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  • Sydney Polakowski

History Of The Portage Lift Bridge

Updated: 4 days ago

The Houghton Portage Lift Bridge, an iconic structure in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, stands as a testament to the region's rich industrial history and its innovative engineering feats. This blog post delves into the captivating history of the Houghton Portage Lift Bridge, shedding light on its origins, purpose, and its ongoing significance as a vital link to Michigan's Copper Country.

The Houghton Portage Lift Bridge, often simply referred to as the Houghton Lift Bridge, spans the Portage Canal, connecting the cities of Houghton and Hancock in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula. The story of this impressive bridge begins in the late 19th century when copper mining was the lifeblood of the region. In those days, the Portage Canal was a key waterway used to transport copper and other goods from the mines to Lake Superior, and it was crossed by a wooden swing bridge.

However, as industrialization and mining activities continued to flourish in the region, it became clear that a more substantial and efficient structure was needed to replace the aging wooden bridge. Thus, the idea for a lift bridge was born.

In 1959, the Houghton Portage Lift Bridge was officially opened to the public. Designed by the American Bridge Company and constructed by Merritt-Chapman & Scott, the bridge was, and still is, a remarkable engineering marvel. Standing at a height of 100 feet, the bridge has a total length of 1,070 feet, making it the heaviest and widest double-deck lift bridge in the world at the time of its construction.

The most striking feature of the Houghton Lift Bridge is its massive counterweights. These counterweights, each weighing a staggering 9.5 million pounds, are what allow the bridge to lift and lower, providing clearance for vessels to pass underneath. The entire structure operates with the help of a system of gears, pulleys, and powerful electric motors, showcasing the innovative engineering expertise that went into its design.

The Houghton Portage Lift Bridge quickly became a symbol of progress and a vital link between the cities of Houghton and Hancock, affectionately known as "The Gateway to the Keweenaw." This impressive structure facilitated the transportation of not only copper but also people, goods, and services, contributing to the economic development of the region.

As copper mining gradually declined in the Keweenaw Peninsula, the bridge continued to play a pivotal role in connecting the two cities, supporting commerce, tourism, and education. It remains a daily lifeline for the residents, businesses, and students who traverse it.

The Houghton Portage Lift Bridge has also had its share of challenges. Over the years, it has undergone extensive maintenance, repairs, and upgrades to ensure its continued functionality and safety. Despite these challenges, the bridge endures as a symbol of the region's resilience and determination.

The Houghton Portage Lift Bridge is more than just a structural wonder; it is a testament to the history and spirit of Michigan's Copper Country. From its roots in the copper mining boom to its present-day role as a vital link between two communities, the bridge stands tall as a symbol of innovation and perseverance. As it continues to serve the Upper Peninsula, the Houghton Lift Bridge reminds us of the enduring power of human ingenuity in the face of change and adversity.

Portage Lift Bridge
The View of the Portage Lift Bridge from the Lodge Luxury Suites

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