Monday, August 4, 2008

The Longfellow Bridge


Today's post was prompted by an article in yesterday's Boston Globe about the repairs needed on the 100 plus-year-old Longfellow Bridge.

The bridge (known as the West Boston Bridge until 1927) was designed by the architect Edmund M. Wheelwright, a Boston native and Harvard graduate. Wheelwright had been part of the design team for the Boston Public Library when he worked for McKim, Mead, and White in NYC. He had started his own firm in Boston in 1897 and appears to have begun working on the bridge design quite soon after that, since construction started in 1900.

With excellent forethought, the new bridge was designed and built to support automobile and train traffic, even though the subway system didn’t extend that far at the time it was built, and cars were still exceptions on the roads.

The steel superstructure of the bridge was completed in 1904, and the road across the bridge was paved in 1905, although the grand opening of the bridge was not held until July 31, 1907.

I became interested in the bridge historically because, on the evening before the November 16, 1905 primary for the election of a new Boston mayor, John Francis Fitzgerald (JFK's grandfather), conducted a whirlwind speaking tour of all the wards in the city of Boston (zooming about the city in the rain with his advisors and supporters in a parade of six automobiles). At the first stop of the evening in West Boston (Ward 8), a little after 7 p.m., he spoke with 300 supporters at the intersection of Cambridge and Charles Streets, "at the entrance to the new bridge," reported the Boston Daily Globe on November 16.

Wheelwright's designs would create structures that have become some of the most visible landmarks in modern-day Boston and Cambridge. In addition to the BPL and the Longfellow Bridge, he also designed Horticultural Hall (completed in 1901), Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory (completed in 1903), and the Harvard Lampoon Building (completed in 1909). (Wheelwright had been a Lampoon member at Harvard.) He was also a consulting architect for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (completed in 1909).

Sadly, Wheelwright's work was cut short when he suffered a mental breakdown in 1910, which, according to the August 15 New York Times "developed in connection with his work as designer of the Hartford Bridge over the Connecticut River". He died in 1912 at a sanitarium in Connecticut, apparently by his own hand.

1 comment:

Vivian said...

Interesting to know.