July 13, 2020

Dedication of first bridge drew big crowds to 1932 ceremony

The dedication of the Waldo-Hancock Bridge was considered a “simple ceremony” but “one of the most inspiring ceremonies ever enacted along the shores of the Penobscot.”

The old bridge was completed in 1931 and opened to traffic on Nov. 16 of that year, but it wasn’t formally dedicated until June 12, 1932, during a ceremony at Fort Knox.

Likewise, the Penobscot Narrows Bridge will be completed this year, and, although the Bridgewalk and a ceremony later this year when the bridge is opened to vehicle traffic will mark its completion, the formal dedication will not be held until June 23, 2007.

During the first week it was opened, more than 2,500 automobiles paid the toll to cross the old bridge. The bridge was a boon for local businesses. Stores stayed open the Sunday after the bridge opened, and, in that one day, an estimated 1,500-plus vehicles crossed the bridge.

Business in Bucksport restaurants and downtown stores more than doubled as a result of the increased number of visitors, “the first noticeable effects of the bridge,” according to newspaper accounts.

The dedication itself drew even more motorists across the bridge with more than 3,000 autos driving across the bridge in a motorcade led by then Maine Gov. William Tudor Gardiner, accompanied by the Ellsworth Band and Belfast Band, representing the two counties linked by the bridge. Because of the lack of parking spaces at Fort Knox, many motorists returned over the bridge without attending the ceremonies.

Despite that, a crowd estimated at more than 4,000 people was on hand. Former Attorney General Raymond Fellows of Bangor, the keynote speaker at the ceremony, described the bridge as a “band of steel, strong yet beautiful, worthy of a noble state and a noble river.”

J.D. Steinman of the firm Steinman and Robinson, which designed and built the bridge, said the “desire to produce a beautiful public structure which would do justice to the scenic setting was a governing consideration” in the design of the bridge.

“Artistically, the character of a suspension bridge is largely determined by the design of the towers,” he said. “In the case of the Waldo-Hancock Bridge, the rigor of the natural setting, the stern lines of the adjacent Fort Knox and the background of colonial architecture called for beauty with simple lines, rather than with flowing curves.”

Gov. Gardiner formally accepted the bridge on behalf of the state, and then 17 aerial bombs burst against the sky. Two young women, Sarah Blodgett of Bucksport and Florence Harriman of Prospect, raised American flags at each end of the bridge. Accompanied by the combined bands, the gathering joined in singing the national anthem to conclude the ceremony.

The bridge was called Maine’s million-dollar bridge, referring to the cost, which had been estimated at a little more than $1 million. But the methods used to build it were so economical, according to accounts from the day, that the bridge was constructed for much less than estimated. Contractors saved so much money on the construction that there were enough funds to build the companion bridge from Verona to Bucksport with some money left over.

The bridge replaced the old ferry system that ran between Prospect and Bucksport. Tolls were charged to cross the bridge from the time it opened until 1953.

Correction: An article about the Waldo-Hancock Bridge dedication that appeared in Saturday’s paper apparently repeated an error made in the 1932 Bangor Daily News account of that event. According to family members, one of the young women who raised the flags on the bridge that day was Marjorie Harriman, not Florence Harriman.

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