In October of 1908, Hartford celebrated the opening of the Bulkeley Bridge with a three-day extravaganza jubilantly described as “The Grandest Combined Electrical Display, Historical Pageants, Military, Civil and Industrial Parades Ever Seen on this Continent!”, according to the Hartford Courant. Hartford was at the zenith of its manufacturing prowess in 1908 and had struggled for decades with an inadequate and decrepit bridge. Finally, Hartford had a bridge worthy of its needs. The new Hartford Bridge, as it was initially named, connected Hartford and East Hartford. The new stone arch structure was a replacement for the old wooden bridge that had burned in 1895.
Seventy-five thousand people reportedly participated in the various parades and pageants, which were viewed by thousands more each day who filled the specially constructed, 22,000-seat grandstands and bleachers which provided good views of all the festivities. The celebration ran from Monday, October 6, to Wednesday, October 8, 1908. The revelry included a parade of 15,000 school children; a reenactment of the 1636 arrival of Thomas Hooker and his party, and a 500-man strong “Historic Marching Pageant,” which showed every type of military equipment used by Connecticut soldiers from the Pequot War to the Spanish-American War. There was a water carnival of 300 decorated yachts on the Connecticut River and 12 historical tableaux depicting major events in Connecticut history, such as the arrival of the Dutch in 1614, the signing of the Fundamental Orders in 1639, the hiding of the Charter in 1687, and the meeting between Washington and Rochambeau in 1781. Ten thousand Knights Templar and Masons marched on the last day. After officials of the Connecticut Grand Lodge laid the last stone of the bridge there was another parade of 6,000 men, band concerts, and a $5,000 fireworks display.
Dave Corrigan is Curator for the Museum of Connecticut History
© Connecticut State Library. All rights reserved. This article is excerpted and originally appeared in The Connector Vol. 10/ No. 4, OCTOBER 2008.