Unique Harpswell bridge to reopen Saturday

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HARPSWELL — After more than two years, residents on Saturday will once again be able to traverse the one-of-a-kind cribstone bridge connecting Bailey and Orr’s islands.

A ceremony is planned Saturday at 11 a.m. Scheduled guest speakers include Maine Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Bruce Van Note, Maine Historic Preservation Commission Director Earle Shettleworth and Harpswell Historical Society President David Hackett.

Following the ceremony, there will be an antique car parade across the bridge, with two rows of cars meeting each other in the middle, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said. She said town officials are seeking older residents to attend the ceremony and ride in an antique car.

Pete Brown of the DOT said work began in July 2008. A temporary bridge parallel to the cribstone structure has been in place while reconstruction has progressed. Brown said about 200 large stones have been replaced and a new deck constructed at a cost of about $10.5 million – about $500,000 under budget to date.

Removal of the temporary bridge and a “few odds and ends” are expected to be complete next spring, well ahead of the November 2011 projected completion deadline, Brown said.

Some of the replacement stones came from the original quarry in North Yarmouth, but the majority came from a commercial quarry in Sullivan, he said. The original quarry is no longer a commercial quarry and could not produce the amount of stone needed in a timely manner.

The work was completed from the top down, with the first step being removal of the deck, then removal of stones layer-by-layer to reach broken stones, Brown said.

“It’s been a joy, actually, for me,” he said, adding the community has been patient and considerate during the repair work.

There were a few times a barge blocked the navigation channel while work was being done on the span over the channel, but Brown said construction crews tried to take into account busy times of day so as not to disrupt lobstermen and other ocean-going vessels that frequent the area. 

“They were really good about it,” he said.

While Brown said he was not nervous about working on the historic bridge, he said it had unique challenges. He said there were a few things that were “difficult to get around.”

“It was interesting, but it’s pretty simple from a technical standpoint,” he said. “It’s more stone age than space age.”

Brown said community interest in the project was high.

“(The bridge) means something to the people on Orr’s and Bailey, there is an affinity,” he said. “The community has been very interested. It’s the only one of it’s kind in the world. To have an $11 million job and not have a complaint of significance is simply amazing.”

CPM Constructors of Freeport performed the bridge repairs using an average crew of 25, which has since been reduced to about 15 people, Brown said.

The 1,150-foot cribstone bridge was completed in 1928 under the direction of engineer L. N. Edwards, according to a plaque on the Orr’s Island side of the bridge. The unique design allows tidal seawater, boat traffic and ice floes through the bridge without washing it out. The bridge is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. 

According to a press release from the DOT, the original stones were transported from the North Yarmouth quarry by boat to Harpswell, then placed using derricks aboard boats. The base of the bridge is supported by underwater granite ledges and spans Will’s Gut.

Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or sgrinnell@theforecaster.net

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The one-of-a-kind cribstone bridge connecting Bailey and Orr’s islands has been reconstructed over the past two years. A reopening ceremony is scheduled Saturday, Nov. 20, at 11 a.m.

The unique design of the cribstone bridge allows tidal seawater, ice floes and boat traffic through the bridge.

A temporary bridge was constructed parallel to the cribstone bridge during reconstruction. The temporary bridge is scheduled to be removed sometime next spring.

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