In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Lubec, Maine

A Border Town Shaped by the Sea

Building the Roosevelt Bridge to Campobello

by Ronald Pesha

A majestic arch of imposing beauty, named for a U.S. president, links two great nations. Spanning the start of the world’s longest international border, this art in engineering opened in 1962 between Lubec, Maine and Campobello Island, New Brunswick.

Campobello, a 15 square mile Canadian island in the Bay of Fundy and site of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s long time summer home, lies 10 miles across open ocean from mainland New Brunswick. But a mere 300 yards from the U.S. mainland at Lubec, Maine. Ferry steamers navigated this narrow but treacherous arm of the sea beginning in 1882, later supplemented by auto scows, both suddenly obsolete the day the new bridge opened on August 13, 1962.

Click on any of these photographs to enlarge and zoom in on details. In the late 19th Century the leisure class made remote, rustic Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada fashionable. Life seemed more blessedly relaxed than the established watering sites of Long Island’s Hamptons, Newport, even Bar Harbor. And far cooler, for even the Rhode Island and Maine shores offered limited respite during August heat.
The Roosevelt family felt no need for a bridge. They arrived at their personal dock via ocean cruise, or boated across the two miles from Eastport, Maine’s train terminal. The Narrows between their beloved island and Lubec merited not a second thought.
However U.S. and Canadian locals labor, toil, and intermarry; family names centuries old mingle through intermarriage across the border. They coveted a bridge bonding that boundary. First steps after site selection and surveying involved clearing standing structures.

Before the bridge could be erected, shore preparation continued. Bulldozing and burning of debris cleared the shore to bare ground. Construction commenced with building of U.S. and Canadian approaches, both rock-filled with crane-laid riprap. The Maine Highway Commission engineers arrived in late 1960, setting up offices in the old John Trenholm barber shop on the left side of Washington Street, Highway 189, close in proximity to the future Lubec side bridge approach. Clearing ship traffic required a six percent grade reaching 48 feet above high tide at the point of greatest elevation. Achieving the ramps to this grade required much fill.

International agreement provided that half of labor and half the materials would originate from each of the two nations. According to Inspector Jim Chandler, sand and stone for the concrete abutment, piers and superstructure on the Canadian end of the bridge came from Campobello’s Wilson’s Beach. The contractor found one end of the beach was sand, uniformly graded to small stone to larger stone to very large stone on the other end. “The wave action must have done that over the years,” said Chandler. “It was truly amazing.” The contractor could excavate on a specific section of the beach to get just the right size material that was specified for the concrete mix.

The left photograph shows the Lubec end of the bridge. The right photograph, taken from Lubec, captures the Campobello end at a date when cranes moved in place to fabricate the temporary wooden trestles in the water as working platforms for construction of pier foundations, piers, and the steelwork for the roadway.

With approaches completed, temporary trestlework into the channel led to dredging and fabrication of the unusual piers.

Both of these photographs were taken at low tide. Notice the mud flats on the shore in the photograph on the left, taken on September 1, 1961. On the right, a photograph of September 7, 1961 shows much trestle and pier exposed due to low tide.

A reminder that these images may be examined and analyzed closeup by clicking on the picture then using the zoom tool. These photographs were taken with an early black-and-white instant Polaroid camera.

Taken on the next day, September 8, 1961, the left photo shows four piers under construction. The spectacular September 13 photo on the right caught the water mirror-still at tide reversal. Note how the workers appear, casually working and walking atop the I-beam.
Higher tides than normal come during new moons, as occurred on a cold Monday, October 29, 1961, the day following the photo below left. “The current through the Lubec Narrows was ripping and the wind whipped the water into furious state, dark with frothy white caps,” said Jim Chandler, engineer and inspector. The crew wisely halted and prepared to abandon work for the day.

Two boats routinely ferried workers across the narrows, a dory owned by a Campobello resident and the contractor Callahan Brothers' flat bottomed, square bow skiff, operated by one of the contractor’s crew. “There were often subtle remarks about which boat was more suitable,” said Chandler. It seems that the landlubbers generally thought the flat bottomed vessel was safer. The Lubec and Campobello locals, seasoned by the sea and its vagaries, had no doubt the dory was much more seaworthy.

Jim Chandler and another inspector, Everett Barnard, both carrying transits, boarded the flat bottom boat with some Canadian workers to cross the choppy waters towards the Lubec landing. But the dory, following, lost power. The Callahan boat operator slacked off the engine and a worker threw a rope, which became entangled in the outboard engine of the flat bottom boat and disabled it. “The current swept our boat close to the work trestle,” said Chandler.

By then the dory operator managed to restart the engine. The Callahan Brothers boat hit the trestle with a sharp jolt which turned the small vessel up on its side, the bottom rammed firmly against the wood piling. The Canadians scrambled onto the trestle, never getting their feet wet. Chandler and Barnard, holding the valuable surveying gear for which they bore responsibility, went into the cold, rushing seawater. Locals say that if you fall into an outgoing current, you end up in open ocean. “Remembering that caution I dropped my surveying instrument before I hit the water,” said Chandler.

“It seemed a long time that I was underwater and I remember thinking this might be my time,“ said Chandler. But he surfaced under the trestle seconds later. While hanging on to the trestle waiting to be rescued, he watched the dory dock at the Lubec boat landing and unload most of the workers.
After a time the crane operator, who had stayed behind fearing to cross the channel in the stormy waters, lowered a cable and pulled a soggy, shivering Jim Chandler up to welcome safety.

But for the roadway most bridgework was finished by the date of the photograph on the left, March 29, 1962. Pouring of the concrete deck was scheduled later in the spring. The temporary trestles have been removed, transforming the long-held vision of vaulting the channel into resplendent reality.
Necessary street realignment altered routing and residences on Lower Water and Pleasant Streets. Note the photograph to the right showing the near-complete bridge in the distance

These views look from the as yet unpaved but heavily rebarred bridge deck toward Lubec on May 7, 1962. Note in the left photograph how Washington Street, State Route 189, does not align with the bridge, necessitating the addition of a curving extension to enter the bridge approach.
The photograph on the right looks over the temporary parapet (railing) of the bridge down onto the Lubec waterfront, still an active herring/sardine economy though in decline from peak years in the 1940s.

Finish work on the bridge approach was underway on the May 20, 1962 date of the view on the left, with grading for the street realignment in progress. The old building on the far left, destined for demolition, housed the contractor’s office during construction.

July 10, 1962 and in the righthand photo paving the deck is underway! Note the islands which have been fabricated in the re-routed street.

An undated photo showing presence of workers, trucks and scaffolding on this rainy day indicate that the new bridge is not yet open to the public. Meanwhile a small trailer hauled into place would serve as a temporary U.S. Customs office. Finished at an estimated cost of $939,000, construction came in below budget. Clayton MacDougal of the Maine Highway Commission and the corresponding official from New Brunswick, Hugh Walford, were the chief engineers, another example of cooperation between Canada and the U.S.

A crowd of 5,000 pressed forward to see dedication of the long-awaited solid route between the two friendly nations. Lubec’s small but highly skilled school band provided music while the Navy destroyer John Paul Jones was anchored in the harbor. Circumstances clearly pinpointed Maine State Representative Sumner T. Pike as Master of Ceremonies. Eleanor Roosevelt attended the dedication, two days after her 78th birthday, but weak from recent hospitalization. Click and zoom on the Program, left, to read`the schedule. Oldest Roosevelt son James actually cut the ribbon. However she observed the ceremony from a car. Mrs. Roosevelt died less than three months later on November 7.
The bridge remains, a working ribbon of steel and concrete intimately tying two communities in two nations into a single working relationship. The photo upper right shows the crowd walking to the center of the bridge while VIP cars await.

Three days later on August 16 The Calais Advertiser published a four-page special section about the dedication and opening of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial bridge, with a fine photograph of James Roosevelt cutting the ribbon. After the ceremony Roosevelt graciously posed for photographs by locals and other guests. At the time Roosevelt was in his fourth of five terms as U.S. Representative (D) from California’s 26th District. He died at 84 on August 13, 1991, the 29th anniversary of the bridge dedication.

As the The Calais Advertiser shows, alternate U. S. and Canadian flags blew in the southeast breeze along the entire length of the handsome new steel and concrete span. The Canadian “Red Ensign” flag (with the UK “Union Jack” in the corner) flew, as the later red and white maple leaf flag was not used until 1965.

The dedication ceremony is underway, left, with public address loudspeakers high on poles and the Lubec School Band performing.

And after the dedication the bridge opened to traffic, quickly becoming routine as the residents of Campobello and Lubec adapted to the convenience of driving the few hundred yards across the tide-torn channel by which nature had separated peoples of common concerns.

But work remained. A bright new brick building was erected to house permanently U.S. Customs and the U.S. Postal Service under a single roof. And Washington Street would soon connect to Water Street, sometimes called Front Street, with the sweeping curve shown below.

Canada, too, would build its customs office, just beyond the northern terminus of the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge.
Franklin Roosevelt would be pleased. Everyone else certainly is.

Two additional photographs came to light after this exhibit was finished which dramatically show the extreme variation in tide unique to the Bay of Fundy. The righthand photograph shows initial trestlework extending from the Lubec shore at low tide, the water reflecting the calm before tide reversal. The left photo near high tide reveals the water just below the bottom of the trestle's deck.

Some text adapted from Remembering Lubec, copyright © Ronald Pesha, published 2009 by The History Press, Charleston SC