Sunday, November 1, 2009

This Month in Rochester History

During the month of November, several anniversaries occur in connection to Rochester's South Hill Bridge. Imagine the approach to downtown Rochester from top of South Hill if the bridge did not exist, and you will have a mental picture of the way things were in 1927, before the bridge was built. Vehicular traffic (other than streetcars, which used a wooden trestle to enter the village) had to descend the hill and cross the Clinton River and the Grand Trunk railroad tracks. The road was often impassable in bad weather, and climbing the hill to leave Rochester was often more than the automobiles of the day could handle.

When the state of Michigan announced its plan to built a concrete viaduct to carry traffic from South Hill to the foot of Main Street, there was great rejoicing in Rochester. The opening of the 810-foot span on November 9, 1927, was greeted with grand festivities, including a parade, entertainment, prize drawings, and a dedication ceremony attended by state and local dignitaries. The hoopla was well justified, as the South Hill Bridge was the longest concrete bridge in Michigan at the time of its dedication. Click here to view newsreel footage of the event from the Detroit News archive at Wayne State University (best viewed over a cable or DSL connection; not recommended if you are using dial-up access to the Internet).

The bridge featured a two-lane, 28-foot roadway with a pedestrian walk. During the post-war population boom in Rochester and Avon, the traffic load on the bridge exceeded its capacity and it was expanded by adding two more traffic lanes on the east side of the structure. The new, four-lane bridge opened to traffic in November of 1958.

On November 1, 1983, part of the southbound side of the bridge deck cracked and collapsed after a support strap failed. The bridge was closed completely for a week while emergency repairs were made, and then was under construction for months to replace the aging deck and supports. The repaired span was reopened with a gala celebration reminiscent of the first "Bridge Day" in 1927, including a parade and remarks by Gov. James Blanchard.

The South Hill Bridge is 82 years old this month.

This postcard view, from the collection of Rod and Susan Wilson, shows the bridge as it appeared when it opened in 1927, looking southward from the foot of Main Street.


  1. One of the "grand festivities" was a prize given to the 100th person to cross the bridge. That person was my mother, Josephine Palmer. She received a dress from the Lucille Shop. It was dark green silk with a darker green velvet collar. She wore it for her senior picture, taken just prior to graduation from Rochester High School. Ray Henry

  2. My grandfather, Charles "Charlie" Brown drove horse teams that helped in the construction of the South Hill Bridge. If you look down onto the bridge from the top of South Hill, you will notice that it does appear to be at a slight angle, it is my understanding that the route of the DUR track influenced the direction of this bridge.