December 8, 2022

Centennial CT River Bridge Parade Draws Cars, Crowds, Memories

The parade advances up Ferry Rd. in Old Lyme.

Last Wednesday, Aug. 24, was 100 years, to the day since the first bridge across the Connecticut River between Old Lyme and Old Saybrook was dedicated and the Old Saybrook Historical Society certainly knew how to celebrate it.

First there was a parade of more than 130 antique cars following a route similar to that of the parade, which opened the 1911 bridge, followed by a display of those cars at Saybrook Point while the Old Lyme Town Band played.  The event was rounded off by a well-attended luncheon at the Dock & Dine restaurant, also in Old Saybrook.

Vehicles of all shapes, sizes and ages turned out for the parade.

Although there were no floats or marching units, the parade must stand as one of the most impressive in many years.  The route covered about 10 miles and the 135 vehicles ranging from the earliest years of the motorcar through 1976 created an unbroken string for which the local and state police actually stopped traffic at intersections and on I-95 northbound from the Rte. 1 entrance in Old Saybrook to exit 70 in Old Lyme.

Photo courtesy of Ann Nyberg.

The parade began near Sheffield Street, where the cars parrked awaiting the start of the parade (see photo above) and followed Main Street and Rte. 1 to the Baldwin Bridge then Rte. 156 to Ferry Rd. in Old Lyme.  From there it went to Lyme St., Halls Rd., back over the bridge, off at exit 69 to Essex Rd, Ferry Rd and back to Main Street before ending at Saybrook Point.  All manner of cars were represented: Model T and A Fords, a WWII Jeep, little-known makes such as White and Lagonda and a few VW Beetles (the old kind), just to name a few.

I joined friends in their Model A Ford.  When the parade started, the Ford didn’t … but the three passengers hopped out and pushed the car about 20 feet to get it running.  From then on it was smooth sailing although the car rarely made it out of second gear or over 20 mph, the maximum parade speed.

News Channel 3 anchor Kevin Hogan interviews a parade participant on Main St. in Old Saybrook. (Photo courtesy of Ann Nyberg)

It was a pleasure to see the delight on the faces of the parade spectators as all these veteran vehicles drove by.  Some of the same cars had participated in the dedication of the present bridge in 1993 and one driver said he has reason to believe that his car might have been part of the 500-car contingent that opened the 1911 bridge.  Sadly, he can’t prove it.  A particular thrill to the little ones (and their parents?) was the (roughly) 1947 Chrysler convertible towing a trailer filled with large stuffed animals.

At the luncheon which followed, State troubadour Tom Callinan performed the song he had written for the 1993 bridge dedication and luncheon speakers touched on such things as the history of the bridge, the economic importance of it, the transportation concerns facing Connecticut and the significance of people coming together to accomplish things as proven by the three-month effort to put together a memorable day — one that will long be remembered.

News Channel 8 anchor Ann Nyberg drove in the parade ...

Those attending the lunch included Congressman Joe Courtney, State Historian Walter W. Woodward, Acting Commissioner of the Connecticut Department Of Transportation James P. Redeker, Deputy Commissioner Department of Economic and Community Development Christopher Bergstrom, Channel 8 News anchor Ann Nyberg and Channel 3 News anchor Kevin Hogan.

... and a Model T Ford was there too ...

Over the past two months, I have collected personal recollections of the old drawbridge, culled from those who can remember it, all senior citizens like myself.  Some folks recall how the deck boards on the bridge clattered when cars drove over it (at 35 mph).  Several people recalled the horrendous traffic jams on summer Sunday afternoons, often stretching over three miles on Rte.1 as far back as Rogers Lake.  These were caused, of course, by the bridge being opened for river traffic, on some occasions as many as 30 times in eight hours; that’s once every sixteen minutes.

Others remembered the Good Humor Man, whose truck would be parked, again on summer Sunday afternoons, at the Old Lyme end of the bridge to take advantage of the stopped cars.  He was probably the only person who was happy on those occasions.

One other individual recalls, during the demolition of the drawbridge in 1949, going out on the river with his father in a small boat and picking up the shad stunned by the explosions necessary to remove the stone piers on which the bridge stood.

I also discovered that, during the demolition, a 10-ton, truck-mounted drilling machine fell off the bridge into the river and then caught fire when it was being pulled out by a large crane.

The old drawbridge certainly generated some interesting memories, but in light of the traffic jams it was causing by 1948, we’re fortunate to have only memories of what was once part of the major New York-Boston route.