For the grand opening of the World War Memorial Bridge, on August 17, 1923, citizens of Maine and New Hampshire crowded sidewalks, watched from nearby piers, and caused a traffic jam by vying to be among the first to drive the new span over the Piscataqua River, between Kittery and Portsmouth. In the time before television, feats of civil engineering had higher entertainment value, surely. But people must also have sensed some symbolism in the moment. On a macro level, the ’20s were roaring with postwar prosperity and optimism, a new era of automobile travel was dawning, and the bridge would provide a key link in Route 1, funneling tourists up the coast (and lifting in the middle to allow ships to pass). On a local level, as the first toll-free Piscataqua crossing, the bridge kicked off an era of free-flowing transit over state lines. To this day, York County Mainers and Seacoast New Hampshirites are a fluid bunch.
At the dedication ceremony, five-year-old Portsmouth resident Eileen Dondero cut the ceremonial ribbon, then rode with Maine governor Percival Baxter and New Hampshire governor Fred Brown on the inaugural drive across the bridge. During World War II, Dondero (whose married name was Foley) worked at the naval shipyard in Kittery, then she became the first woman elected mayor of Portsmouth. She lived long enough to repeat the ribbon-cutting ritual for the replacement Memorial Bridge, which was christened in the summer of 2013. And even if bridges aren’t quite the spectacle they once were, this one remains a perfectly pleasant way to get from there to here.
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