Another Way to Cross

Jun 14, 2013

June 14, 2013 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the “Swing Bridge” across the Connecticut River in East Haddam, Connecticut.   While most drawbridges have a section that moves up and down to accommodate river traffic, the East Haddam bridge has a section that swings open like a gate to allow vessels to pass through.

The Connecticut River has always been at the heart of this little hamlet, which was originally known as Goodspeed’s Landing.  A bustling thoroughfare, the waterway offered an efficient means of transporting people and cargo in the days before railroads and good highways. An 1888 bird’s-eye view by O.H. Bailey & Co. shows sailboats and steamboats on the river.  A small ferryboat, shown departing from Goodspeed’s Landing, was the only way to cross the river before the bridge was built.  By the early 1900s this proved inadequate for the motorists who were taking to the road in ever greater numbers.  The American Automobile Association and local auto clubs were among those insisting on the need for a bridge.

Alfred P. Boller (1840-1912), a civll engineer based in New York City was hired to design the 899-foot span.  Boller had already designed several swing bridges across New York’s Harlem River and had served as chief engineer for the city’s elevated railroad.  He died before the East Haddam bridge was completed. The bridge was built by the American Bridge Company, a Pittsburgh firm that in 1900 had absorbed the Connecticut-based Berlin Iron Bridge Company.

The East Haddam Bridge officially opened to great fanfare on Flag Day June 14, 1913. Festivities included an automobile parade, a 17-gun salute, a speech by Connecticut Governor Simeon E. Baldwin, and a concert that drew thousands.   Postcards in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society capture the light-hearted mood of these celebrations.