This year marks the 22nd annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Since 1988, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has used this list as a powerful alarm to raise awareness of the serious threats facing the nation’s greatest treasures. It has become one of the most effective tools in the fight to save the country’s irreplaceable architectural, cultural and natural heritage. In the days leading up to and during the National Preservation Trust’s Nashville Conference, Nashville Past And Present will highlight the historic buildings, structures and places on this years most endangered list.
For more than 85 years, Memorial Bridge, the first major “vertical lift” bridge in the eastern US, has been a sturdy and dramatic landmark, spanning the Piscataqua River and connecting the historic coastal towns of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Kittery, Maine. At its 1923 dedication as the official state memorial to World War I servicemen, the bridge had the longest lift span in the country (297 feet), making it the prototype for later metal truss bridges. Unlike a drawbridge, which swings open and upward like a gate, a vertical-lift bridge hoists a single section straight up, allowing boats to pass underneath. For generations, the bridge has carried automobiles along coastal Route 1, and its wood-floored walkways still provide the only pedestrian and cycling link between two communities steeped in history.
With its dramatic 200-foot twin towers, Memorial Bridge is one of three highway bridges spanning the Piscataqua River between New Hampshire and Maine. The bridge plays a critical role in the local economy linking historic downtown Portsmouth and the recently revitalized Kittery Foreside neighborhood.
Our nation’s historic bridges are being destroyed at the alarming rate of one every two or three days. Lack of maintenance and a knee-jerk preference for replacement often counters the directive of Congress that historic bridges be preserved whenever possible. Bridges that cross state lines are especially vulnerable.
In 2007, the states of Maine and New Hampshire agreed that Memorial Bridge should be fully rehabilitated. When estimates came back $15 million over budget, the two states disagreed on how to pay for proposed repairs and are now studying their options, including destruction and replacement of Memorial Bridge, a solution that could be far more costly.
Although owned jointly by both states, Memorial Bridge is operated by New Hampshire, which placed the bridge at the top of the state Department of Transportation’s “Red List,” of bridges needing repair. At a public meeting in Portsmouth in November, 2008, New Hampshire officials revealed that two bids had been submitted for bridge rehabilitation, both substantially higher than pre-bid estimates. The Maine Department of Transportation was unwilling to proceed with the rehabilitation at the higher price.
A broad coalition of seacoast area preservation, business, green, and veterans’ organizations supports the recent proposal by the New Hampshire Department Of Transportation that both states seek competitive infrastructure stimulus funds to completely rehabilitate the Memorial Bridge. The Maine Department Of Transportation, however, has not yet concurred.