Bridge gone but forever remembered in new book
The original Jamestown Bridge was born through hostile opposition and shattered before the loving eyes of devoted fans. A book, which chronicles the life of the controversial bridge in Rhode Island history, is now on bookstands.
"The Jamestown Bridge, 1940- 2007: Concept to Demolition," is a second edition of the bridge's biography by Sue Maden. The book, largely compiled from accounts published in the first edition, "The Jamestown Bridge, 1940-1990 from 'The Bridge to Nowhere' to Obsolescence," includes two new chapters that describe the final demolition stages in the story of the bridge.
"Nothing like revisiting your past," Maden chuckles as she reflects on the 17 years that passed between the first and second printings. Maden notes that she is the last surviving member of the production crew that worked on the first book, making her the torchbearer for the publishing staff of the updated version.
The dramatic explosion of the old span is replayed on the cover of the book. The falling superstructure beckons readers to turn the pages and witness the tale of the bygone bridge. From the stream of beautiful costumed girls holding the opening ceremony ribbon to the final dismantling and cleanup, Maden's book immortalizes an era of state history that few Rhode Islanders, let alone islanders, will soon forget.
The first Jamestown Bridge was a public improvement that fueled rivalries and rancor in Rhode Island history for years. In 1939, the Providence Journal said the project was approved and rejected so many times by so many authorities that even the sponsors lost count. By 1969, when the Newport Bridge opened, the arch over Narragansett Bay's West Passage was established as an important highway connection for commuters and travelers.
The section of Route 138 from the mainland to Jamestown was effective enough to call for a new enhanced bridge that could support the increasing flow of traffic.
As the water overpass approached its fiftieth birthday, a light bulb went on for Maden. The idea of putting together a commemorative collection of bridge memories for its anniversary of five decades tugged on her heart.
In 1988, a few years before the bridge was closed for good, John Ragland, a former carpenter who worked on the bridge during its construction, visited Maden to buy a postcard book that had been published through the historical society. A chance conversation between Maden and Ragland planted the seed that blossomed into the production of a series of oral history interviews as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the bridge in 1990. "The bridge was not supposed to be used for 50 years. The new one was supposed to open in 1988," Maden says.
From the collection of memories emerged the first bound volume. For Maden, the book was the perfect project. The Jamestown Historical Society wanted to sponsor the project. The society was keen to produce the book since many of the records and artifacts collected by the society are transportation history, according to Maden.
People at that time still remembered the building of the bridge. Some had worked on the bridge. Others shared touching experiences. Many donated memorabilia. Dozens of people contributed, and over 80 bridge memories were collected.
The Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge finally opened in 1992, making the original span obsolete after 52 years of service. Another 15 years of argument passed before the old bridge was dismantled last year.
"I think it's wonderful that some- thing as important as the bridge to Jamestown is documented," Maden comments. "I've met many wonderful people and everyone has been great about sharing stories and memorabilia."
The Jamestown Bridge Memories collection, containing over 80 anecdotes, is available online at www.jamestownhistoricalsociety. org.
The new book will soon be on sale at local retail outlets, including Baker's Pharmacy, Conanicut Marine Ship's Store, Jamestown Designs, Jamestown Hardware and at the Jamestown Press office. It can also be purchased for $19.95, plus $4 shipping and handling, through mail order by sending a letter to the Jamestown Historical Society, P.O. Box 156, Jamestown, RI 02835, or e-mail a request to jhs@jamestownri. com.