Things being as they are, Hartford could use a party this year. An opportunity presents itself.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Bulkeley Bridge (nee Hartford Bridge), the graceful stone arch span that now carries I-84 traffic.
In October 1908, Hartford threw the biggest party the city had ever seen, a three-day bash to celebrate "a splendid bridge of enduring granite which will last as long as Time."
It was, as Richard Ahles recalled in a 1999 Courant essay on the celebration, "three days of pomp and pageantry, daily parades, costume parties and fireworks. Everyone in the city was involved. In one of the parades, a few hundred bankers and insurance men marched in black sack suits, black shoes, black derby hats and white gloves."
Factory workers, ethnic clubs and even American Indian tribes (and members of the Canoe Club dressed as Indians) took part. The carriage used by the marquis de Lafayette when he traveled to Hartford in 1780 to meet with Gen. George Washington was in the parade.
The bridge was brilliantly lit and could be seen from miles away.
Although it will be hard to top Bridge Week, as the 1908 fete was called, the centennial calls for a major celebration. As it happens, both Riverfront Recapture and the state Department of Transportation are on the case. Riverfront, which runs the park system on both sides of the river, is looking into lighting the bridge once more. The DOT is bringing a major convention of highway officials to town in October and is planning a rededication of the bridge.
That's a great start. What if Hartford and East Hartford, the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau, Greater Hartford Arts Council and MetroHartford Alliance also pitched in for a major blast? It could go over a weekend, and perhaps be tied to the Hartford Marathon and a UConn football game.
The bridge, named for Morgan G. Bulkeley, the chairman of the bridge-building commission and a former Hartford mayor, governor and U.S. senator, is a functional and aesthetic triumph. One critic described it as looking like an animal leaping across the river. It is one of the oldest bridges in the interstate highway system and was the longest stone arch bridge in the world when it was built.
We ought to celebrate it.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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