DEER ISLE, Maine — For one hour Saturday morning, cars were replaced on the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge by people, more than 1,000 of them, who came to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the iconic green suspension bridge that arcs high over the blue Eggemoggin Reach.
They ran, strolled, celebrated, marched to the beat of drum and bagpipe and just simply craned their heads to take in all the sights and sounds on the bridge that most of the time hums with traffic.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Audrey Snowden of Orrington said as she and her son, 7-year-old Jem Snowden, enjoyed the view. “You don’t pay attention very often, because you have places to go. Hopefully they’ll do it again — everyone is really in great spirits. It’s very positive. Which is very much the island in the summer, anyway.”
The morning also marked the opening of Bridge End, a new public park at the Little Deer Isle end of the bridge that will give people access to the water, a parking area and a beautiful spot to picnic on the gravel beach.
The land was purchased for $400,000 by the town of Deer Isle in 2012 after an aggressive private fund-raising campaign. Since then, the town has worked in partnership with the Maine Department of Transportation to make it usable, doing work such as replacing a rotting wooden pier with a new, safe one and constructing a boat launch ramp and a float system.
The culmination of all that fundraising and hard work was emotional for Ann Hooke of Deer Isle, a volunteer bridge marshal Saturday who was deeply involved in the long process.
“To see it come together on this day just brings tears to my eyes,” she said, watching the scores of people traipse past. “It’s been such a beautiful community project. I’m really happy to be here today.”
At the new park, a table staffed by local historians showed photographs of life on the island before the bridge was built to connect it to the mainland. People were ferried back and forth across the reach by boat.
Furniture, iron stoves and other goods came to the island by steamboats from Rockland and other ports. Some winters, the reach would freeze and the island could get isolated, though hardy islanders used ingenuity to make do.
During one early 20th century freeze-up, a man used his motorcycle sidecar to haul 55-gallon barrels of kerosene from the mainland one by one, because his truck was too heavy for the ice.
“They were self-supporting. They were just fine, at least until cars and trains came along,” Tinker Crouch of the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society said.
In 1936, construction commenced on the soaring suspension bridge. It was built with the help of what was the largest crane in the world at that time, Crouch said, and the bridge deck is so high because President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his friends wanted to be able to sail their tall yachts underneath it.
To this day, she said, the bridge does not have lights on top of it, but does have lights underneath the deck for boating safety. The humped deck can be confusing to visitors, she said.
“More than once, traffic has stopped there because someone thinks it’s a drawbridge [that is up],” she said.
Bill Hutchinson, 89, of Stonington was there when the bridge was inaugurated in 1939, and said that it was wonderful to be there for its anniversary celebration. The retired lobstermen has lived his whole life on the island, apart from a stint in the Marines during World War II.
“The bridge meant not having to go across on the scow,” he said, adding that it opened up more opportunities to travel to places like Ellsworth and Bangor.
After the walk across the bridge, a crowd gathered at the new park to share words, thanks, prayers and music from the Deer Isle-Stonington High School band.
They gave rousing applause to people like Loring Kydd, the chairman of the Bridge End Citizen’s Committee, but reserved the most enthusiastic cheers for Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt.
He said the state agency would make a commitment to fix bumpy, rutted Route 15.
“Get it in writing!” one woman called out from the audience.
Finally, Joe Brown, the Hancock County commissioner, spoke from the heart about the bridge, and its meaning to islanders who have been away.
“We turn the corner in Sedgwick and see that green structure looming ahead of us and we get goosebumps,” he said. “Because we’re almost home.”