The last stone has been laid in the construction of a stone bridge which is destined to rank as one of the
greatest of its kind in the world. The bridge, with its approaches, took nearly three years to build, and cost
about three million dollars. It is composed of nine spans, having maximum dimensions of a reach of 119 feet and
a clear height of arch of 45 feet, is 82 feet wide, and has a total length of 1,192.5 feet.
The famous London Bridge, which has hitherto ranked first among stone bridges, is but 62 feet wide, 1005 feet long, and has 5 arches, with a longest span of 152 feet and a maximum rise of arch of 27.5 feet.
The Connecticut bridge is not remarkable for its length of span, for there are several stone bridges with a span of over 200 feet; but these are generally narrow, one-span structures, as, for instance, the Cabin John Creek bridge, carrying the Washington Aqueduct, which has a span of 220 feet and a width of but 20 feet. Neither is it the longest bridge, for there is the Congleton Viaduct, in England, which has 41 arches 2,870 feet long and 28 feet wide. Although it is one of the widest bridges, it is not any one feature that stamps it great, but a summary of size of arch, of length and breadth, combined with its perfection of structure and symmetry of outline, that makes plain the claim of superiority.
The King's Highway was the old Colonial through route from Boston to New York and crossed the Connecticut River at Hartford. Even today it is known by the same name between Stamford and Bridgeport and from Hartford east through Tolland county, for a distance of about 30 miles, and an occasional old-fashioned inn, under a canopy of venerable elms, still serves to recall the days when the lumbering stage coach took the place of the present limited express.
During the earlier years of Hartford's history the only means of crossing the Connecticut was a ferry, but in 1810 a stock company built a toll bridge that extended only from shore to shore, and in times of high water the passengers had to be carried over the meadows of East Hartford by boat. In March, 1818, this bridge was carried away by ice, and was shortly followed by the second bridge, which was built of native upland pine on the piers of the first one, with the roadway hung over the lower chords of the trusses, which sprang from the piers 4 feet higher than formerly. The original bridge of 1810, including land rights, cost $96,000; the bridge of 1818, which stood on the old piers, cost $30,000; the causeway cost about $150,000, and the cost of maintenance of bridge and causeway up to 1844 -- which was brought out by a suit between the bridge and the ferry companies -- was $47,000. In May, 1889, the bridge was bought by the State and the neighboring towns and made free to the public. After standing for more than seventy-five years, it burned in 1895, making one of the most spectacular displays ever seen in the Connecticut valley, and was witnessed by 20,000 people collected on the shores.
A temporary wooden bridge, erected in June of that year, was carried away five months later by an ice jam, and was followed in May, 1896, by a second temporary bridge that was guaranteed for but five years. It was composed of nine steel truss spans, varying in length from 90 to 136 feet, and supported on pile piers planked around the outside and filled with loose "hand dump" stone. Although the truss members are extremely light, the bridge is stiff and free from vibration, and has been described by bridge engineers as "one in which the steel has been made to act with greater efficiency than in almost any other structure." This bridge has served for eleven years and is now removed.
In 1895 the State Legislature enacted a law creating the Connecticut River Bridge and Highway District Commission, and Senator Morgan G. Bulkeley was appointed and has remained its chairman. This law provided for the issuing of bonds to raise money for the erection of a bridge and the construction of a causeway and approaches, and provided for the apportionment of the expense among five neighboring towns directly benefited by the work. After a long and bitter controversy, an act was passed in Congress and signed by the President in 1903, permitting the building of the bridge without a draw, as it was reported by a commission from Washington that it would cost $3,000,000 to make the river navigable between Hartford and Springfield. The War Department then gave its consent.
Three estimates were presented by the Bridge Commission for a permanent bridge -- $782,000 for a steel girder bridge, $878,000 for a steel arch bridge, and $1,600,000 for a stone arch bridge, with the approaches estimated at $709,000. At a meeting of various business associations and the general public, the stone bridge was unanimously chosen, and later, in April, 1902, at an election, resolutions were adopted calling for an appropriation of $1,000,000 for the bridge and $709,000 for the approaches, and later and additional issue of bonds, to the amount of $500,000 was made.
Besides the stone bridge, the improvements include, at the east end, a straight macadam boulevard approach, already completed, which is 1 mile long, and the greater portion of which is an earth-fill, 70 feet wide and with a maximum depth of fill of 30 feet, carrying the roadway over the low meadows, which are submerged in times of high water, the maximum rise recorded being 29 feet. To give relief during these times of freshet, a bridge was provided, which is composed of eight 40-foot deck plate spans, with a buckle plate floor and an asphalt pavement. The boulevard approach at the west end is L-shaped in plan, runs parallel to the river for 1,600 feet, turning right angles to cross a railroad tunnel, extending 200 feet on either side to protect the bridge from smoke, and to enter the bridge. It is 90 feet wide and has a total length of 1,800 feet.
Webmaster's Note: The bridge, which came to be known as the Bulkeley Bridge, was a five-town cooperative effort. Manchester was one of those towns, and the Bridge publication included photos and stories about Manchester.