Groton – A new exhibit lets people travel back to the 1920s and see black and white photos of the construction of the Mystic River Bridge and get a sense of what the world was like back then.
You can see the bridge through the decades, from hurricanes to parades to filming Mystic Pizza to a redevelopment project completed in 2013.
It’s all part of 100 Years of Mystic River Bridge, an exhibit curated by the Mystic River Historical Society that opens Saturday at the Groton Public Library in honor of the iconic bridge’s centenary this summer.
“The bascule bridge, the oldest of its kind in America and one of Connecticut’s premier tourist attractions,” was officially opened on July 19, 1922, according to a press release from the historical society. Bascule refers to a type of bridge with a pivoting section that is raised and lowered using counterweights.
The exhibition comprises six sections that take the viewer from Mystic’s early bridges to the present day, with photos and postcards from the Society’s collection, as well as items recently collected for the exhibition, information from local newspapers and a 2007 logbook provided for the bridge that State Ministry of Transport.
During a recent interview at the library, Marilyn Comrie and Elizabeth Boucher, who curated the exhibit, pointed out photos depicting historical moments, such as when the 1938 hurricane flooded the bridge that Charles W. Morgan drove past the bridge in 1941 and floats that crossed the bridge during the Mystic Tercentenary Parade in 1954. Boucher pointed out that a float replicated the Burrows Ferry, an early 17th-century way of crossing the Mystic River.
Construction on the bridge began in July 1921, said Comrie, a historical society board member and past president.
The exhibit includes a listing of downtown Mystic stores from c. 1922 and a Mystic and Stonington directory from 1922-23. People can also see how much it would cost to shop for groceries when a loaf of bread sells for 12 cents and a dozen eggs for 47 cents.
Boucher, the historical society’s collections manager, said the historical society has been trying to reach more public in general, but doesn’t have enough space in its 74 High St. building to hold exhibitions. When the opportunity arose to use space in the Groton Public Library that is accessible to people from all over the area, the Society did not want to pass it up.
The bridge’s 100th anniversary is also a truly unique opportunity, Boucher said: “It’s something that local people are excited about, so we wanted to capitalize on that.”
She pointed out that Mystic is a community separated by a river, and the bridge is the connection. The span carries vehicular and pedestrian traffic across the Mystic River between the towns of Groton and Stonington.
Comrie said one of the stories about the bridge is the dichotomy between tourists, who see the bridge as a popular attraction, and residents, who have to plan their lives around the bridge’s openings or even avoid it altogether, especially in the summer when they are there are is a lot of river traffic.
She said people were pleased with the information about the bridge that the history society published in their newsletters. “I think there’s a lot of interest in it,” she said. “I think deep down, the people who live in Mystic love the bridge.”
For many residents, the bridge is just a backdrop most of the time. Comrie said she walks over the span herself every day and has never given it much thought, but since working on this project she’s now noticing things that she hadn’t noticed before. She called it a “miracle” as a machine – and tourists rave about it – and she hopes people who live nearby will take a fresh look at it, too.
The opening reception for the exhibition will be held on Saturday, April 2 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Groton Public Library, 52 Newtown Road (Route 117). According to a press release, there will be a short program at 2:30 p.m. with Historical Society President Steve Menno, Boucher and Comrie.
The historic exhibit is the prelude to “a month-long celebration that will culminate on October 15 with a program and fireworks display at Mystic River Park sponsored by the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce,” the press release said.
The chamber’s website, mysticchamber.org, states: “Beginning in April 2022, the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, the Mystic River Historical Society and Foxwoods Resort Casino are working with a variety of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations to commemorate the 100th anniversary of… -year anniversary of the Mystic bascule bridge!” The board said there will be events in the spring and summer and then the fireworks display on October 15.
Groton Town historian James Streeter will deliver a talk entitled “Mystic River Bridges – Past and Present” issued a press release. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. for “refreshments and talks.” The program is free to History Society members and a $5 donation is recommended for nonmembers.
“The program is part of the Mystic River Historical Society’s monthly lecture series and is co-sponsored with the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce as part of the centennial celebration of the Mystic Drawbridge,” the press release reads.