The Bridges of Yellowstone

I am sure you are all familiar with the movie “The Bridges of Madison County”.  Well, we are going to take a look at “The Bridges Of Yellowstone.”

In searching for the history of the bridges I was directed to Geyser Bob’s Yellowstone site.  As usual, his website contains a wealth of information about all things Yellowstone and I am grateful to him for allowing me to pass this history on to you.

Some of the bridges we will include are still in service today while others are in existence but no longer used and then there are those that have been completely removed from the Park.

Baronett Bridge


This is widely believed to be the first bridge ever built in Yellowstone and was built in the spring of 1871.  It was built by one Collins Jack Baronett (sometimes referred to as Yellowstone Jack). He was also known to go by the name John H. Baronett.  The bridge was located about 200 yards upstream from the place where the Lamar River empties into the Yellowstone.  This bridge was operated as a toll bridge for the miners, hunters and freighters who would travel to the mines in Cooke City.  Baronett built the bridge and a cabin near it for about $4,000.

Much of the bridge was burned during the Nez Perce war in 1877.  Yellowstone Jack and P. W. Norris partially rebuilt the bridge the following year.  John Ponsford and J. L. Sanborn actually operated the toll bridge because Yellowstone Jack was often off on one of his gold prospecting expeditions and entrusted his partners with actual operations during his absences.

In 1880 the stringers, floor braces and iron work were replaced at a cost of about $2,000.00.

In 1890 the government refused to give Yellowstone Jack a permit to continue operating the bridge and the Army took possession of the structure in 1894.  The bridge continued in use until 1903 when a new bridge was constructed upstream.  The old bridge was burned in 1906 and completely torn down in 1911.  Baronett eventually received $5,000 from the government for his bridge but that was only after a prolonged and expensive legal battle.

You can find traces of the old Baronett Bridge today along the old road that leads into Yancey’s Hole.

Tower Junction Bridge


The Baronett Bridge was destined to be replaced and in 1903 a new and much larger bridge was built over the Yellowstone River. It was located near the current Tower Junction.  The 130’ steel deck truss bridge was completed in the spring of 1903.  It had been designed by the American Bridge Company.  At the time it was built it was considered to be the longest single-span still bridge in the park. In 1963 the Tower Junction Bridge was replaced and widened with a 604’ bridge at a cost of $435.


Fishing Bridge


Probably one of the better known Yellowstone Bridges would be Fishing Bridge.  The bridge was designed by Hiram Chittenden and it spanned the Yellowstone River near its head at Yellowstone Lake.  It was constructed in 1902 but it was not until 1914 it became known as”Fishing Bridge”.  In 1919 the bridge was rebuilt and had walkways on each side of the roadway across the bridge.  According to Mr. Chittenden the original bridge in 1902 was “built on piles in 16-foot bents; total length 360 feet.  In order to avoid a heavy embankment on the eastern approach to the bridge, yet, at the same time, to give rowboats ample space to pass under it at high water, the bridge was given a curved profile, so as to raise the center about 3 feet above the ends.”  The bridge reached directly across the river at right angles to the shorelines.

People fishing at Fishing Bridge;
Frank J Haynes;
Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

In 1927 a boathouse with floating dock, office and sleeping quarters was built at the bridge.  It may have been mobile and moored in different locations over the years.  This structure was replaced in 1935 with a much grander one.  The new boathouse was designed by Architect Robert Reamer and measured 26’ x 54’ and it was in use until 1963.

Rangers in training at Fishing Bridge;
Jay Elhard / Yellowstone National Park.

During the years 1936-37 Fishing Bridge was replaced by a new bridge which was, according to Superintendent Rogers ….”532 feet in length consisting of 19-28 foot spans, cost approximately $100,00 or about $188 per lineal foot.  It boasted a 24 foot roadway with two 5 foot sidewalks.  The overall width was 42 feet.

Fishing Bridge got its name from the fact that tourists could stand on the walkways on either side of the bridge and fish in the Yellowstone River.  This practice was officially prohibited after the 1973 season.