Hampton's "Mile-Long" Wooden Bridge
-- 1900 - 1949 --
The Neil R. Underwood Memorial Bridge
-- 1949 - present --
Compiled by John M. Holman, Hampton History Volunteer
Lane Memorial Library
Almost every visitor to Hampton Beach crosses the bridge that spans the Hampton River, yet few know its history. The present bridge was constructed in 1949 to replace a wooden structure reported to have been the longest wooden bridge in the world. (It actually measured 540 feetshort of a full mile.)
The first Hampton River Bridge, called the 'Mile-long Bridge', was built in 1900-01 by Wallace D. Lovell. The task took nearly a year and, according to the EXETER NEWS LETTER of July 5, 1901, was 'a great undertaking.'
Lovell was a promoter who headed an extensive trolley car empire in this area. Three years after the Exeter Street Railway was completed, he organized the Granite State Land Company to sell real estate and build a bridge connecting Seabrook and Hampton Beach.
[Photo left, built in 1916, Motor Flat Car C-No. 27 is shown in Market Square, Amesbury, Mass., carrying a load of lumber for the Hampton River "Mile-long" bridge.]
The monstrous pile bridge was the most exciting occurrence in years for the beach community. The bridge spanned 4,740 feet and was 30 feet wide. It was supported by 3,865 wooden pileswhich were driven deep into the river sandy bottom.
A major problem confronting the energetic Lovell was the lack of building materials at the beach. An elaborate system was devised to transport the materials from their source to the bridge. Huge rafts of lumber were towed to the bridge site from Portsmouth by a tug boat named the 'H.A. MATHES.' Other materials were floated down stream to the bridge from the railroad station at Hampton Falls.
As the bridge neared completion, it became famous throughout the Eastern Seaboard as the 'mile-long wooden bridge.' For many years, it was reputed to be the longest wooden bridge in the world.
The bridge was officially opened on May 14, 1902, Governor Chester Jordan accompanied by his military staff and council, traveled to Hampton Beach and were entertained at the Whittier Hotel (in Hampton).
All of the visiting dignitaries rode to the bridge in trolley cars owned by Lovell. The Exeter Brass Band performed for the 2,000 people that gathered for the ceremony.
Wallace Lovell's pride in the structure was short lived as the invention of the automobile signaled the end of the trolley car era in 1926. To bolster his crumbling financial empire, Lovell sold the bridge to the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway.
By 1930, the structure began to show the strain of the years of shifting sands, ice floes and heavy traffic. The state made plans to replace the historic structure with a more modern facility.
One Mile long - longest wooden bridge in the world."
The present steel bridge is named the NEIL R. UNDERWOOD MEMORIAL BRIDGE.
Long-time residents of Hampton still recall the mile-long wooden bridge with great affection. As well as a point of interest to vacationers, the bridge allowed countless horses, cattle, sheep and swine to pass above the Hampton River waters. Its passing marked the end of the leisurely way of life poignantly symbolized by the horse-drawn carriage." (From the July 30, 1969 edition of Hampton Union)
Dennis Dupuis of North Hampton writes that his father Henry Dupuis, a real estate agent and developer at Hampton Beach, was the one who dismantled and towed away the old wooden bridge. He used the wood to build the first "strip mall" at North Beach, called the North Shore Shopping Center. It was later converted to a motel, which is still there (across from Holiday Shores Condominiums at 615 Ocean Blvd and Winnacunnet Road). Dennis adds: "My Dad once told me that "buying the mile-long bridge, and trucking every load of wood through Hampton Beach, was one of the best promotional ideas he ever had, as everyone would point to each load going by and say "there goes Henry with more of the mile-long bridge!"
The following dissertation was offered by Ms. Alison Leverone (1986-1999), a student at Hampton Academy Junior High School as part of a Memorial Day Ceremony presented on May 29, 1998, and was produced and directed by Ms. Sheila Nudd, Music Teacher at the HAJH:
"NEIL R. Underwood: Neil Underwood was not a typical young man for that time. He was raised by his aunt, Kate Harrington, at Hampton Beach. He loved hunting, fishing, and driving around town in his convertible looking at girls. He was known around Hampton as a fun-loving young man. He was not a particularly good student at Hampton Academy and he transferred to Whitcomb High School in Bethel, Vermont.
"Neil joined the Army Air Corps and became part of a flight crew that trained in Kansas, Kentucky, and California. Even though he was killed in friendly fire he was still a hero.
"Lt. Neil R. Underwood, 1918-1944, of Hampton, N.H. was a pilot in the United States Army Air Corps. He was shot down in a flight over Corsica, France on August 17, 1944. His death was caused by a communication error by the ground crew. When the plane was found, his body was missing and never recovered. Investigators thought that he survived the crash and was captured by the enemy and later killed.
"Neil Underwood died when his daughter Deborah Lynn was two days old. His medal was presented to her in the home of the Lieutenant's widow, Mrs. Phyllis Underwood.
"After the war, five bridges were dedicated to our war dead. The bridges were dedicated Wednesday, in an Armistice Day Ceremony, conducted by the Hampton Post #35 American Legion. Lt. Neil Underwood, Jr's Bridge is a memorial bridge over Hampton River. Lt. Underwood served as a lifeguard on Hampton Beach and was a dedicated American."
Underwood resided for years on A Street in what is now the Hollingsworth Hotel. He became an Army Air Force pilot and was shot down in his A-20 Boston Attack Bomber in a flight over Corsica, France on August 17, 1944.
The $1.2 million bridge is 1,198 feet long with a 12 foot span. It original cost 15 cents to cross the bridge but the fee was lowered to 10 cent in 1956. On October 12, 1964, at 10 a.m., the Underwood Bridge became free. The toll was lifted after the amount raised in tolls paid the state's bond bill.
shortly after dedication December 1949
The new NEIL R. UNDERWOOD MEMORIAL BRIDGE sign was constructed at the Hampton Public Works Department by Johnny O'Brien and was installed on the Hampton side of the river as a lasting tribute to the memory of Lt. Underwood who gave the supreme sacrifice for his country.
Bridge Beset By Electrical Problems
By Liz Premo
Atlantic News, Thursday, March 4, 2004
[Atlantic News Photo by Liz Premo
HAMPTON - "Clearly something electrical" was the cause of a four-hour shut-down last Friday morning of the lift bridge that spans Hampton Harbor on Route 1A, according to Bill Boynton, public information officer for the NH Department of Transportation (NHDOT).
Boynton said the electrical malfunction occurred about 10:15 a.m. when the bascule movable span on the Neil R. Underwood Memorial Bridge was opened "slightly wider than usual" to allow a barge to pass through. Boynton reported that a regulator shut down the power to the mechanism that operates the span, a situation which he says can occur "during a full lift."
South-bound traffic was detoured from Ashworth Avenue and double-backed to Ocean Boulevard while officials worked to restore the bridge to operational order. Traffic flow over the bridge between Hampton and Seabrook Beaches was restored around four hours later, at approximately 2:15 p.m.
The span on the bridge previously underwent mechanical and electrical repairs back in December 2002. Cianbro Corporation of Pittsfield, Maine served as contractor for the work, which consisted of the removal, rehabilitation and replacement of the span drive machinery that was in place at the time.
In May of 2001, a broken drive shaft caused the span to become stuck open for close to eight hours before the problem was remedied - just days before the busy Memorial Day weekend. As far as this latest bridge malfunction is concerned, however, "they know it's electrical," Boynton said. "They still need to do some troubleshooting."
Boynton added that NHDOT officials are going to get together next week with an electrical contractor to discuss plans to correct the problem once and for all. Until then, said Boynton, the bridge "should be OK" as long as it's not opened into a full lift - a position that's only necessary for very large watercraft.
The Neil R. Underwood Memorial Bridge was built in 1949, replacing Hampton's Mile-long wooden bridge, originally constructed in 1902. It was named in memory of Lt. Neil R. Underwood of Hampton, a World War II pilot in the US Army Air Corps who was shot down over Corsica, France on August 17, 1944.