Mt. Hope Bridge Background & History
The Mount Hope Bridge, designed in 1927 by Robinson and Steinman, and built under their supervision in the following two years, is a prize-winning suspension bridge over Mount Hope Bay between Portsmouth and Bristol, Rhode Island. With a main span of 1200 feet, the Mount Hope Bridge was for many years the longest suspension bridge in New England. Originally built for the Mount Hope Bridge Company as a privately owned toll bridge, it was purchased by the State of Rhode Island in 1955 and is now administered by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, which succeeded the Mount Hope Bridge Authority in 1964.
Historically, the Mount Hope Bridge links the Providence Plantations, settled by Roger Williams in 1636, and the Island of Rhode Island, originally called Aquidneck, to the south, which was settled by John Clarke in 1638. The present bridge is located at the point of narrowest water gap between the present-day towns of Bristol and Portsmouth, the site of what has been an important transportation link since Colonial times. At nearby Mount Hope, now located within the township of Bristol, the Wampanoag Indian chief, King Philip, planned the Indian attacks that in 1675 and 1676 devastated the villages of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A series of ferry services aided people in their crossing over the years, such as the ferry that took Captain Benjamin Church and his men to the mainland at various times to engage in the Indian uprisings that finally resulted in the death of King Philip.
The original resolution sponsored by William L. Connery of Bristol in the Rhode Island General Assembly on March 9, 1920, calling for a joint committee to investigate the desirability of locating a bridge between Bristol and Portsmouth, was born of a relatively unimportant incident - the occasional tardiness of legislators from Newport County at sessions of the General Assembly during periods when Bristol Harbor froze over and prevented the ferry from running. At that time, however, it was decided that it was not in the financial interests of the state to build a bridge. By the mid 1920s, the tremendous development of vehicular traffic coupled with an unusually rapid influx of tourist traffic from the west into New England, and the increasing need for a direct communications link between the two major cities of the State. After deciding the project would be too expensive, the State Legislature gave a private company the right to build a toll bridge across the bay. Completed at a cost of 2.5 million dollars, the bridge was the longest suspension bridge in New England for many years. It was designed by one of America's leading bridge engineers, David B Steinman, and incorporates many technical innovations. However, one attempt at innovation proved disastrous. Over Steinman's objections, heat-treated steel had been chosen for the bridge's cables. Four months from opening day, the cables were declared unsafe. Working around the clock, the bridge crews caught up with the cable breaks until the process was halted. At a cost of one million dollars, the bridge was taken down, new cold-drawn cables were strung, and the roadway was re-erected. The bridge was completed four months late, and the contractor, McClintic-Marshall, paid for the changes.
Includes excerpts from the work of the National Register of Historic Places