This bridge is one of only a handful of bridges in the country to display the retractile bridge design. In a retractile bridge, the bridge rolls back off of the waterway using a system of tracks and rollers. In the case of Summer Street, the bridge is a paired oblique double-leaf retractile bridge, which means that two sections of the bridge roll back at an angle away from the road and river on the same side of the river. The Summer Street Bridge is the only such example in the country known to survive today. The benefits and ease of constructing other movable bridge types meant that the retractile was never a popular movable bridge type. Although the bridge tender building and much of the machinery that allowed this bridge to operate is removed, this bridge remains today one of the most important movable bridges in the country, as an example of the rarest general movable bridge design (the other general designs being swing, bascule, and vertical lift). The key parts of the retractile design remain in place for historical interpretation, although it appears the overall superstructure which is largely hidden by the original, unaltered outermost set of girders, may be modern and non-historic. However, the tracks and rollers that this bridge would have rolled back on remain unaltered. In addition, the overhead bracing and stabilizing stays, which are called "Samson Posts" also remain.
This bridge is also significant as one of the final examples of the Berlin Iron Bridge Company (made famous by its patented lenticular truss bridges), before the company became a part of the American Bridge Company.
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