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Construction of the Morgan G. Bulkeley Bridge began in 1903 and the project, which spans the Connecticut River, was completed five years later. An engineering and architectural feat, the bridge was a costly endeavor but also serves as a gateway into Hartford inspired by the nationwide City Beautiful movement of the era. Italian laborers and other immigrants accomplished much of the labor required to lay the foundation of the bridge into the river bed. Upon completion, the bridge stood as one of the largest stone arched bridges in the world. Most large bridges built in the following years included concrete and steel, thus the Bulkeley Bridge survives as one last and largest bridges of its kind.

The Morgan G. Bulkeley Bridge is a stone arch bridge carrying pedestrians and I-84 (Connecticut-Massachusetts) over the Connecticut River at Hartford, Connecticut. Finished in 1908, it is the oldest such bridge carrying an interstate highway, and one of the longest stone arch bridges in the world.

Bulkeley Bridge

At the turn of the twentieth century, the nation grew increasingly urban, and cities competed for commercial operations and people to move to their respective communities. City Beautiful movements, which included logistical urban planning and city beautification, served as sources of civic pride and as a sign to potential industries -- and people, in general -- that a town was worthy of investing and residing. The 1192-foot long Bulkeley Bridge (circa 1908) and its huge cost (roughly $80 million in terms of 2020 dollars) speak to that sense of civic pride and a demonstration of the city's maturation. Like most engineering projects of the era, immigrants made up much of the workforce; they performed the arduous and often dangerous task of laying the foundation for the massive bridge. After five years, the bridge proved to be a success as one of the last substantial arched stone bridges before concrete and steal served as the top choice for bridge designers. Today, it remains one of Connecticut's largest bridges. 

Given the bridge's construction occurred early in the twentieth century, it was a feat for engineers and builders to erect a bridge of such extent that required deep foundations in the Connecticut river bed. Massive amounts of exceptionally precise stonecutting took place to secure the bridge. Italian immigrants made up the majority of workers who endured extremely difficult conditions to perform the foundation work. As noted in the nomination form to the National Register of Historic Places, "Foundations for the piers were constructed by sinking wooden pneumatic caissons into the river bed, a technique in use for less than 20 years at the time. The caissons, watertight wooden boxes open at the bottom, allowed workers, mostly Italian immigrants working in hot, humid, pressurized air, to excavate the bottom sand. When the caissons were at the proper level, they were filled with concrete to provide footings for the piers." 

Still, the bridge's architectural design proved to be just as impressive as its engineering. Inspired by the nationwide City Beautiful movement, designers hoped that the bridge would act as a beautiful gateway into the city. Thus, they created an expansive Neo-classic designed arched bridge. 

The Bulkeley Bridge replaced an old wooden covered bridge that burned in 1895, though a temporary bridge stood in place from the late 1890s until 1903 when construction began on the now-historic bridge. The use of stone in the Bulkeley Bridge did not mark a move to new technology as arched stone bridges had been popular for quite some time by the early 1900s. In fact, by the time the bridge opened in 1908, concrete and steel had almost fully replaced stone in large bridge construction projects. As a result, the Bulkeley Bridge survives today as one of the largest stone bridges still in operation as it is still one of Connecticut's largest bridges of any kind. 

The Bulkeley name comes from Morgan C. Bulkeley, who served as president of the bridge commission at the time. During his life, he functioned in many public service roles including Hartford Mayor, Connecticut Governor, and U.S. Senator. He also worked in the private sector as the longtime president of the Hartford-based Aetna Insurance Company. Moreover, Bulkeley became the first president of baseball’s National League. Indeed, he is the only man enshrined both in Connecticut’s Hall of Governors in Hartford and in Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. When he passed away in 1922, the town changed the name of the bridge from Hartford Bridge to Bulkeley Bridge to honor him. 

In summary, the Bulkeley Bridge (originally known as the Hartford Bridge) enjoys historical significance for its engineering and architecture, and because it served as Hartford's largest and most expensive civic improvement projects up to the time of its completion in 1908, with much of the intensive manual labor conducted by Italian immigrants. Indeed, the project cost $3 million dollars (roughly $80 million in 2020 dollars) and stood as one of the longest stone arch bridges in the world. It stands today as a monument to the nationwide City Beautiful movement and as one of the final grand stone arched bridges before concrete and steel dominated bridge construction projects. 

Clouette, Bruce and Maura Cronin. "Nomination Form: Bulkeley Bridge." National Register of Historic Places. December 10, 1993.

Patterson, Alan Owen. "The City Beautiful Movement in Connecticut." Connecticut History Review 49, no. 2 (2010): 241-51. Accessed December 4, 2020.

Rothman, Sam L. "The Bulkeley Bridge: An Architectural Treasure." One New England. July 13, 2012.

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By Denimadept - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,