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Out of the Attic: Mount Hope Bridge Construction Booklet

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One of the small treasures in the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society is a small booklet about the construction of the Mt. Hope Bridge.  It was written and illustrated with photos taken by the chief engineer of the project.  It is an incredible chronicle of a project of major importance to our town.  

The Portsmouth Historical Society has items from the opening festivities of the Mt. Hope Bridge in 1929.  Those 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.  Senator William H. Vanderbilt presided over the pageant.  Beginning at 10 in the morning a parade began in Bristol – a “tableau”  depicting Roger Williams 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 AM “Roger Williams” met “John Clarke”  and unfurled flags at the center of the bridge and exchanged greetings. There was an Indian 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.

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The Portsmouth Historical Society has items from the opening festivities of the Mt. Hope Bridge in 1929.  Those 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.  Senator William H. Vanderbilt presided over the pageant.  Beginning at 10 in the morning a parade began in Bristol – a “tableau”  depicting Roger Williams 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 AM “Roger Williams” met “John Clarke”  and unfurled flags at the center of the bridge and exchanged greetings. There was an Indian 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.

Part of the elaborate ceremonies at the Opening of the Mt.Hope Bridge in 1929.

Sakonnet River Bridge

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Sakonnet Bridge Under Construction. (PHS collection image)

Sakonnet Bridge (image from G. Schmidt collection)

The Sakonnet River Bridge opened in 1956 as a replacement for the Stone Bridge that was damaged in many storms.  The bridge has not been maintained well and a new bridge is under construction.  Note the railroad bridge to the left.

Railroad Bridge

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The Portsmouth Historical Society displays a piece of the railroad bridge. It may be a piece of the swinging mechanism.

The Sakonnet River Rail bridge was built in 1899.  It was a “swing” bridge with part of the bridge staying anchored and the other part swinging back to allow boats to pass through.   The bridge was damaged and closed in 1980 when it was damaged by a heavy train load.  A barge ran into the open bridge in 1988 and it was removed in 2006 to 2007.  The Portsmouth Historical Society has a circular piece of bridge in the Old Town Hall.

The bridge rail bed swings open so ships may pass through.

The Old Stone Bridge

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Howland’s Ferry went across the narrowest part of the Sakonnet River, and that is just where the first bridge off Aquidneck Island was constructed.  A toll bridge was constructed by the Rhode Island Bridge Company in 1795.  The bridge was rebuilt and washed away again in 1798 and remained closed until 1808.  The Great September Gale of 1815 destroyed it and it was rebuilt again under the name of the Stone Bridge.  The draw part of the bridge was washed away in 1869, and the owners sold the Stone Bridge to the towns of Tiverton and Portsmouth.  The towns, in turn, gave the bridge to the state to maintain.  The bridge was rebuilt and reopened in 1871 as a free bridge without a toll.  More damage was done by storms and ships that rammed the bridge and it closed after Hurricane Carol. Ferries such as the West Side were used while the bridge was out.   In 1957 it was replaced by the then new Sakonnet River Bridge. What remains of the Stone Bridge is used as a fishing pier today.

Howland Ferry area

The Stone Bridge began as a toll bridge.