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World War Memorial Bridge

World War Memorial Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Elaine Deutsch

Bridge Documented: August 22, 2011

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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
US-1 Over Piscataqua River
Portsmouth and Kittery: Rockingham County, New Hampshire and York County, Maine: United States
Structure Type
Metal 10 Panel Rivet-Connected Warren Through Truss, Movable: Vertical Lift and Approach Spans: Metal 10 Panel Rivet-Connected Polygonal Warren Through Truss, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1923 By Builder/Contractor: American Bridge Company of New York, New York and Engineer/Design: J. A. L. Waddell

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
297 Feet (90.5 Meters)
Structure Length
1,201 Feet (366.1 Meters)
Roadway Width
28 Feet (8.53 Meters)
1 Main Span(s) and 10 Approach Span(s)
NBI Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
View Information About HSR Ratings

Bridge Documentation

This bridge no longer exists!

View Archived National Bridge Inventory Report - Has Additional Details and Evaluation

This landmark historic bridge and memorial to World War I Veterans was demolished by Maine and New Hampshire DOT February 2012!

About This Bridge

This bridge was commonly called Memorial Bridge, but its full name is World War Memorial Bridge. This name itself is historically noteworthy since it references the fact that the bridge was built after World War I, but before World War II. Nobody at that time imagined that their would be a second World War. The bridge had an extremely large and ornate sculpture mounted on the New Hampshire end of the bridge, on the truss portal bracing that declared the bridge a memorial to World War I soldiers. This sculpture represented one of the most ornate decorations found on any bridge remaining in the United States at the time the bridge was demolished.

This bridge was also extremely significant as a relatively early and large example of a vertical lift bridge, and in particular, one designed by renowned bridge engineer J. A. L. Waddell. Waddell was a champion of the vertical lift type of movable bridge and he held patents related to their design. The design of the Memorial Bridge utilized some of these patents, adding to the historic significance of the bridge.

Visually, this bridge was an iconic landmark. The large trussed lift towers and the through truss lift span alone made an impressive monument, however the additional large fixed through truss approach spans gave the bridge a unique and even more impressive appearance. The fixed truss spans had a polygonal Warren truss configuration, that gave them a curved appearance, which complimented the curved appearance of the back side of the lift towers. In contrast, the lift span lacked the polygonal design, instead having a straight top chord, which complimented the flat front side of the lift towers.

This bridge retained excellent historic integrity with few major alterations to the overall design and materials of the bridge.

Why Preserve A Beautiful Historic Bridge When You Can Scrap It Out Instead?

In 2009, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed this historic bridge as 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in the country. This concern was well-placed.

Although a bit older, the general design and construction of this bridge was similar to Chicago's Torrence Avenue Bridge. In 2012, Chicago was undertaking a comprehensive rehabilitation to preserve the heavily traveled and frequently operated bridge. In the same year, Maine and New Hampshire chose to demolish their Memorial Bridge. The reality is that the Memorial Bridge could have and should have been preserved. There even were plans for rehabilitation developed during the project planning process, proving that is would have been possible.

The demolition of this bridge has resulted in the loss of an extremely significant, early example of a vertical lift bridge. It also shows a lack of respect to the soldiers the bridge was designed as a memorial to. The replacement bridge will not be as beautiful as the historic bridge and as such will fail to honor the soldiers in the way that the historic bridge did.

The engineers who designed the replacement bridge were all excited because this was apparently to be the first truss bridge built that will not have any gusset plates. Many engineers are afraid of gusset plates because improperly designed gusset plates on the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, MN led to that bridge's collapse. Despite the collapse of that bridge, the countless truss bridges with properly designed gusset plates are not a collapse risk and have safely and reliably served traffic for decades. The reality is that a properly designed gusset plate is safe and there is no reason to fear them. At the same time, these engineers claimed the replacement bridge would look attractive like the historic bridge did. This shows a complete lack of understanding as to what makes a historic truss bridge beautiful. Historic truss bridges derive their beauty from their complexity that forms a unique geometric art. That complexity occurs in many ways on the bridge: the overall truss web, the bracing system, the use of built-up beams with numerous rivets as well as lattice and v-lacing, and also the connection details. The reality is that even the gusset plates at the connection points add to the complexity of a truss bridge, and the absence of them in the replacement bridge only makes the replacement bridge look less interesting. The gusset plates also make the bridge look better to casual viewers since they give the appearance of bridge members that are securely attached to each other. The replacement bridge not only lacks gusset plates, other key elements such as a complex bracing system and built-up beams with v-lacing and lattice have been eliminated. The result is a bridge that looks extremely plain and devoid of geometric beauty. A number of people in the community objected to the appearance of the replacement bridge, but these concerns were ignored.


Bridge Inspection Files - This PDF package includes several bridge inspection documents including detailed inspections, underwater inspections, and mechanical inspections.

Historical Rehabilitation Plans - This is a package of plan sheets that detail a couple rehabilitation projects undertaken on the bridge during its service life.

2012 Rehabilitation Plans - Apparently at some point, someone had the revolutionary idea of actually preserving this beautiful landmark historic bridge. These plans detail the way it might have been accomplished. Unfortunately, the effort that went into producing these plans was wasted since a costly replacement was chosen instead.

Maine - New Hampshire Connections Study - This is one of the planning documents related to the development of this historic bridge demolition project.

Historic Structures Report: Memorial Bridge

The Historic Structures Report, produced by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, is best described as the combination of Section 106 Review documents that document a supposed attempt to avoid adverse effect to the historic bridge, as well as a full recordation of the historic bridge, which is an aspect of the Section 106 mitigation for the demolition of this historic bridge. As such, this is an extremely useful document for researchers, whether they are seeking to learn about the design and history of the bridge, or seeking information about the project development project process that led to the demolition of this rare and beautiful historic bridge. Among the many interesting things in the report are high resolution scans of the original plan sheets for the bridge. Due to the large size of this document, the report has been split into separate PDF files available for download. Use the

Tab A. Introduction
Tab B. Background and History of Memorial Bridge
Tab C. Background and History of the Portsmouth Approach
Tab D. Background and History of the Maine Approach
Tab E. Current Description and Conditions Assessment
Tab F. Identification of Character-Defining Features/Qualities
Tab G. Alternatives Discussion
Tab H. Effects/Mitigation
Tab I. Archaeological Investigation
Tab J. Visual Study of Memorial Park
Tab K. NHDHR Individual Form for Portsmouth Approach
Tab L. Sculpture
Tab M. Current Large Format Photos
Tab N. Historic Photographs (Photos Showing Bridge Construction)
Tab O. Historic Drawings (Original Bridge Plans)
Tab P. Bibliography

Statement of Significance From Memorial Bridge Historic Structures Report

Criterion A Significance

Under Criterion A, Memorial Bridge was the first modern, free, operable bridge linking New Hampshire and Maine along the great coastal highway, US Route 1 (which had been designated in 1922, just prior to the opening of the bridge). As such, the bridge greatly furthered interstate eastern seaboard travel. Designed for automobiles, electric trolley cars, and pedestrians, the span eliminated tolls over a private bridge upstream and provided a direct light rail connection over the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth and Kittery, supplanting the Portsmouth, Kittery & York Street Railway ferry. Providing direct and rapid transportation to the Portsmouth Navy Yard, the bridge simultaneously eliminated the Navy ferry. Memorial Bridge is also significant under Criterion A for its role in the history of transportation both locally and on a regional level. The bridge is significant in the development of the City of Portsmouth, and its construction represented the culmination of a long and difficult campaign on the part of the citizens of Portsmouth to link Kittery (and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard) with the town via a free bridge. The bridge may also have significance for its role in local maritime history. Finally, since the design intent of the original project was to create a memorial to World War I veterans, the bridge links memorial parks in both Maine and New Hampshire, and has ties to commemorative structures throughout the country.

Criterion C Significance

Under Criterion C, Memorial Bridge claimed many superlatives when new. It was designed by J. A. L. Waddell (1854-1938), one of the world's preeminent bridge designers, the developer of vertical lift bridges in the United States, and the holder of patents on most aspects of the operation of these bridges. Memorial Bridge was the first major vertical lift bridge in the eastern United States. At its dedication in 1923, it had the longest lift span in the country (297'), making it the direct prototype for later vertical lift bridges with clear spans of over 300'. Its lift towers, extending 210' above mean high water, were also among the highest in the nation, and its 135' vertical clearance was one of the highest. Based upon the success of the Memorial Bridge design and two contemporary bridges in Newark, New Jersey, Waddell's vertical lift design was adopted in locations throughout the world where spans of greater than 300' were required. The bridge was also a stepping-stone towards the later, even longer lift spans, such as that over the Cape Cod Canal, which had openings of greater than 500'. The durability and simplicity of operation of the lift span design has been proven over time; many of the bridges built between 1910 and 1940 are still operating today and still have low operation and maintenance costs. Today, Memorial Bridge is one of the oldest operational lift bridges in the United States. The bridge retains its original main structure with alterations limited largely to the deck, railings and mechanical systems. Under National Register Criterion C, the bridge embodies the distinctive characteristics of its type, the Vertical Lift Bridge, and possesses integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.

Character Defining Features

As discussed in National Register Bulletin 15 ("How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation"), character-defining features are those "essential physical features that enable [a property] to convey its historic identity... those features that define both why a property is significant... and when it was significant...They are the features without which a property can no longer be identified ..." (National Register of Historic Places 1991:5). Memorial Bridge's significance falls chiefly under Criterion C as an example of the work of a master, J.A.L. Waddell, and more generally as an important example of the vertical lift bridge type. It is also the earlier of only two vertical lift bridges in New Hampshire. In form, function, use, operation and general appearance, the bridge today is much the same as when it was constructed in 1923. In particular, the overall structural form, including the pattern of parallel chords for the movable span and polygonal top chords for the flanking spans; the use of Warren trusses; the towers and their locations all convey the original appearance of the structure. Taken together, these qualities help define the historic identity of the bridge and are thus character-defining features. It should also be noted that after eighty years the mechanical parts of this exceptional structure continue to operate flawlessly, lifting daily, day in and day out, to permit ships to pass underneath. The bridge's footprint, its location, and its massing are also important characteristics that have not changed over time. In additional to these more general characteristics, character-defining features also include the materials original to the bridge's construction. These include foundations, the structural steel which makes up the trusses and towers of the three Waddell-designed spans, and the counterweights.

Information and Findings From Maine's Historic Bridge Inventory

Discussion of Bridge

The 1921 vertical lift bridge designed by J.A.L. Waddell, the engineer who developed and popularized the movable bridge type, is the oldest of the 3 vertical lift bridges in the state. It is historically and technologically significant as a complete and typical example of this bridge type that involves complex engineering. The Memorial Bridge was used to illustrate period structural engineering text books including Otis Hovey's 1926 Movable Bridges. Built as a free interstate bridge, its capacity was exceeded by the 1930s, and in 1941, another vertical lift bridge, the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, was added upstream. The 1921 vertical lift bridge is judged to have high preservation priority because it is the earliest of the three examples of the type in the state, and it is complete.

Bridge Considered Historic By Survey: Yes


Photo Galleries and Videos: World War Memorial Bridge

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Structure Overview
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A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
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Structure Details
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
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Structure Overview
Mobile Optimized Photos
A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
View Photo Gallery
Structure Details
Mobile Optimized Photos
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
View Photo Gallery
Historical Photos
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of historical construction photos of the bridge. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
View Photo Gallery
Historical Photos
Mobile Optimized Photos
A collection of historical construction photos of the bridge. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer


Maps and Links: World War Memorial Bridge

This historic bridge has been demolished. This map is shown for reference purposes only.

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