With workers busy on the new Sakonnet River Bridge, it's important to remember that the area near this bridge has been the major link between the island and the mainland.
Howland's Ferry went across the narrowest part of the Sakonnet River, and that is just where the first bridge off Aquidneck Island was constructed. A toll bridge was constructed by the Rhode Island Bridge Company in 1795.
Maintaining a bridge in this location seems to have been difficult. The bridge was rebuilt and washed away again in 1798 and remained closed until 1808. The Great September Gale of 1815 destroyed it and it was rebuilt again under the name of the Stone Bridge.
The draw part of the bridge was washed away in 1869, and the owners sold the Stone Bridge to the towns of Tiverton and Portsmouth. The towns, in turn, gave the bridge to the state to maintain. The bridge was rebuilt and reopened in 1871 as a free bridge without a toll. More damage was done by storms and ships that rammed the bridge and it closed after Hurricane Carol in 1954. Ferries such as the West Side were used while the bridge was out.
In 1957 it was replaced by the then new Sakonnet River Bridge. What remains of the Stone Bridge can still be seen today from both the Tiverton and Portsmouth sides.
The "On the Water" exhibit, which opens at the Portsmouth Historical Society Memorial Day Sunday, has information on all the bridges that have linked Portsmouth and Tiverton.