The "Mile-Long" Wooden Bridge

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"Our Town" by James W. Tucker

Hampton Union

Thursday, January 3, 1952

In order to achieve his dream of an interlocking system of electric railways which would connect all the neighboring cities and town with Hampton Beach, the promoter, Wallace D. Lovell, was obliged to venture into many and diversified business fields some of which seemed rather remote from the business of transportation by trolley. For instance, there was the construction of the Casino and of the Ocean House which we have already recounted in this pillar. And then there was the planning and the building of the "Mile-Long" Wooden Bridge, a pile structure which spanned the sprawling inlet to Hampton Harbor and connected Hampton Beach directly with Seabrook and Salisbury Beaches. Its construction was no mean nor significant engineering accomplishment and its completion meant much to the progress and development of our town and famous recreational center. Because of great importance, someone, sometime, should write a much more complete story about this interesting and useful structure than can be contained in a newspaper column.

Granite State Land Company

On December 5, 1900, more than years after the Exeter Street Railway was completed, Promoter Wallace D. Lovell, acquired land at Seabrook and Hampton Beaches, organized the Granite State Land Company, for the purpose of selling real estate and for building a bridge which would connect the two beaches. The available records do not indicate any extensive dealing in real estate on the part of the new company. But work on the new pile bridge must have begun almost immediately, for it was well under way the following summer. Available accounts concerning the construction of this bridge may be a little difficult to follow and obscure because during the early part of the building program, the Boston and Maine Railroad was engaged ;in building a new railroad bridge, also a pile structure about two miles to the westward. In examining old newspaper reports, we found that stories of work on the "the new bridge" might refer to either one of the two new bridges and it was not always easy to tell which bridge was the subject of a particular story.

No Complete File of Unions

Another handicap in this matter of digging up facts concerning events of importance in our town, is the absence of a complete file of early copies of the Hampton Union, first published on June 14, 1899 by Charles Francis Adams. There is a complete file of bound copies in the office of the Hampton Union, dating back only to 1930, when Edward S. Seavey, father of the present publishers purchased the weekly from Mr. Adams. But all the papers published in the thirty-year period between 1899 and 1930 are not available in any known repository. Therefore for Hampton happenings of this era, one is obliged to consult the bound copies of the Exeter News-Letter, which are available at the Exeter Public Library and which go back beyond 1860. And to digress even further, while we are about it. the proprietor of this pillar is certain that Edward S. Seavey, Jr., would be most happy to receive information about old copies of the Hampton Union which maya be stored away in attics or lofts in Hampton or other neighboring towns. For reference purposes, old newspaper files are invaluable.

Building Progress Was Slow

An item in the Exeter News-Letter of July 5, 1901, states that because the "bridging of the Hampton River is such a great undertaking," progress is necessarily slow. And this news story of half a century ago tells us that the new structure will be 4,740 feet long and thirty feet wide and that of the 3,865 piles which will be required to support the superstructure, about one-sixth have been driven. So, with the enthusiasm and determination typical of the man, Promoter Lovell organized his bridge company on December 5, 1900 and in a short seven months had his project off the drawing boards and on its way to completion.

On Friday, August 9, 1901, the News-Letter reports that "work on the bridge is going slowly." And in this same account, we learn that huge rafts of lumber were being towed to the bridge site from Portsmouth by the tug, "H. A. Mathes." We know that bridge material was also floated downstream to the bridge site from the railroad station at Hampton Falls and some of it was transported by team from the Hampton Railroad station. The one man now living, who remembers more in detail about the original construction of the "Mile-Long Bridge" than anyone else is Armas Guyon. His stories will some day be the topic of a complete column, for they are priceless, especially the yarn which Armas spins about getting lost one stormy cold night in the "water boat", a craft which was used to bring fresh water to the bridge site from a well in Hampton Falls.


Formal Opening, May 14, 1902

Although the winter of 1901-1902 was rugged, with low temperatures and many severe storms, work on the bridge went right along and in the spring of 1902, the super-structure, with a trolley track and road-bed occupying its thirty feet of width, was practically finished. Then guard-rails were erected on each side and the over-head trolley wires installed so that everything was ready for the formal opening, scheduled for May 14, 1902.

At noon on that day, Governor Chester B. Jordan, with his military staff and Council, along with numerous other dignitaries, were royally entertained at a dinner served at Whittier's Hotel in our town. The whole party numbered two hundred and the host on this auspicious occasion was the ubiquitous Mr. Lovell, promoter extraordinary. After dinner, the party adjourned to the bridge, the trip being made on Mr. Lovell's trolleys, and here the festivities were continued in the presence of an audience of some 2,000 persons. There was a concert by the Exeter Brass Band and a program of speaking at a grand-stand which had been erected on the bridge. Then, at exactly 2:45 o'clock, with Governor Jordan acting as motorman, the first car crossed the bridge.

Bert Brown, Newsboy

We know the identity of a boy who made that first crossing, standing as near to "His Excellency, the Motorman," as he could possibly get with a bundle of Hamptons Unions tucked under his arm. The boy was Bert Brown, now the manager of the grocery department of the local First National store. This day Bert bewails the fact the he sold those copies of the special commemorative edition of the Hamptons Union for exactly the same price he paid Publisher [Charles Francis] Adams for them, instead of taking the few cents profits to which he was entitled. However it was a lesson in economics which the record shows he never forgot!

Taken Over by the State

Although it was 540 feet short of a full miles in length, the new bridge, which cost $100,000 to build, became known almost immediately as the "Mile-Long Wooden Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in the world." And it probably was, at least when it was first built. When Lovell's trolley empire collapsed, the bridge was sold to the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway. It was purchased from that utility by the State of New Hampshire in 1933, following a toll rate case before the New Hampshire Public Service Commission. This transaction in itself is a good story which we will endeavor some day to relate. In 1941-42, the state highway department built a road on the Seabrook side of the Harbor inlet and dismantled about 3,000 feet of the old bridge was was paralleled by the new road. Then in 1949, the new, modern toll bridge of structural steel and cement was opened to the public and the remaining section of the original wooden bridge was removed. And our town lost another historic and picturesque landmark which had served the very practical and useful purpose of making Hampton Beach accessible by trolley and later by automobile from the south.

Perhaps, on another occasion, we shall be able to relate many interesting incidents having to do with the original toll bridge, its use and the dangers which beset it from the winds, the high surf and the ice of winter seasons. And we certainly must not forget to tell you about "General Moulton", the one-legged gull; a venerable bird which made its home on the bridge and which "Bill" Cram always referred to as "the bridge mascot."

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