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Crossing the Gut

This slideshow contains 7 items
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Chart of the southern portion of South Bristol and surrounding waters

Chart of the southern portion of South Bristol and surrounding waters

Item 81726 info
South Bristol Historical Society

The geography of South Bristol dictates that a bridge will always be vital to the community.

A significant number of the area's citizens have always lived on Rutherford Island, separated from mainland South Bristol by a narrow passage known as the "Gut."

In the early days of settlement, the connection was made by boat, a sort of ferry that made the crossing once the tide was too high to allow it to be forded.


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An early bridge across

An early bridge across "The Gut", South Bristol, ca. 1900

Item 79589 info
South Bristol Historical Society

As early as 1849, concerns about the bridge gave rise to petitions to the state legislature asking for a draw bridge over the Gut.

The petitioners wrote: "…the bridge connecting Rutherford’s Island to the mainland in said town of Bristol … is a great nuisance to the said citizens aforesaid and others doing business as fishermen in the vicinity."

They added that the "Gut" was navigable for vessels of one hundred tons or more, and the passage through from John's Bay to the Damariscotta River by that route is only one half mile, while going around the Island is about eight miles.

Therefore, they argued, a bridge built to open and allow vessels to pass through it "would save much in distance, and the navigation much less dangerous."

The petitions apparently fell on deaf ears, and no draw bridge was built.


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The first swing bridge in South Bristol, ca. 1910

The first swing bridge in South Bristol, ca. 1910

Item 79592 info
South Bristol Historical Society

A new bridge was built in 1891 but it was still not a draw bridge; furthermore, it collapsed during the Fourth of July celebration in 1902.

Apparently one of the floor timbers broke while people were standing on the bridge to watch the celebrations. Damages were claimed by at least three people for the injuries they sustained.

When the next bridge was built in 1903 it was a swing bridge as had been requested as far back as 1849, swinging open by rotating to the west.

The first bridge tender was Charles Clifford who was paid a total of $82.95 the first year to operate the hand-crank swing span.


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South Bristol village from a distance, 1910

South Bristol village from a distance, 1910

Item 79597 info
South Bristol Historical Society

In the early 1900's, "summer business" was becoming a significant element in the economy of the South Bristol area.

As more and more summer visitors came by automobile, not only was a safe and efficient bridge necessary, but decent roads were also important.

As those who favored independence from Bristol stated in 1915, the "roads are not roads at all but the next thing to plowed fields."

Making matters worse, the old wooden sidewalks in the village were removed by Bristol, but the promised new ones were never built.


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Third bridge over the

Third bridge over the "Gut," South Bristol, ca.1926

Item 79588 info
South Bristol Historical Society

By 1911 the wooden swing bridge was in poor condition. Feeling that Bristol's Selectmen were slow to make necessary repairs was one of the major factors leading South Bristol residents to petition for independence from Bristol.

Even though South Bristol became an independent town in 1915, it wasn't until 1921 that a new steel draw bridge was built.

No longer a swing bridge, the deck was hinged and lifted upward with the aid of two large concrete counterweights that moved downward on curved beams as the deck rose up.


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Swing bridge over the Gut, South Bristol, 2006

Swing bridge over the Gut, South Bristol, 2006

Item 82093 info
South Bristol Historical Society

The new bridge did not last for long, however. In late summer 1929, one of the chains connecting the deck to the counterweights broke and the bridge came down with a resounding crash.

Once again, it was time for a new bridge. The swing bridge built in 1930 was still in use in 2013.


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Artist's rendering of a new bridge as proposed in a privately-funded study, 2013

Artist's rendering of a new bridge as proposed in a privately-funded study, 2013

Item 82145 info
South Bristol Historical Society

In 2009 the bridge again became the focus of the town and another long-running controversy began.

The state proposed to replace the bridge, and though many wished that the 1930 bridge could be kept functioning, the real disagreement was over what a new bridge would look like.

A privately-funded engineering study produced a design less intrusive than the one proposed by the state.

In the spring of 2013, the state Department of Transportation was in the process of reviewing the new proposal and many expect that changes will be made to the original design.

Meanwhile, the old bridge still opens and shuts a record 8,000 times each year as the community waits for the final decision.


This slideshow contains 7 items