Fascinating history of the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge, repaired, destroyed, rebuilt over and again


The New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge may be annoying to residents who get stuck waiting for the bridge to open and close, but it sure beats what residents had to do prior!

Spanning the Acushnet River to connect the Town of Fairhaven with the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, the New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge dates back to the late 19th century. Before the bridge was constructed, a ferry operated between the two shores to transport residents to the other side.

Annoyed with this process, William Rotch decided to incorporate the “proprietors of the New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge” in 1796. Four years and $30,000 dollars later the bridge was built and open to the public!

From the beginning, a toll was required to cross the bridge. 6 cents for each horse, hand cart, wheelbarrow, dozen sheep, swine or cattle. And if you dared to get caught sneaking by without payment you would be hit with a heavy fine of $2 for every foot passenger and $4 for every passenger of horseback or with a cart.

Throughout the 1800’s several storms did severe damage to the bridge but residents persevered and it was always repaired back into operation. During the great gale of 1815, tides rose 11 feet higher than ever seen which submerged the bridge and caused it to close down for 4 years. Several lives were lost during the storm and the shipping industry suffered immensely.

In 1902 the New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge underwent a $1.2 million dollar renovation to accommodate a new and popular form of transportation, the automobile.

Think waiting in traffic for the bridge to open is a burden today? For most of the 1900’s the bridge would close for 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours at noon, and 2 hours during evening rush hour to accommodate the boats needing to pass through.

Next time you’re stuck waiting in traffic on the Fairhaven bridge, roll down your windows and turn on some music. It sure beats paying 6 cents to push a hand cart across the Acushnet river!

Watch some beautiful aerial video paired with a history lesson on the bridge below!

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