October 8: Hartford’s Record-Setting Stone Arch Bridge

 

For most of the 19th century, travelers passing between Hartford and East Hartford crossed the Connecticut River over a wooden covered bridge, constructed in 1818 and expanded several times to include additional lanes and, eventually, room for trolleys.  In 1895, the entire structure burned down in a spectacular fire that, according to newspapers, some 20,000 people gathered on the banks of the Connecticut River to watch.

A photo of the covered wooden bridge in Hartford that spanned the Connecticut River from 1818 – 1895.

For several years, temporary bridges and increased ferry service strained to handle the daily traffic across the Connecticut River while plans were drafted to build a new permanent bridge.  In 1904, construction began on what was then known as “the Hartford Bridge,” a sturdy and attractive bridge consisting of nine stone arches spanning the river at the center of Hartford.  At nearly 1,200 feet in length, city leaders hoped the massive bridge — which, at its completion, was the largest stone arch bridge in the world — would serve as “an ornament to the city which should endure forever.”  Over 100,000 cubic tons of pink and gray granite was used in the bridge’s construction, and its pylons were embedded up to 60 feet below the waterline.

To commemorate the long-awaited completion of the Hartford Bridge, the city threw a three-day celebration, concluding with a massive parade of over 10,000 stone masons and other workmen on October 8th, 1908.  In addition to the parade, the day’s festivities included boat parades, music, and fireworks and drew and estimated crowd of 75,000 people into the city.

In 1922, the Hartford Bridge was renamed the Bulkeley Bridge in honor of Morgan Bulkeley, former U.S. Senator and governor of Connecticut who was one of the biggest supporters of the Hartford Bridge project.  Today, the Bulkeley Bridge remains a vital artery for traffic passing between Hartford and East Hartford, carrying Interstate 84 and U.S. Route 6 and 44 over the Connecticut River.  What was thought to be the bridge of the future in 1908 has adapted to handle nearly the traffic of nearly 150,000 vehicles daily — and it all began with plenty of pomp and circumstance over a hundred years ago, on this day in Connecticut history.

A photo postcard of the Hartford Bridge from the early 20th century.

Further Reading

Sam L. Rothman, “The Bulkeley Bridge: An Architectural Treasure,” ONE New England

Dave Corrigan, “Hartford’s Industrial Day: Today in History,” connecticuthistory.org

E. W. Winans, “The New Stone Bridge Over the Connecticut River at Hartford,” Cassier’s Magazine