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Bailey Island Bridge
The cobwork bridge connecting Harpswell’s Orr’s Island and Bailey Island in Casco Bay is the only such granite cribstone bridge in the United States and likely the world. The 1,200-foot bridge spans the swift tidal currents of Will’s Gut, the narrow passage between the two islands, and represents a unique solution to a difficult engineering problem.
In the late nineteenth century, Bailey Island became a tourist destination, with visitors attracted by the charming harbor, especially Mackerel Cove and its lobster harvesting, fishing, and sailing. In response to popular demand, in 1926 the Maine Legislature authorized the construction of a bridge connecting the two islands. Designed by State Engineer Llewelyn N. Edwards, the bridge was completed two years later.
Will’s Gut presented Edwards with a serious challenge since the narrow span was constantly beset by swift tidal currents and ice floes in winter. To overcome these obstacles, the Bailey Island Bridge rests on granite cobs or cribwork for nearly its entire length, rather than being suspended or carried on piers or pylons. The cribstones consist of 10,000 tons of granite slabs quarried in nearby Yarmouth. Without the use of mortar or cement, the slabs are arranged horizontally, first lengthwise and then crosswise, for several layers. The solidity of the structure braces it firmly against the powerful buffeting of the waves, and the open cribbing allows the tides to flow freely. Pine wedges, hammered into the crevices between the slabs, stabilize the slabs. Positioned at the center of the cobwork bridge is a 52-foot span of steel that rests on solid concrete pillars and is lined with granite stonework. This steel span supports a reinforced concrete roadway.
Maine Department of Transportation has twice altered the original design, adding a sidewalk in 1951 and guard rails in 1961. Repairs made in 2009–2010 included replacement of cracked stones, with the new granite supplied from the same Yarmouth quarry that supplied the original cribstones.
Beard, Frank, “Bailey Island Cob-Work Bridge,” Cumberland County, Maine. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1975. National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, D.C.
Hansen, Brett. “Stacking Stones: The Bailey Island Bridge.” Civil Engineering79, 1 (January 2009): 34-35.
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