The river crossing at North Wells Street has a 170+ year history. The first river crossing at Wells Street was a floating bridge that was built in 1841, then rebuilt in 1847. The first swing bridge at this location was constructed in 1856. This bridge was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1871. A new swing bridge was in place by the end of 1872. In 1896 the Wells Street bridge was rebuilt by the Northwestern Elevated Road with an elevated rail line on a second deck.
The bridge tender houses are located on the SE and NW corners of the bridge.
The major construction problem for this bridge was to minimize the impact on the upper deck train traffic while the switch over from the old swing bridge to the new bascule was accomplished. Thomas G. Pihlfeldt had solved this problem earlier at the West Lake Street bridge. The solution was to maintain train traffic on the elevated tracks on the old swing bridge while the bascule bridge leaves were constructed in the vertical position. When the bascule bridge was completed, the old swing bridge was rotated open, cut up and removed via the river and the bascule bridge was lowered into position. The upper deck was then installed. This process produced a three day break in rail service (four days less than the delay at Lake Street).
In a 1977 an unusual accident occurred. The bridge was raised while a car was still partially on it. The car's front wheels were on the street and its rear wheels were on the bridge. As the bridge raised, the upper deck of the bridge caught the roof of the car just behind the front seat and kept it from falling into the river. As the bridge continued upward the car was eventually cut in half. The driver was trapped for a time but survived. The bridge tender was eventually found at fault.