Steel Bridge Songfest History

Mission Statement
Citizens for Our Bridge, Inc. DBA Steel Bridge Creative Foundation is a not-for-profit (501(c)3) organization dedicated to preserving, promoting and supporting the nationally significant historic Sturgeon Bay (Michigan Street) Bridge (a Door County Veterans Memorial) and the Historic Downtown District located in Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin, while stimulating and fostering the Sturgeon Bay collaborative music and arts scene through community outreach, education and creative events.

The Construction Zone and CD Project

The Construction Zone is one of three week-long collaborative songwriting and recording intensives hosted jointly by the Holiday Music Motel and the Steel Bridge Creative Foundation. Invited participants take part in a week of collaborative theme writing, culminating in two live theater shows on the weekend.

The sessions begin with a meet-and-greet dinner for all writers. Out-of-towners are housed at the Holiday Music Motel, located kitty-corner from the Steel Bridge in downtown Sturgeon Bay. All 18 rooms are blocked out for songwriters during the event; accommodations are free of charge. Writing groups of three are arranged by a nightly game of spin-the-bottle. Songs, after being declared  finished, are recorded in various onsite studios. Writers are strongly encouraged (though not strictly required) to derive inspiration from the Steel Bridge.

The Bridge-with-a-capital-B has long been a potent metaphor in popular song. The Steel Bridge is a great symbol of strength and of joining together, the melding of diverse cultures, divergent views, the old and the new, the words and the music, the tangible and the intangible… The word “bridge” doesn’t need to be used in expressing thoughts and emotions inspired by the presence of a steel span. The connection need not be conscious. It just happens.

Writing takes place in motel rooms, coffee shops around town, by the waterside, any place writers want to go for focus, stimulation, or solitude. Recording studios are manned almost 24/7 by professional engineers. Every night at dusk, attendees listen to mixes of the songs that were written and recorded the previous day.

Unlike most songwriting events, there are no attendance fees; food, drink, and accommodations are free for the participants, and writers retain full ownership of their portion of songs written at the event. By signed release, the Steel Bridge Creative Foundation is granted the right to create and sell albums (CDs, downloads, streaming, etc.) to document the events and benefit the local community. For these releases, mechanical royalties are waived as donations to the Steel Bridge Creative Foundation. Artists are also encouraged to release songs and/or recordings created at our events as part of their own albums and projects.

 Steel Bridge Songfest

The Steel Bridge Songfest is an annual collaborative songwriting and performance festival, the only event of its kind in the world. Produced by Citizens For Our Bridge DBA Steel Bridge Creative Foundation and organized by musicians with help from hundreds of volunteers (mostly musicians themselves), the four-day, three night extravaganza combines a week-long songwriting and recording marathon, outdoor concerts, theater performances, and a pub crawl. 

Steel Bridge Songfest raises local, state and national awareness of the Michigan Street Bridge through original songs written and inspired by the bridge. The Songfest and CD compilations helped to promote, build and maintain a first-of-its-kind “Michigan Street Bridge Fund” held by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington DC (discontinued since the bridge has been saved) and continue to help finance the event.

The Need

The state-owned, historic Sturgeon Bay (Michigan Street Memorial) bridge, is nationally significant not only for its design but also for the unique upper bascule section, one of only two examples existing in the United States. It is also a Veterans' Memorial. Citizens for Our Bridge has been active in the preservation effort since 1996 and was instrumental in having the structure placed the Wisconsin Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

Long-range Goals

- To preserve the Steel Bridge and Historic Downtown for future generations.
- To celebrate historic preservation
- To inspire and support innovation in creative collaboration
- To make historic preservation fun
- To make our Steel Bridge the world's most sung-about bridge... ever  :)





Steel Bridge Songfest3 (SB3)
June 14-16, 2007, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

Saving An Old Bridge, Creating New Ones: 
A campaign to save an old bridge becomes a large-scale musical event, inspiring artists and revitalizing a small community in the process.
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin's historic Michigan Street Bridge, the "Gateway to Northern Door County," has long endured a questionable future. A decade of debate preceded the state's decision in 2004 to maintain the unique drawbridge, yet still its needed restoration is not a done deal. Questions and controversy persist, and needed funds have yet to be appropriated.
Steel Bridge Songfest

In spring 2005, musician/songwriter Pat MacDonald and his sister, historic preservationist Christie Weber, decided to throw an outdoor concert for the bridge's 75th birthday. Local philanthropist Sheila Turner donated her venue: the historic shipyard at Great Lakes Yachts. MacDonald's friend, Jackson Browne, offered to play for free. Thirty other musical acts fell in line, and the first Steel Bridge Songfest was born.

It was a bold undertaking, like nothing before tried in Door County, but hundreds of community volunteers pitched in, the public showed up, the weather held out, and the June concert was a success.

The money raised (over $50,000) paid for the event and created a fund held by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, earmarked for "all expenses relating to preservation and enhancement of the Michigan Street Bridge."

Mr. Browne so enjoyed his first Door County experience, he signed on for a follow-up. Hundreds more from across the U.S took his lead. Early arrivals filled the Holiday Motel across from the concert grounds. Songs were written and recorded there, new bands formed, impromptu concerts happened all over town, and Sturgeon Bay bars and coffee shops reported record business.

Door county partied like never before. A beer-sponsored "Safe Rides" program and other temporary public transportation made sure people got home alright, and police reported an eighty-percent reduction in drunk driving arrests that weekend.
New Bridges

When the musicians disbursed, they left behind a fired-up local music scene and a wowed public. They also left over 60 songs immortalizing the bridge, the Holiday Motel, the beauty of Door County, and the kindness of the community that so lovingly received them.

Steel Bridge Songfest is now an annual event. Its influx of creative energy, merging forward thinking with historic preservation, brings young and old, tourists and locals, the struggling and the fortunate, the conservative and the not-so-conservative, together in a common cause. New bridges made of music and song are helping to save an old one made of steel.
Steel Bridge Songs Vol.1

The 15 selections on this disc bring the message, convey the fun, and immortalize the spirit of Steel Bridge Songfest. The writers and artists have all volunteered their time, energy and creativity to this project. Proceeds and royalties will be donated to the Steel Bridge Fund. Thanks for your support!



Sturgeon Bay's Historic Michigan Street Bridge gets a new two-lane companion bridge.
Aug 7, 2008

Sturgeon Bay -- A new two-lane bridge, scheduled to open Sunday, September 21, 2008, will complete a four-lane Federal Highway safety requirement for Door County's Northern Corridor. Addressing major safety and sufficiency concerns, the Sturgeon Bay four-lane bridge project (Business Hwy 42/57) is a giant step closer to completion with the opening of a companion two-lane bridge just a little over 700 feet away from the historic two-lane Michigan Street bridge. The building of this two-lane companion bridge saved numerous downtown structures from the wrecking ball, including the historic bridge, which was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It avoided a two-year closure to the historic downtown district and provided continued access to County Trunk B running to Egg Harbor. It will save the historic commercial district from annual shutdowns, offer county drivers an adequate alternate route to the highway, and secure the mainland access to Door County's only hospital. The new bridge was born out of six years of review and negotiations between the Wisconsin DOT, the Federal Advisory Council for Historic Preservation (ACHP), State Historic Preservation Officer, National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), City of Sturgeon Bay, and other local organizations through Sec.106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and Section 4(f) processes which are required when seeking federal dollars for state road projects that effect historic properties.The processes identify options and possible adverse effects on historic properties. An all-day county-wide inaugural celebration, originally planned for August 23, 2008, the day the State will take ownership from the builders, was delayed until Sept. 21 by the WisDOT.

History Offers A Green Solution

With concerns about reducing our use of natural resources and the movement toward green construction practices, Wisconsin leads the nation with this creative four-lane solution that 's been ten years in the making. Over the last four decades, state and federal funding processes resulted in countless replacement projects where bridges could have been maintained and preserved with proper funding. This tear-down mindset was rejected by the consulting parties in the Programmatic Agreement (PA) process conducted by the WisDOT, ACHP, NTHP, and SHPO who came together with others to form the visionary 4 lane solution. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, federal and state representatives, the City of Sturgeon Bay and Door County board worked with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and federal agencies to address the problem without losing one structure, and without suffering needless downtime. Millions of dollars were saved by lowering overall construction costs to the proposed 4 lane inplace replacement. This project prevented tons of material from being deposited in landfills and used much less cement and steel in the new bridge construction. The carbon footprint was dramatically reduced by simply opting to repair the existing two-lanes and adding only two more new lanes to address the insufficiencies and safety concerns within this area. Citizens for Our Bridge is in the process of working with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) firm, 360 GREEN INC, Josh Arnold, principle, who will work with others to compute the environmental and economic savings achieved within this project. His final report can be useful to other states and communities intent on reducing their costs and carbon footprints when considering similar historic projects. State projects take environmental and economic issues seriously today and we believe our state and this project are leading the country by example.

Note: Sturgeon Bay Bridges(Michigan Street) was offficially placed on the National Register of Historic Places January 2008 as is recognized for its substantial engineering and design. It is also the most prominant, nationally significant Veterans War Memorial in Door County, dedicated July 4 1931, as a thank you to all in Door County who served in times of need.


More History and Background:

2006 Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Case Digest-Washington DC

ABOUT THIS REPORT For full report:

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires Federal agencies to consider historic preservation values when planning their activities. In the Section 106 process, a Federal agency must identify affected historic properties, evaluate the proposed action's effects, and then explore ways to avoid or mitigate those effects. The Federal agency often conducts this process with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), State Historic Preservation Officers, representatives of Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations, and other parties with an interest in the issues. Sometimes a Programmatic Agreement (PA) or a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) is reached and signed by the project's consulting parties. A PA clarifies roles, responsibilities, and expectations of all parties engaged in large and complex Federal projects that may have an effect on a historic property. An MOA specifies the mitigation measure that the lead Federal agency must take to ensure the protection of a property's historic values. Each year thousands of Federal actions undergo Section 106 review. The vast majority of cases are routine and resolved at the State or tribal level, without the ACHP's involvement. A considerable number of cases, however, present issues or challenges that warrant the ACHP's attention.

The criteria for ACHP involvement in reviewing Section 106 cases are set forth in Appendix A of the ACHP's regulations. In accordance with those criteria, the ACHP is likely to enter the Section 106 process when an undertaking: • has substantial impacts on important historic properties; • presents important questions of policy or interpretation; • has the potential for presenting procedural problems; and/or • presents issues of concern to Indian tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations. This report presents a representative cross-section of undertakings that illustrate the variety and complexity of Federal activities in which the ACHP is currently involved. It illustrates the ways the Federal Government influences what happens to historic properties in communities throughout the Nation, and highlights the importance of informed citizens to be alert to potential conflicts between Federal actions and historic preservation goals, and the necessity of public participation to achieve the best possible preservation solution. In addition to this report, at, the ACHP's Web site contains a useful library of information about the ACHP, Section 106 review, and the national historic preservation program

Wisconsin (Updated) June 6, 2002 Project: Completed Case: Sturgeon Bay Bridge Rehabilitation Agency: Federal Highway Administration Contact: Carol Legard

On January 9, 2006, the ACHP, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the rehabilitation of the historic Michigan Street Bridge, and construction of a new bridge two blocks distant from the existing bridge, that together will carry four lanes of traffic across Sturgeon Bay and the Sturgeon Bay Shipping Canal. The agreement culminated six years of consultation to resolve adverse effects of the proposed project on the bridge and the attached operator's house. The result was the preservation of a 75-year-old, multi-span Warren/Parker truss bridge that was in grave danger of demolition and replacement by a contemporary structure. -Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Case Digest spring 2006

Sturgeon Bay is a major Great Lakes shipping port in scenic Door County that accommodates the largest ships on the Great Lakes. The Michigan Street Bridge connects the city's central business district while carrying vehicular traffic over shipping lanes. On January 9, 2006, an MOA was completed for the rehabilitation of Michigan Street Bridge and construction of a new bridge crossing from Maple Street to Oregon Street over the Ship Canal in the City of Sturgeon Bay.

This was the culmination of a process that formally began in 1999, when FHWA initiated Section 106 consultation on a proposal to demolish and replace the historic Michigan Street Bridge in the City of Sturgeon Bay. The current proposal for two two-lane bridges will preserve the historic bridge for another 25 years, and will provide the community with greater mobility and reliability than the original proposal that would have destroyed the historic bridge.

The Michigan Street Bridge is a 75-year-old, multi-span Warren/Parker truss bridge with a double leaf rolling lift span. The 1,413-foot-long, two-lane bridge was built in 1930. The structure was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1986 but has not been listed.(listed January 2008) Because it was considered structurally and functionally deficient it was originally not considered a viable candidate for preservation. A 1997 Programmatic Agreement (PA) among the FHWA, ACHP, and Wisconsin SHPO for bridges in the State identified the Michigan Street Bridge as one that did not warrant preservation.

Subsequently, a local citizens's group, National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), and the ACHP asked FHWA to reconsider this position in light of repairs made to the structure in the mid-1990s. Section 4(f ) requires DOT agencies to demonstrate there is no feasible and prudent alternative to removing a historic property. The NTHP also retained a bridge expert to conduct an assessment of the feasibility and costs of rehabilitation. Strong local advocacy to preserve the historic bridge, armed with this additional information, led the WisDOT to reconsider. It selected a new preferred alternative that will retain the historic bridge (with rehabilitation) and construct a new two-lane lift bridge two blocks from the existing bridge.

The governor of Wisconsin committed $30 million to fund the new bridge, which will be completed before the Michigan Street Bridge rehabilitation begins. The Third Avenue Downtown Historic District, located at the eastern terminus of the bridge, is listed in the NRHP. The parties agreed that rehabilitation of the existing bridge will not have an adverse effect on the district. Retention of the bridge that connects historic core elements of Sturgeon Bay will continue to contribute to an authentic heritage experience for residents and visitors.

While the lead federal agency is FHWA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard must also issue approvals or permits for the undertaking and they participated in consultation and execution of the MOA. Additional consulting parties included the Wisconsin SHPO, WisDOT, City of Sturgeon Bay, Citizens for Our Bridge Committee, Citizens for the Future of Sturgeon Bay, Door County Maritime Museum, and the NTHP.

The MOA documents the agreement reached among the many consulting parties to rehabilitate and continue to use the existing historic bridge along with a new two-lane bridge built nearby. The MOA requires rehabilitation of the historic bridge to be completed in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines; retains the existing operator's house on the Michigan Street Bridge and stipulates preparation of plans for its long-term maintenance; and provides the SHPO and other consulting parties an opportunity to comment on the preliminary design of the project. The MOA also contains specific stipulations addressing archeological resources that may be discovered in areas impacted by bridge construction and rehabilitation. Sturgeon Bay Bridge (Photo: the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

#2 National Trust for Historic Preservation- Washington DC Section 4(f) Case Study:
Michigan Street Bridge, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin November 1, 2005

When open, the Michigan Street Bridge is a striking sight: the two arms of its center span point to the sky, leaving the channel clear for passing boats. Without Section 4(f), however, that scene would have sunk into the past. Built in 1930, the Michigan Street Bridge quickly became a community icon. Not only do its two lanes carry heavy vehicle traffic, but during the summer, this rolling lift bridge opens almost hourly to allow boat traffic through the canal that connects Lake Michigan and Green Bay. In 1970s, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation proposed demolishing this landmark and replacing it with a four-lane bridge. The initial review of this plan, undertaken under Section 106 of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, did not protect the Michigan Street Bridge, and so the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation authorized its demolition. The National Trust responded by using Section 4(f) to advocate keeping the bridge. Without going to court, the Trust put pressure on the state and federal transportation agencies and brought in historic bridge expert Abba Lichtenstein to convince local and state officials that the structure was sound. After several years of re-evaluation, the Wisconsin DOT decided to change its plans: it has made a commitment to rehabilitate the Michigan Street Bridge and to build an additional two-lane bridge nearby. Local officials welcomed this plan, which would not have emerged without Section 4(f).

The Sturgeon Bay Bridge was opened to traffic July 4th, 1931. In 2005-6, the State and Federal Hwy Dept's, with an agreement of other permitting authorities, approved the construction of a sister 2-lane bridge to the same corridor as the historic bridge to eliminate the safety and traffic incificiancies in the area, while also approving the rehab of the historic 2 lane bridge, which combined will remove costly downtime from this important historic downtown corridor forever. The sister second two lane bridge is due to open Sept of 2008. The State owned, historic Steel Bridge was placed onto the National Register of Historic Places in January 2008 thanks to your generous gifts made through Steel Bridge Songfest 1 and 2!

Together, we can protect this bridge long-term by keeping it in the minds of our leadership and by helping them establish a long-term plan of protection for this rare schwerzer-type overhead counter-weight bascule bridge.

Today, our historic bridge is in dire need of compounded simple maintainance and painting due to the lack of historic preservation funding given to the state for this type of structure. The rehabilitaion plan, first scheduled for October has just been postopned till spring, again. It is our goal to continue to help inspire and educate the State and Federal agencies to the major economic and environmental advantages of protecting thru RESTORATION, all our historic bridges with proper allocation of on-system maintanance funding and to promote the complete restoration of this bridge, which stands centrally located, as the single most unique and significant structure in all of Door County, one of the states most visited tourism areas.

It is worth all our investment in protecting this and other rare bridges for future generations to enjoy, learn and discover from and if everyone who reads this just gave ten dollars or bought a CD today, we could put an end to this very questionable future of the Historic Sturgeon Bay Bridge. Our goal is to help paint the structure and build a 3 million dollar endowment in 10 years or less, which combined with the states help could keep this structure in good repair, forever.

Projects we are currently working on are:
1. Phased painting of the upper half of the bridge, which is not financed in the WisDOT plan.
2. Plan for Solar and wind turbine lighting added to high-light the arches.
3. Calculating the Carbon Foot print and environmental savings from the restoration and added 2 lane vs. replacement 4 lane options.
4. A Long-term Endowment Fund.

  Steel Bridge Songfest: A Brief History (Pre 2019)

In the late 1990s, a grassroots group calling themselves "SOB" (Save Our Bridge) formed with the intention of saving Sturgeon Bay's historic Michigan Street Bridge from the scheduled wrecking ball.

After re-forming in 2005 as the 501(c)3 non-profit Citizens for Our Bridge (CFOB), the old SOBs recruited some like-minded musicians to create Steel Bridge Songfest.  The one-day concert by the bridge grew in its 2nd year to become the week-long songwriting, recording, and performance festival held every June in and around the Holiday Music Motel

Combining preservation with creative collaboration for nearly a decade and a half, Steel Bridge Songfest - or simply, "Steel Bridge" - continues to increase public appreciation for the notorious structure while enriching its historic surroundings and supporting a growing creative community.

Songwriters and musicians from around the world, including Jackson Browne, Jane Wiedlin (Go-Go's), James McMurtry, and hundreds of others have come to the community, written their songs, and donated their efforts. Steel Bridge Songs,Vols.1-xx, the multi-disc collection of songs produced by the group, grows annually, serving double-duty to commemorate past efforts and to celebrate the cause as it continues to evolve.

Since 2007, thanks to assistance from the National Trust For Historic Preservation and funds raised through Steel Bridge Songfest, Sturgeon Bay's Michigan Street Bridge has been protected as a national treasure, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Her 80th birthday was celebrated in the summer of 2011 with completion of the long awaited rehab.

With the bridge officially "saved," the non-profit CFOB continues under the name Sturgeon Bay Creative Foundation, honoring the bridge as a living symbol of historic preservation combined with creative collaboration.