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CN - Wolf River Lift Bridge


Photos of the bridge before conversion.

These documents were taken from the public Environmental Impact Statement.

Photo taken by Robert Thompson


BH Photo #216925


During the summer of 2003, the swing bridge experienced a catastrophic mechanical casualty which left the swing mechanism inoperable. Canadian National Railroad (Wisconsin Central Ltd.) modified the Gill’s Landing Railroad Bridge across the Wolf River from a swing bridge to a vertical lift bridge. The modification to the Gill’s Landing Railroad Bridge removed the center pivot swing span machinery and manually operated equipment used in swinging the span. The existing center pivot pier now houses hydraulic lifting machinery, converting the existing swing bridge to a vertical lift bridge.

First Bridge 

Written by Don Nussbaum

The first bridge at this location was constructed in 1871 by the Wisconsin Central Railroad. This was a land grant railroad.

This portion of the road was originally called the Portage, Winnebago and Superior Railroad and was to run from Doty Island in Neenah and Menasha to Lake Superior. Source: Winnebago County Press May 14, 1870.

The name was changed to Wisconsin Central in 1871. Phillips & Colby Construction Co. were the general contactors. These men were also stockholders in the railroad. Source: Winnebago County Press Dec. 16, 1871.

Bids for construction of the railroad and Wolf River bridge were called for in early 1871. Bridge construction details were: “Proposals, accompanied by plans, are also invited for the construction of the railroad bridge across Wolf River, to be either wood or iron, consisting of one span of one hundred and fifty (150) feet, and one draw of sixty (60) feet, clear span. The bridge to be first class in every particular, and able to meet the requirements of a first class road.” Source: Winnebago County Press, Feb. 4, 1871.

The draw portion of the bridge was constructed in Chicago and shipped to Gills Landing in July. Winnebago County Press, Jul. 22, 1871.

The first train passed over the bridge on September 23rd. Source: Winnebago County Press Sep. 30, 1871.


Pony/through plate girder bridge over Wolf River on Canadian National Railway
Waupaca County, Wisconsin
Open to traffic
Future prospects
Swing mechanism was no longer operative. Since the Wolf River at this point is federally designated as Navigable Waters, it was converted to a vertical lift bridge. The project was finished in the Autumn of 2011.
Several track upgrades have been completed since the bridge was erected in 1894. Major upgrades to the hydraulic swing machinery were completed in 1987.
- Canadian National Railway (CN)
- Soo Line Railroad (SOO)
The Gills Landing Bridge consisted of a single track, 160-foot plate-girder swing span that rotated on a circular pivot pier. The swing span was completed in 1894. The pier is protected upstream and downstream by timber frame protection piers. When in its closed position, the span rests on rest piers at each end of the span. The span is reached by two long approach trestles from either shore of the river. In 2011, the broken swing mechanism was removed and a steel tower was erected on the center pier, housing vertical lift machinery. This is likely the ONLY vertical-lift bridge in the world with a CENTER lift tower.
Length of largest span: 160.0 ft.
Deck width: 27.0 ft.
Also called
Gill's Landing Swing Bridge
Soo Line Swing Bridge
Approximate latitude, longitude
+44.30636, -88.88098   (decimal degrees)
44°18'23" N, 88°52'52" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
16/349971/4907620 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
760 ft. above sea level
Inventory number
BH 49803 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • January 2, 2018: Essay added by Don Nussbaum
  • December 24, 2017: New photo from Rick Anderson
  • March 10, 2012: Updated by Robert Thompson: Changed description to "Vertical Lift Bridge"
  • March 4, 2012: Updated by Robert Thompson: Editorial change in description
  • October 10, 2011: Added by Robert Thompson



CN Railway Wolf River Bridge
Posted March 10, 2012, by Robert Thompson

The swing bridge was converted to a vertical lift bridge. As I noted, this is likely the ONLY Vertical Lift Bridge in the world with a CENTER lift tower!

CN Railway Wolf River Bridge
Posted January 21, 2012, by Robert Thompson


Very detailed history of the river, navigation on the river, the railroad and the bridge, plus many good maps and photos.

CN Railway Wolf River Bridge
Posted January 21, 2012, by Robert Thompson


Page at the project engineer's site on the conversion of this swing bridge to a vertical-lift span.

CN Railway Wolf River Bridge
Posted October 10, 2011, by Robert Thompson

I had been planning to wait until I could photograph the bridge before I posted it; it is quite out of the way and off the beaten track. However, I was just made aware of the conversion that was about to be made. I'm glad they are restoring it to function, rather than just sealing it shut, although I'm sure the Canadian National Railway does not agree.