By John Evans
On Aug. 1, 1942, the Allies and the Germans were stalemated in North Africa, the Germans continued to advance in Russia, and, with the Guadalcanal Campaign yet to get underway, the Japanese were at the peak of their conquests. While so much around the world was being destroyed, however, Anoka County celebrated something being built: the James F. Kline Memorial Bridge, the new span across the Rum River.
Ten thousand citizens attended the Saturday evening celebration. Gov. Harold Stassen gave a keynote speech, and Highway Commissioner M.J. Hoffman presented the keys to the new bridge to Anoka Mayor R.B. Ehlen. A parade featured the Robbinsdale Band and the Anoka Drum and Fife Corps. A canoe race began at St. Francis and ended under the bridge during the event. The Sun Valley Barn Dance troupe, a popular local entertainment group, provided musicians, singing, dancing, comedy and even juggling. The affair was broadcast to the “entire northwest” via KSTP radio. Congratulatory ads on Anoka’s “fine new bridge” filled the pages of local newspapers; they came from banks, businesses, construction unions, and legislators. The Anoka Herald proclaimed the bridge to be “a modern work of art.”
In his dedication speech, Gov. Stassen said bridges link people and build the cooperation that leads to lasting peace.
“We must not wall out the rest of the world,” he said, “but must build bridges of understanding across the barriers of suspicion, hatred and prejudice.”
Highway Commissioner Hoffman used his turn at the podium to plead for safer driving and expressed his hope that motorists would use the bridge prudently.
Mayor Ehlen, as he officially received the bridge, called it “a fitting memorial to Dr. James Franklin Kline,” noting Kline’s 40 years of practice and his founding of the Kline Sanatorium, the first hospital in the area. Dr. Kline’s 8-year-old grandson, also named James Kline, unveiled the memorial plaque.
In an editorial, the Herald wrote that “the handsome iron and concrete structure … stands as mute testimony that beauty and strength can be wrought by man, even though the destruction of all that is man-made goes on in a war-torn world.” The bridge, it said, exemplifies the American spirit that “the show must go on.”
Northern Pump Co., the manufacturer of naval gun mounts, said in its congratulatory ad that “bridges are symbols of peace” and quoted John Milton: “Peace hath her victories, no less renowned than war.”
Though it was updated in the 1980s, the bridge looks much the same today. It says something for the county and the country that in the darkest times people could look forward. One can see in the dedication ceremonies a foretaste of the prosperity America would enjoy in the second half of the 20th century.
The World War II exhibit at the Anoka County History Center will remain in the gallery hall for the next year, though stories within the display will continue to change. A donation is welcomed, but not required, when you visit.
John Evans is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.