We’re building a new bridge here in De Pere, Wisconsin. De Pere is a small city of 20,000, just south of Green Bay. The Fox River runs right through town, splitting the east and west sides. The Claude Allouez Bridge, a two-lane bridge built in 1933, is deteriorating and must be replaced.
There was much controversy about what kind of bridge to build, where to build it, how it will be shaped, what kind of lighting it will have, etc. But all that is behind us now. The new bridge will open for traffic on Sunday, October 7.
But the controversy isn’t quite over. De Pere alderman, Sam Dunlop, has now suggested that we consider a new name for the bridge. The city council agreed to solicit opinions from the community. While I don’t disagree with getting community feedback, and I am dead set against changing the name.
Our bridge is named for Fr. Claude Allouez, a Catholic Jesuit priest who established the St. Francis Xavier mission here on the banks of the Fox River in 1671. Our city history is rich with religious leaders and settlements. Traveling north on the river, our city is located at what was the last set of rapids before entering the Green Bay. The name of our city is derived from the term “rapides des PÃ¨res”, rapids of the Fathers. The east approach to the bridge is at the very spot of the settlement. The name “Claude Allouez Bridge” is not random. It’s a deliberate recognition of the works of Fr. Allouez in our community. We need to keep the name for all the same reasons that the bridge was originally named for him. At the east approach to the bridge rests a memorial plaque which reads:
Near this spot stood the chapel of St. Francis Xavier built in the winter of 1671-72 by Father Claude Allouez, S.J. as the centre of his work in Christianising the Indians of Wisconsin. This memorial tablet was erected by the citizens of De Pere and unveiled by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. September 6, 1899.
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Parish is located only a few blocks east from this location. Voyageur Park, named for the many missionaries, fur traders, and voyageurs who traveled and explored the Fox River in the 1600s, is located two blocks north of the bridge, on the river. This area is rich in history from that era. We must continue to remember those who have come before us.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette did a story about this issue on August 25, 2007.