klasen) said we should shift the river, I said, ‘What?’ But I’m glad we looked into it. It was a good decision because it benefits our community.”
Later, Councilor Klasen credited his father, Micky, who was on the city council in the 1990s, with the idea of moving the bridge to the north, if it ever needed to be replaced.
“I was just the squeaky wheel. It was my dad’s idea,” he said.
Finken thanked county staff, Teich, Notch and Mike Decker, assistant county engineer, who is a Melrose High School graduate, for their patience. His list of people and entities to thank was long, and included Mike Brethorst, former city administrator who returned to town for the ceremony; current City Administrator Colleen Winter; and council members, who over the 10 years had been involved, including Dick Christenson who was present.
“It’s a great project, and it’s gonna serve the city well for years,” Finken said.
Paschke piped in, “You forgot one person – you.” That made Finken smile, knowing it took many people to build this bridge, physically, literally and mentally.