Charter Oak Bridge – 1941
This week’s Throwback Thursday looks at local Connecticut history. These large ornamental cast iron plaques were once fitted into the railing along the entire length of the original Charter Oak Bridge in Hartford, Connecticut for nearly half a century.
The Charter Oak Bridge was named after the famous Charter Oak Tree, the Nutmeg State’s official state tree. In 1662, the Connecticut Colony was granted autonomy by King Charles II and created a charter. In 1687, the new King James II revoked the autonomy and appointed a governor-general to rule over the New England colonies. This governor-general sought to seize and destroy all the New England charters. The legend says that colonists hid the Connecticut Royal Charter in a massive oak tree to avoid detection by the English governor-general. This tree became known as the Charter Oak Tree. Unfortunately, the Charter Oak Tree was struck by lightning in 1856 and fell; however, its legend lives on and the lumber from the Charter Oak was used to create chairs now sitting in Hartford’s Capitol Building.
In the early 1930’s, motor-vehicle travel was steadily increasing and to relieve traffic on the Bulkeley Bridge (1908), the Connecticut General Assembly commissioned the creation of a new bridge from East Hartford into Hartford. The $4.4 million project was set to break-ground in 1933; however, with the Connecticut economy at an all-time low due to the Great Depression, construction was halted for almost a decade. The project was reopened in 1940 and the building of the foundation began later that year.
On Dec. 4th 1941, disaster struck the construction crew as a 222 foot section of the bridge fell into the icy Connecticut River. Sixteen workers fell to their deaths; while, another sixteen workers were courageously rescued by the Hartford Fire Department. Structural engineers concluded the fall was a result of a shift in the falsework. To finish the project on schedule, the American Bridge Company replaced the nearly 800 tons of steel the exact same day of the disaster.
The 3,016 foot Charter Oak Bridge opened its four lanes to traffic on Sept. 5th 1942, collecting tolls in both directions. At the time of its opening, the Charter Oak Bridge was hailed as the longest plate girder bridge in the country. Connecticut motorists traveled the bridge for nearly 50 years until the late 1980s, when the state decided to rework the congested I-84/I-91 interchange on the Founder’s Bridge. Realizing the Charter Oak Bridge was aging poorly in both materials and design, rather than widening or converting the old bridge, a new bridge was to be built south of the original. The Charter Oak Bridge was to be dismantled. The $204 million new bridge was opened in August 1991, free of tolls, and continues to serve motorists to this day.
These cast iron mementos from the Charter Oak Bridge tell the story of Connecticut’s early transportation history as well as preserving our Nutmeg State’s history for future generations to come. Visit The PAST Antiques Marketplace at Nature’s Art Village on Route 85 in Montville, Connecticut to see these amazing Connecticut collectibles and many more antiques and vintage collectibles from around the country.
Check back next week for another Throwback Thursday!