Waterville's Two Cent Bridge: a local history lesson
The Two Cent Bridge is a footbridge across the Kennebec River in downtown Waterville. In the early 1900s, people who worked at factories in Winslow crossed the bridge to get to work each day.
The Two Cent Bridge in downtown Waterville is a â€œwonder often unnoticed,â€ said Executive Director of Waterville Maine Street Shannon Haines. The bridge is the last surviving toll footbridge in America, one of the countryâ€™s oldest surviving steel cable suspension bridges and a very unique piece of the cityâ€™s history.
The Two Cent Bridge was constructed in 1901 to provide workers in Waterville with easy access to the Hollingsworth & Whitney Company factory, which was located just across the Kennebec River in Winslow.
The bridge was washed away less than a year after its construction when the river flooded, but it was rebuilt two years later. After the bridge was rebuilt, the toll for factory workers to cross the bridge was raised from a penny to two cents, thus the Two Cent Bridge got its name.
In 1960, after many years of successful use, the heir of the bridgeâ€™s original owners donated the Two Cent Bridge to the city of Waterville and the toll to cross it was abolished. While the city has worked to maintain the structural integrity of the bridge, it has been closed at various times when conditions were unsafe for foot traffic.
Nevertheless, The Two Cent Bridge has remained standing while quite a few presidents changed office, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
While the bridge does attract the occasional bridge enthusiast today, Haines hopes to revitalize the entire Head of Falls Site surrounding the bridge to draw in a wider demographic and to encourage public use of a structure that is often overlooked.
Over a million dollars has already been invested in renovations, electrical work and in the cleaning of the 12-acre Head of Falls Site.
Thus, while the Two Cent Bridge is indeed an important part of the city of Watervilleâ€™s history, it could be an even bigger part of its future. â€œThe bridge is only a small piece in a master plan to create public green space and attract commercial development all along the river,â€ Haines said.
To accomplish this, Haines has short-term goals of constructing a gateway plaza with an information desk and adorning the bridge with a â€œspectacularâ€ display of lights.
The bridge is currently under construction and closed to pedestrian foot traffic. This construction project will raise the bridge three feet on the Waterville side to allow for easier access for handicapped visitors.
While she has high hopes for the future of the Two Cent Bridge and the Head of Falls site, â€œfunding is always an issue,â€ Haines said. Existing vacancies in Waterville also make it hard to entice commercial development and interest levels in such an ambitious project fluctuate with time and with the economy.
Nonetheless, the efforts of people like Haines who work to maintain the bridge and to make it a more recognized feature in the community have helped keep it standing in excellent condition for over a century.
Though you no longer need to pay the toll and the bridge is now better suited for scenic walks than commuting to work, one thing that has not changed is the sturdy presence of history and character the bridge gives to downtown Waterville, a presence that, with the help of people like Haines, will only grow and develop with time.