Railway Bridge: 'On the Water'

In the hay day of American railroads, Aquidneck Island was connected to the mainland with a railway bridge between Tiverton and Portsmouth.

The Sakonnet River Rail Bridge was built in 1899 at a narrow part of the river between Portsmouth and TIverton.  Like so many other Portsmouth bridges, it was contructed privately, this time by the Pennsylvania Steel Company.

It was a "swing" bridge with part of the bridge staying anchored and the other part swinging back to allow boats to pass through.  

The bridge was closed in 1980 when it was damaged by a heavy train load.  A barge ran into the open bridge in 1988 and it was removed in 2006 with the remains cleared by an explosion in 2007.  

The Portsmouth Historical Society has a circular piece of bridge in the Old Town Hall. We have an album of photos taken by Aaron Usher in the 1990s before the bridge was removed.  Among the images was an original diagram of the bridge and we think we have located our piece of the bridge from the diagram.  It may have been a gear to facilitate the swinging mechanism.  

"On the Water" opens Memorial Day Sunday.  The Museum of the Portsmouth Historical Society is open Sundays from 2 to 4 PM.  

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Richard V. Simpson May 23, 2012 at 10:56 AM
Sakonnet River Railroad Bridge A modified Baltimore through truss span and a cantilevered assembly, about 220 feet long, composed of two identical trusses, spanned the Sakonnet River between Portsmouth and Tiverton. The circular track on which the bridge pivots was mounted on a central pier, in mid-river. An engine house mounted atop the central span formerly housed a boiler and a steam engine, which supplied the needed power; later electrified. Semaphore signals were located at each end of the bridge. A large steel tower carries overhead power cables ninety-five feet above the river. The Old colony and Newport Railroad built the first railroad bridge over the Sakonnet River in 1864; in 1898, it was damaged and replaced. In the twentieth-century, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad owned the line. Passenger service to Aquidneck Island was provided until 1937.
malcom lagauche May 24, 2012 at 03:42 PM
I spent the first 10 years of my life in a house on Riverside Drive about 300 yards south of the railroad bridge. For the next 10 years, I lived in a house just on the north side of the railroad tracks on the shore about 50 yards away from the bridge. My friends and I spent many an hour in the abandoned freight yard playing baseball. There was still coal dust on the ground. I left Tiverton in 1975 and when I see pictures of the Sakonnet River today with an open area of water where the railroad bridge once stood, it doesn't seem right. There's something missing.
Jim Jenney October 15, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Looking for information about the barge collision with the bridge in Feb. 1988. If you have any info or leads, please let me know. Jim
Jim Jenney October 15, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Thanks Jim...looking for news article if there is one. Appreciate the assist. Hope all is well.


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