Tucked into the corners of the Old Town Hall are two of the original light fixtures from the Mount Hope Bridge. They still light up when we plug them in although they date from the 1929 construction of the bridge. It was the first bridge in the United States that was painted a color – green to blend in instead of black or gray. Our Mount Hope lights still bear that green color. The bridge was a prize winning suspension bridge and it was the longest suspension bridge in New England for decades. It was built at the point of the narrowest gap between Bristol and Portsmouth, the historic site of the Bristol or Tripp’s Ferry.

With automobiles becoming more common, Newport politicians pushed for a bridge, but the state legislature rejected the bridge proposal. A private group emerged to make a privately owned toll bridge. Newport representative Herbert Smith continued to back it and got the state authorization to permit private capital to build and charge tolls for a specified time.

The bridge was designed by David Steinmen. Its total cost was about $4,250.000. Authorized on December 16, 1927 it was completed Oct. 24, 1929. Its length is 6,130 feet. and it is 285 ft. above water. The deepest foundation is 54 feet below sea level. The builders were convinced to try a new heat treated wire. Unfortunately these proved to be defective and problems plagued bridge construction. The cables were condemned in February of 1929 – only four months from projected completion date. It was a mammoth project to dismantle and re-wire. This process made the bridge opening four months late.

Just five days after opening ceremonies, the stock market crashed. With the Depression the Mt. Hope Bridge Company defaulted on their mortgage. After a public auction, R.F. Haffenreffer with the Mount Hope Bridge Corporation purchased the bridge. The State of Rhode Island took over in 1955.

The Historical Society has items from the opening festivities of the Mt. Hope Bridge in 1929. These items include an invitation, guest badge and photographs of the construction and ribbon cutting. A front page newspaper article from the time helped us to understand how elaborate the ceremonies were.

Note Lighting fixtures with flags at the grand opening in 1929.

Senator William H. Vanderbilt presided over the pageant. Beginning at 10 in the morning, a parade began in Bristol and headed toward the bridge. Part of this parade was a “tableau” depicting Roger Williams that was organized by the Rhode Island Historical Society. The Newport Historical Society organized a tableau and parade depicting John Clarke and they marched from the Aquidneck Island side.

At 11 a.m., “Roger Williams” met “John Clarke” and unfurled flags at the center of the bridge and exchanged greetings. There was an Native American ceremony in which Governor Case and Senator Vanderbilt became members of the Algonquin Council. Vice President Charles Curtis signaled from Washington, D.C. at noon to begin the dedication of the bridge.

The program lists events such as a christening of the bridge, ribbon cuttings and acceptance of bridge certification. The ceremony was even broadcast on WEAN at the old Outlet Building in Providence. Twenty five thousand cars paraded across the bridge after the ceremonies. In one of those cars was my father, riding in his uncle’s car.