"B" is for Bridges

Visitor's ABC's

By John Hirtle, Beach News Staff

Beach News, Thursday, May 26, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Beach News]
Each year, the Beach News is proud to feature an unique ongoing series of articles concerning interesting facts about the region's places and history. This year, we will be doing a virtual visitor's ABCs of the Seacoast region.
Grand Opening of the Mile-Long Wooden Bridge
Grand Opening of the Mile-long Bridge, May 14, 1902

The Seacoast region is riddled with rivers. Once the main highways of commerce, they slowly became obstacles as trains, trolleys and automobiles each became the easiest way to travel. Bridges took down this barrier.

Arguably, one of the most famous of the bridges on the Seacoast was Hampton Beach's famed "Mile Long Bridge". Finished in 1901, it was reputed to be the longest wooden bridge in the world, although it was just short of a mile - and the channel it spanned to connect Hampton Beach and Seabrook Beach is certainly not a mile.

Still, its dimensions were impressive: 4,740 feet long and 30 feet wide, supported by some 3,865 piles. Furthermore, it was a built privately by Wallace D. Lovell, a local beach promoter to take his trolleys and paying customers over to the then undeveloped Seabrook Beach.

While its claim to being the longest wooden bridge in the world made it a major local attraction, time and tides were not kind to the structure. Ice flows weakened its supports, and guards had to patrol the bridge to make sure no fires sparked by carelessly tossed cigarettes would destroy the bridge. In the 1930's, the state of New Hampshire decided to replace the aging wooden bridge with a new four lane steel bridge. A decade and a war later (and downsized to two lanes) the present 1,206 foot long Neil R. Underwood Memorial Bridge was opened to traffic in December 1949. The historic wooden bridge, having served its purpose, was dismantled. Parts of it were salvaged and incorporated into some of the buildings and docks still standing along Hampton Harbor.

The Mile Long Bridge may be gone, but as if to replace it in the record books, another bridge was built to the north to connect New Hampshire and Maine. The Piscataqua River Interstate 95 bridge was opened to traffic in 1971. The third and newest of the bridges to span the swift river below, it is also reputed to be the largest bridge in either state, and has garnered a number of awards for its graceful design. The graceful arched span is 4,529 long, and 98 feet wide and is high enough to allow a 109 foot tall ship to easily pass underneath on its way to docks upriver. Six traffic lanes on the bridge carry well over 60,000 vehicles between the two states on a daily basis. On a clear day, it's arched back can be easily distinguished from ten miles out at sea.

The other two bridges on the Piscataqua River are notable in their own right. The oldest is the Memorial Bridge, which was opened in 1923. It is a prime example of early lift bridge technology, with all the components out in plain view. The center span rises some 130 feet over the water to let ships pass through. It is also the easiest of the three bridges to view from spots along Prescott Park and Four Tree Island. During the summer months, the bridge usually opens on the half hour to allow smaller vessels through, and during high incoming and outgoing tides when large ships might pass through. The middle span on the Piscataqua is the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge.

Opened in 1940, it is a more modern streamlined lift bridge design, with two decks. While the upper deck is reserved for automobile traffic, the lower deck handled railroad traffic. The center span rises 135 feet over the river to let ships pass through, making it a real crossroads of the Seacoast. Most bridges along the Seacoast are hardly as noticeable as those mentioned above. Whether bridging a river, a railroad or another road, they all provide a vital function in getting you to where you're going this summer season.

"B" is also for:

Beaches on the Seacoast -- read all about them on Page 4C in the Beach News!
The Boardwalk Inn and Café, a fine place to eat and sleep at Hampton Beach.
The Book Outlet, a great place to find a book to read on the beach.
Breakfast Hill Golf, a fun place to play golf. Brown's Lobster Pound, where you can get tasty seafood fresh from the deep.
And of course, "B" is for Beach News, the fine summer publication you are reading right now.