Mystic celebrates 100 years of its bridge in daylong event
Mystic ― People crowded Mystic River Park on Saturday with all eyes and cameras on one thing― the Mystic River Bascule Bridge.
Opened on July 19, 1922, the unique bridge has connected the residents of Groton and Stonington for 100 years and attracted visitors from all over.
After more than a year of planning, the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce and the Mystic River Historical Society celebrated the bridge in a day’s worth of events, starting with a dedication ceremony.
Even though the anniversary day was in July, Bruce Flax, president of the chamber, said it wanted to set aside a day outside of the summer to solely recognize what “means for us and to deliver a plaque that will hopefully live forever on the bridge.”
He said, “It was very important to me that we did that.”
Among the ceremony’s speakers were U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler, state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe Giulietti and Marilyn Comrie, vice-president of the historical society.
Flax presented a facsimile of a plaque to Commissioner Giulietti to mark 100 years that will go on the bridge tender house.
Blumenthal thanked the chamber for “reminding us what’s important about Connecticut.” He said the bridge, “an architectural wonder,” is simple and energy-efficient, relying on concrete blocks and using the weight to open the bridge.
“It might’ve been built 100 years ago, but it is as fitting and important today for energy efficiency,” he said.
Blumenthal said the bridge can’t be maintained without people and thanked the Department of Transportation for its work. The bridge is owned and operated by the department.
Comrie said residents in 1922 would have been surprised to see the bridge still here. She said from 1819 to 1922, the community saw six bridges and to have one bridge last 100 years is “really remarkable.”
She said the designer, Thomas E. Brown, was retired from the Otis Elevator Co. and had an interest in movable bridges. He created the design for this bridge but did not live long enough to promote it.
Comrie said the bridge is one of the top tourist destinations in the state and one of the top five things people come to see in Mystic.
Butler announced the chamber and Foxwoods have created the Bridge Scholarship Fund. He said four $4,000 scholarships will go to incoming high school seniors at Stonington High School, Fitch High School, Grasso Tech and Westerly High School.
Flax also invited up to the stage four retired bridge tenders, each serving 30 years or more: Rod Coleman, the latest to retire this year after 33 years; Nick DiStacio, 34 years; Bruce McComiskey, 35 years; and Bruce Sullivan, 30 years.
The crowd applauded the former tenders on stage as in the background the bridge was lifted up to allow passing boats through.
At the end of the ceremony, Flax unveiled a painting by artist Abbie Park to commemorate the occasion, and Dan Watson performed an original song called “Mystic Tonight.”
The day’s festivities continued with live music, a chili fest where local restaurants competed for the best chili, a beer garden and a fireworks show over the Mystic River sponsored by Foxwoods Resort Casino.
Filming moments of the day, Alec Asten of Firesite Films in Noank said the film company is working with the chamber for marketing and the historical society to put together a documentary on the bridge in small segments.
Asten said they have spent the past year or so filming historians and residents, hearing their stories tied with the bridge. He said some segments can already be seen in the bridge’s visitor center.
“The bridge is Mystic,” he said. “It’s the centerpiece that connects both Groton and Stonington. The locals hate it and the tourists love it but at the end we all have to embrace it.”
Dana Kline of Waterford was spending the day in Mystic for the festivities with her grandson, a college student at Mitchell. She said they visited the bridge exhibition at the Mystic Museum of Art earlier in the day and she was amazed at how different the bridges before looked.
But, above all, Kline said she loves the concept of what a bridge can do― “bring people together.”