ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin




North Second Street Bridge

“The Cow Bridge”


1910 postcard of bridge replaced in 1950              WHS_PC_162




The Common Council held a special meeting, pursuant to the call of the Mayor, on October 8th, 1862.


The Mayor stated that the purpose for calling this special meeting was to advise with the council in regard to a suit brought against the city by C. Achtenhagen for the loss of his son who fell through the Second Street bridge and drowned, claiming damages to the amount of $2,000.


On motion of Ald. Fischer, the Mayor was directed to employ legal assistance to defend the suit.


The Mayor introduced the following resolution which was unanimously adopted:


Resolved, That the Committee on Streets and Bridges be and they are hereby directed to immediately examine the several bridges of the city across Rock River, and if in their opinion any of them are unsafe for travel they are directed to fence up the approaches to the same in a substantial manner and also remove one tier of stringers on each bridge in order to prevent foot travel.  Provided that any bridge which, in their opinion, can be made safe for twenty-five dollars, they shall order the same repaired.   WD




Common Council Proceedings:  Ald. Schatz introduced the petition of 183 inhabitants, praying that the City may expend towards erecting a bridge at the foot of Second Street, the sum of $500.00, provided the parties living there will finish the bridge.


RESOLVED, that the Committee of Highways and Bridges is hereby authorized to expend the sum of five hundred dollars towards erecting a Pile Bridge at the foot of Second Street, in the Sixth Ward, provided that the citizens interested in said bridge will finish the same, and before any sum shall be expended by said Committee, execute a bond to the City, to be approved by the Mayor, conditioned that if the City expends the sum of five hundred dollars on said bridge, they will bind themselves to finish said bridge in a good and substantial manner, and resolved further that orders be drawn on the City General Fund, in favor of Committee of Highways and Bridges, for the sum of $500, when such bond shall have been executed, approved and delivered to the Mayor.   WD



01 28       By Ald. Beckman:  Resolved, That the sum of __?__ hundred dollars be and the same is hereby appropriated out the city general fund, for and towards the building of the Second Street bridge across Rock River, and the Clerk is hereby directed to issue an order for the above amount at any time when the said bridge, being a one track bridge of fourteen feet wide (including one sidewalk of the width of four feet) is completed in a workman-like manner.  On motion of Ald. Dennis, laid over to the next meeting.


By Ald. Dennis:  Resolved, That the Alderman of the 6th Ward procure plans and specifications for Second Street bridge.  WD


03 31       Drowned – Last Tuesday forenoon, while working on the Second Street bridge, Mr. Henry Elling fell into the river and was drowned before he could be rescued.  His body was afterwards recovered.  He resided in the 6th ward, was about 40 years of age, and leaves a wife and child to mourn his sudden loss.   WD


04 14       By Alderman McHugh, estimate of work done by W. Steffen on Second Street bridge contract, amounting to $550, accompanied by the following resolution:  Resolved, That orders be issued on the city general fund in favor of W. Steffen, for four hundred dollars, payable January 1st, 1865.   WD






The Second Street Bridge was scheduled for replacement in 1950 when the council decided that the $112,962 bid for a new bridge was acceptable.


The new bridge was built of steel girders and concrete and had a sidewalk on both sides.  The old bridge has a walk only on the west side.


The need for a new bridge at North Second Street has been repeatedly cited by residents of the area who had several times petitioned for one.  The old structure has been posted against heavy loads for some years and the city's fire trucks could no longer travel over it because of the heavy load.  As a result, residents of the area north of the bridge did not have the fire protection they feel they are entitled to, since fire trucks had to travel either over the Silver Creek bridge or the North Fourth Street bridge to reach points north of the bridge area.




Preliminary work on the construction of the new North Second Street Bridge has begun, it was announced today at the office of City Manager Dean Van Ness.  The lowest bidder for the work was William E. Brinkman, Elmhurst, Ill., who has been awarded the contract.  His bid was $112,962.  It was accepted at the Feb. 21 meeting of the council.  Machinery and equipment for the construction of the bridge has been moved here and work will be underway from now on.  The bridge is still open to traffic, but it will be blocked as soon as required to get the new span underway.    WDT



Rock River Sea Monster, story of, seen from Second Street bridge.




City hopes to start receiving bids for the construction on the bridge some time in 2015, with construction starting that year and being completed in 2016.  The bridge replacement is estimated to cost $3.1 million with the city paying roughly $680,000.





The North Second Street bridge was closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic after a small portion of deck collapsed.  City officials said efforts will be made to ensure accessibility to area residents and businesses affected by this bridge closure.  The bridge was last reconstructed in 1950.





The City of Watertown is proposing improvements to the N. Second Street bridge over the Rock River.  This project is set to begin in fall of 2017, is included in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) 2016-2019 and will have partial funding by the Wisconsin DOT's Local Bridge Program 205.


The proposed improvements will begin on N. 2nd Street approximately 0.06 miles north of the N. 2nd Street Bridge.  It will extend south from the river crossing approximately 0.04 miles and will include one local street intersection and several residential driveway connections.  Although the existing bridge was built in 1950, it is not considered a historic structure and is therefore ineligible for the National Register.


The reasons for the N. Second Street bridge replacement are numerous.  The City of Watertown elected to post the bridge with a weight limit of 20 tons on 11/19/15 due to the deteriorating condition.  The four piers on the current structure are obstacles for debris, produce maintenance issues for the City of Watertown, and are a safety concern for recreational users.  The existing vertical profile of the bridge limits navigability by providing limited (less than 4-feet) clearance between the bridge and the water surface.  This creates an impediment for recreational users of the Rock River and forces boaters to duck and ensure canopies and other boat accessories are down before passing under the structure in order to clear the crossing.  On the drivable surface of the bridge, the clear roadway width on the existing structure only accommodates 12-ft travel lanes and less than 6-ft of sidewalk width outside of the curb. These narrow widths create a restricted feeling for users making this an undesirable route for pedestrians and bicyclists. The existing pavement condition of the roadway and sidewalk is also deteriorating which makes the surface unsafe.


The improvements for the replacement of the N. 2nd Street bridge will include:  A 3-span pre-stressed concrete girder bridge which reduces number of piers in the Rock River (minimizing maintenance and debris collection); a roadway which will include 12-ft travel lanes, 6-ft bike lanes and 8-ft sidewalks outside of the curb; increased navigable clearance under the structure for boat traffic; a shorter structure length eliminating the need for expansion joints which will reduce long term maintenance; improved sight distance for adjacent driveways; and street lighting as aesthetic enhancements.


N. 2nd Street will be closed for the duration of the project.  Demolition of the existing structure is anticipated to begin fall 2017.  Replacement of the crossing will begin in spring 2018 and completion is set for summer 2018.  A detour route will be posted for the duration of construction and will include Cady Street, Church Street, and Spaulding Street.  The total estimated cost of the proposed action is approximately $3,100,000 and a total project length of 0.15 miles.



North Second Street bridge was closed the week of February 26 due to structural concerns.  Concrete is falling off and there are additional issues.  The bridge was originally scheduled for closure late this summer for water main and sanitary work, shortly before its full reconstruction in fall.  The bridge will remain closed until construction is completed in July of 2018.  Until then citizens will have to choose a different route.




    Video clip      






Cross Reference:

“For a while in the latter half of the nineteenth century there was a belief that a specter haunted the center of the North Second Street bridge, known in Watertown as ‘the Cow Bridge.’  And people in the area were filled with fear at the prospect of having to travel across the bridge at night.  Though the specter hasn’t been seen in years, there are those living in Watertown today who claim that one of the houses located on the south end of the bridge is haunted.  It is said that strange lights have been seen coming from its windows.”    Wicked Watertown (WI): History You Weren't Supposed to Know, W.F. Jannke III (Author)




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History of Watertown, Wisconsin