MACHIAS, Maine — The downtown bridge over the Machias River is expected to be renamed to celebrate the town’s involvement in the Revolutionary War.
Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, introduced a bill this session to “rename the bridge after Jeremiah O’Brien, who was a Revolutionary War hero who actually fought in the first naval battle of the revolution,” Tuell said.
The bridge does not have an official name, so a group of local people recently approached him with the idea of giving it one.
“It is referred to locally as ‘the bridge’ or ‘the Machias bridge’ or sometimes ‘the Bad Little Falls bridge,’ but it does not have a name,” Tuell said.
With the support of the Machias Historical Society, which runs the annual Margaretta Days in remembrance of the battle, and Machias town officials, the representative submitted the naming legislation this session.
A public hearing was held in mid-January, and the bill was approved this month in the House and Senate.
Before it passed, at the request of the state Department of Transportation, the legislation was amended to include the series of three connected spans that make up the entire bridge across the river. Each segment is anchored on natural ledges or rock formations in the river.
“Really, it’s just one bridge,” Tuell said.
The only additional costs to DOT are associated with signage, which are to be absorbed within the existing budget, according to the measure.
Jeremiah O’Brien was among the many American sympathizers and rebels in Machias in 1774, when the British occupied and closed Boston, according to a historical reference on the Penobscot Marine Museum website.
Because of the takeover, Maine towns could no longer ship their wood and fish to Boston or acquire needed food and other supplies from Boston. But because British officials in Boston needed firewood, they sent the armed sloop HMS Margaretta to Machias to accompany ships owned by a Loyalist lumber trader who was willing to transport goods for them.
As the Margaretta and two other vessels arrived at the mouth of the Machias River on June 2, 1775, however, many local residents decided they would not help the British by giving them any lumber.
Rebel leader Jeremiah O’Brien sailed out in pursuit of the Margaretta, and “his crew swarmed over the sides surprising the British with only their guns, swords, axes and pitchforks,” according to the Chronicles of Liberty website. The rebels also seized the other two British vessels in what is considered “the first naval engagement of the American Revolution.”
The bridge will not officially be named until 90 days after the end of the legislative session.
“Technically it probably isn’t going to have it’s new name [in time for Margaretta Days],” Tuell said.
Still, a ceremony announcing the new name will take place during the festival on June 13, according to event chairperson Carlene Holmes.