On June 24, 1960, the day before the new Houghton-Hancock Bridge over Portage Lake in the Upper Peninsula was to be formally dedicated, the steamer J.F. Schoellkopf almost collided with the bridge. Captain Albert Wilhelmy reported that he sounded the whistle signal for the bridge to open, but it never did. Reacting quickly he ordered the engines reversed and dropped anchor. Unfortunately for the people of Hancock, the anchor became entangled in two of six Michigan Bell telephone cables that crossed the bottom of the channel. The steamer ran aground in shallow water, and telephone service was cut off to 1,000 customers in and around Hancock. The bridge operator said he never heard the signal. The steamer was soon cut loose from the cables, towed back into the channel, and continued her journey.
At time, the Houghton-Hancock Bridge was the only vertical lift bridge in Michigan and the heaviest one in the world. The $11 million bridge featured two levels. Both levels could carry automobiles while the lower one carried trains. When the lower section was raised to allow boats to pass underneath, the traffic could still flow across the bridge’s upper section.
Dedication ceremonies went on as planned on June 25, 1960.
Michigan Every Day
Kevin E. Musser, “Three Spans over the Portage : The history of the three bridges to span the canal between Houghton and Hancock.” The Copper Range Railroad and Copper Country Historical Page.