Way Back Wednesday: The Cooper River Bridges

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Mt. Pleasant, SC (WCBD) – It’s Wednesday and that means it’s time to explore history that surrounds the Lowcountry.

This week is special because we focus on The Cooper River Bridges over 90 years and share with you old video from the News 2 media vault.

The John P. Grace Memorial Bridge, also known as the “old bridge” to locals, was built in 1928 and opened in 1929 as a toll bridge, costing drivers 50 cents to travel the privately-owned structure.

John P. Grace Memorial Bridge
Picture: MIRC at SC.edu

At this time, it was the fifth longest bridge in the world at 1,050 feet. It stood 150 feet above the Cooper River and was 1.9 miles in length, according to MIRC at the University of South Carolina.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation bought the bridge in 1945. Grace Memorial was no longer a toll bridge in 1946.

Before the Arthur Ravenel Bridge opened in 2005, News 2 anchor Brad Franko had the chance to talk to a woman who was one of the first people to drive over the Grace Memorial Bridge when it opened.

Sara Merritt, who has since passed away, said when the “old bridge” opened there was a three-day celebration that ended with a big parade of floats over the bridge.

FUN FACT: Did you know the bridge was built for Ford A Model cars and horse-drawn carriages? Signs were posted banning livestock from from crossing when it opened.

John P. Grace Memorial Bridge
Picture: MIRC at SC.edu

A “new” Cooper River Bridge was built next to the Grace Memorial Bridge to help with traffic congestion. The Silas N. Pearman Bridge opened nearly 40 years later in 1966.

Photo: SCDOT

In August 2005, both bridges were demolished and replaced by the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. Demolition took about two years.

Fun Fact: Did you know most of the rest of the steel (approximately 20,000 tonnes) was taken out to sea to form an artificial reef for marine life and to protect the shoreline at the mouth of the Cooper River?

The new $675.2 million dollar bridge opened to traffic on July 16, 2005.

It increased roadway capacity, improved safety, and increased the vertical and horizontal navigational clearances to accommodate the current needs of seafaring vessels on the river, including permitting modern cargo vessel passage to the Port of Charleston, according SCDOT.

The east Grace and Pearman anchor sections before the April 5 blast
Photo: SCDOT

A piece of the Grace Memorial Bridge still stands today. One of the piers was left as a memorial to the “old” bridge at East Bay street in Charleston.

The Silas N. Pearman Bridge under construction next to the Grace Memorial Bridge.
Photo: SCDOT

Sara Merritt told News 2’s Brad Franko that her mom worried about her driving over the Grace Memorial. Merritt’s father drove her over it anyways adding “it was history being made”.

Merritt saw three Cooper River Bridges in her lifetime. Not many people can say that.

FUN FACTS: Arthur Ravenel Bridge

  1. The Arthur Ravenel Bridge is 14 years old
  2. There are four elevators inside each of the four towers.
  3. The strength of the steel enables these bridges to withstand natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.
  4. It’s the longest steel cable-stay bridge in North America.

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