Today, people who travel from A to B in Bermuda by boat are few and far between. Most of us take to the roads, often oblivious of how many bridges over water we have to cross in order to traverse the island from tip to tip. It’s odd to think that after Sir George Somers inadvertently arrived in Bermuda once his Sea Venture was wrecked between two reefs off St. Catherine’s Bay in 1609, he would have found no bridges at all, no roads, for that matter, nor any evidence of any kind of permanent human habitation. As he explored Bermuda by rowing boat, the only signs of past human presence he noticed were the hogs, helpfully left by sailors previously shipwrecked on the islands as a food supply for future shipwreck victims; and tobacco plants, in an area still called by the name he gave it on his sketched out map—Tobacco Bay.
Coney Island bridge pylons, Photograph by Scott Tucker.
Once Bermuda did become officially settled, the inhabitants were in no hurry to relinquish boats. Richard Norwood divided the land in such a way that every share would have access to the water north or south. For decades, then, it was possible to avoid extensive travelling overland. Nevertheless, Governor Butler’s Fifth Act in his General Assembly of 1620 ordered the “construction of certain public bridges and their maintenance,” essential for footpaths allowing people to gather on public occasions. By 1624 three bridges were marked on Captain John Smith’s chart of Bermuda included in his Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles. Today, some 395 years later, we have over 42 bridges according to the latest government register of bridges. That number, of course, includes key bridges linking our main islands: St. George’s, the Main Island—once known as the “Continent”—Somerset, Watford, Boaz, Ireland Island South and Ireland Island North.
Footbridge in the Gibbon’s Gardens, Photograph by Amanda Temple.
But it also includes footbridges over golf courses, over moats into some of our most popular forts and a few decorative bridges in gardens open to the public. However, it does not include bridges that no longer exist, such as the Severn Bridge linking St. George’s with St. David’s and the 33 bridges and trestles that once were vital to the Bermuda Railway spanning the island from 1931 to 1948.
Bridges make connections possible between two points and those connections can make the whole difference to people’s lives, whether the bridges go up or are taken down. It is with that in mind that we explore some of Bermuda’s bridges past and present, telling stories where appropriate along the way.
Somerset Bridge, Photograph by Kris Taeleman.
As previously mentioned there were three wooden bridges in existence by 1624. They were Somerset Bridge, Coney Island Bridge and Ferry Point Bridge. However, there was an older one still, and Bermuda’s first, not shown on the map but mentioned in the House of Assembly’s first meeting minutes of 1620: “The Bridge wch is already erected at the fflatts ouer the mouth of the little sound be made more substantiall.” That was a footbridge over the tidal race at Flatts between the Inlet and Harrington Sound, linking Smith’s Parish with Hamilton Parish. Later, when local ship building developed, the bridge would open so that ships could pass through, the charge for which was 10 shillings. Picturesque though the bridge is in antique drawings and watercolours—Thomas Driver’s water colour, for example, and Susette Harriet Lloyd’s drawing in her Sketches of Bermuda published in 1835—Flatts Bridge was sometimes the public place of savage punishment where the “jumper” would whip slaves or where once a blasphemer was made to stand on a cask on the bridge and have his tongue bored through with a hot iron. Today, Flatts has a steel and concrete single-span composite bridge, built in 1966.
These days Coney Island and Ferry Island (In Ferry Point Park) are quiet backwaters in two of Bermuda’s public parks. It’s hard to imagine that at the beginning of the settlement and for over 200 years afterwards, they were both crucial for travelling to and from St. George’s Island to the Main Island. Until the coming of the railway, a bridge did not span the body of water between Coney Island and Ferry Island. Instead, a small ferry operated between the two facing points. At Ferry Point, a wooden bridge extended from the shoreline of St. George’s Island to Ferry Island, consisting of one and a half acres of land. (Now the bridge, replaced in 2010, is a useful viewpoint for watching fireworms glow—56 minutes after sunset, two to three days after a full moon from June to October.) When more roads were constructed and horses and carriages more common, a vehicular ferry capable of carrying horses was introduced. In The Islands of Bermuda, Terry Tucker explains that during the 1860s, 700 or 800 persons, 58 horses and 20 carriages were the normal load per day. She also says that at Ferry Island there was once a waiting room, complete with fireplace, by the slipway.
Fort Hamilton footbridge, Photograph by Amanda Temple
The ferry crossing became redundant when the Causeway and Swing Bridge finally opened in 1871 after four years work by the Royal Engineers. It must be remembered that the Causeway was built long before the landfill was made in St. David’s to create the base and airport in the early 1940s, so in the nineteenth century the Causeway linked the Main Island with Long Bird Island, now hidden under the runway. It cost £32,000, the “Imperial Government having contributed £8,506,” and was toll free. According to the 1883 Bermuda Almanac, the distance from the Keepers House to Blue Hole was one mile, 1,430 yards. The 123-foot swing bridge linking Long Bird Island with St. George’s, revolved “on a circular pier leaving two water passages for boats 50 feet wide.” The opening of the bridges was greeted with “public rejoicings,” as William Zuill recounts in Bermuda Journey. About 6,000 people, nearly half the population of Bermuda, assembled at St. George’s and Long Bird Island for the celebration. Festivities started at 2:30 p.m. with the arrival of Governor Lefroy at a triumphal arch at Long Bird Island “where he received a guard of honour and a salute of 17 guns. A carriage procession crossed the bridge with everyone of official status, in strict order of precedence.” Next, came a parade of boats through the Swing Bridge, led by St. David’s oldest man, Captain Joseph Hayward, which included Mr. Hyland’s Sunday school barge, decorated and towed by a gig and filled with over a hundred children. The children, each holding a flag and singing a special hymn were described as “a cageful of little singing birds.” The Corporation of St. George’s then entertained guests at “a very sumptuous and elegant repast of the choicest iced wines and viands spread under a marquee on Long Bird Island.” The visitors went on to St. George’s to see the town illuminated “in honor of the day.”
The first large ship to go through the Swing Bridge was the brig Clara of Newport Rhode Island which sailed from Ireland Island to St. George’s.
The Causeway was not invincible since it was always subject to damage from hurricanes. According to Bermuda Online, on September 1, 1880, the Causeway was wrecked by “the great storm. It was rebuilt following the original design, which stood until 14 September 1899, when three-fourths of a mile of the bridge was ravaged by another powerful hurricane. Afterwards, the causeway was rebuilt of stone block.”
During Hurricane Fabian in 2003, four people were blown off the Causeway and drowned, while the bridge itself was severely damaged. Today, Longbird Bridge is still out of action, with some older locals missing the excitement instilled by the rumbling sound made by tires going over it because that sound signalled going to the airport to start a trip or to greet family guests. After Fabian, a diversion section with twin Mabey Compact bridges was added at the airport-end of the Causeway.
The Causeway and Swing Bridge did little to change life for St. David’s Islanders since they still had to sail or row to Long Bird Island or to St. George’s. It was the Severn Bridge built between Stocks Point in St. David’s and Stokes Point in St. George’s in 1934 that made the whole difference, one that some of the Islanders did not appreciate. According to Carveth Wells in Bermuda in Three Colours, one older inhabitant said when asked what he thought of the new £60,000 bridge, “I don’t think much of it. We’ll soon be overrun by those damned Bermudians!” Nevertheless, the opening of the new bridge, named by Governor Sir T. Astley Cubitt after the Severn Bridge linking Wales with England, was certainly cause for celebration. Zuill says that the entire population of St. David’s turned out to watch it. St. David’s’s oldest inhabitant, Miss Patty Hayward, aged 94, and niece of Captain Joseph, drove over the bridge by horse and carriage with the governor. The Severn, which could be raised to allow a 78-foot clearance for marine traffic, was eventually dismantled in 1971. Today all that’s left is the straight line of pylons, some half-hidden by sprouting foliage.
The Town of St. George has just one bridge linking King’s Square with Ordnance Island—and although the present concrete one is obviously modern, built in 1991, one could assume that given the age of the town the original bridge was one of Bermuda’s oldest. In fact, until 1799 Ordnance Island was actually two islands: to the east was Cobbler’s Island, which later became known as Gallows Island because public executions were carried out there, and to the west, Ducking Stool Island where scolds and gossips were punished. In 1795 Simon Frazer, ordnance commissary for the royal military, bought both islands for £100. He joined them with a wharf, but there was still no bridge until the island was occupied by the American military during the Second World War when a wooden bridge was erected.
The first bridge to go up in Sandys Parish, on the western end of Bermuda was of course Somerset Bridge, one of the three marked on the 1624 Bermuda map in Captain John Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles. Long dubbed the smallest drawbridge over the Atlantic and a favourite setting for Bermuda postcards and photographs, Somerset Bridge links the Main Island with Somerset Island, and bridges Ely’s Harbour on the one side and the Great Sound on the other. The one we see today, rebuilt in 1998, is a concrete cantilever bridge. In the eighteenth century, the bridge was home to society in more ways than one. Supporter of the American Revolution “Henry Tucker of the Bridge” lived nearby in his still-standing Bridge House mansion, while a literary society, the Somerset Bridge Club run by Mrs. Ruth Young, met for 70 years at Crossways, a cottage on Bridge Lane. As early as 1814 a post office receiving house, also run by Mrs. Young, was established at Crossways.
It took well over a hundred years for bridges to link the other three islands that in the eighteenth century made up Sandys Parish: Watford Island, Boaz Island and Ireland Island. According to Terry Tucker’s The Islands of Bermuda, Ireland Island was mostly uninhabited until the century after the Imperial government bought it in 1795 to develop the Royal Naval Dockyard. It had no roads, was overrun by jungle and pigs and had a small population living in palmetto thatched wooden houses, long after stone-built houses had become the norm in the rest of Bermuda.
Watford Bridge, Photograph by Johan Aucamp.
Once work on Dockyard began in 1817, a channel was dug to divide Ireland Island in two, Ireland Island North and Ireland Island South. Like a moat, the cut was designed as a defence against any military attack from the US. It was filled in again in 1823 but re-dug in 1843. By 1845 there was a wooden bridge crossing the water to Pender Road. Both the cut and the bridge were named Cockburn (pronounced “Coburn”), either after Admiral Sir George Cockburn who served twice on the North American station, or his brother Sir James Cockburn who served as governor of Bermuda. By 1892 the wooden bridge was pulled down and replaced with a poured concrete bridge. According to William Eric Brockman’s Bermuda: Growth of a Naval Base 1795-1932, “Bermudians feared the use of concrete, convinced this ‘running porridge into a mould’ would never make a bridge.” For years they refused to cross it, using a boat instead. These days the Cut Bridge has two lanes, a twin reinforced-concrete arch bridge having been added in 2009.
Timber footbridge leading to Hospital Island in Lagoon Park.
Ireland Island South is home to the Lagoon, a peaceful body of water much appreciated by herons. However, during the nineteenth century it had a nastier reputation altogether since it was enclosed with an artificial causeway at its southern end and was a breeding ground for mosquitoes—and therefore for the yellow fever epidemic that hit Dockyard particularly badly in 1843. In 1850 a bridge replaced the causeway. Lefroy House, now a residence for senior citizens, was once a fever hospital built in the 1890s to replace the one on Ports Island. Nearby were the nurses’ quarters and on Hospital Island, above Grey’s Bridge overlooking Ireland Narrows, was the residence of the deputy inspector general, one of the hospital’s administrative officers. Hospital Island was not always an island—it was once possible to walk from Malabar Point to the Naval Hospital without the need of a bridge. The cut and opening at the north-west end of the Lagoon were subsequently created because of the foetid quality of its water. Today, if you stand on Lagoon Bridge and face the Great Sound, you can see a quaint timber footbridge leading to Hospital Island silhouetted against the sky. Apart from the renovated Lefroy House, the hospital buildings have been destroyed.
Grey’s Bridge, Photograph by Heidi Cowen
And Grey’s Bridge? Named after Earl Grey, British Principal Secretary of State, who also gave his name to Earl Grey tea, the b
ridge linked Ireland Island with Boaz Island and was opened in 1850 by Admiral Lord Cochrane, the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Dundonald. During the same year, Little Watford Bridge was built to connect Watford Island with Boaz Island. According to Daniel Blagg’s Bermuda Gazetteer, it became known as the Piano Bridge because its wooden cross-boards rattled when traffic passed.
For years, locals needing to travel between Watford Island and Somerset Island relied on the horse ferry, which was pulled backwards and forwards by winches and cables. According to Zuill, bad weather continually interrupted the ferry service, so workmen on Ireland Island never knew whether they’d be able to get to or return from work. Costing £11, 400, Watford Bridge finally opened on September 24, 1903. At last, 283 years after Governor Butler’s first General Assembly, all the main islands of Bermuda had bridges to connect them