Cribari Bridge Swings On Sunday

If you’re sitting in a line of cars while the William Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge slooooowly opens and just as slooooowly closes, letting a boat pass underneath, you’re probably not a big fan of the 133-year-old, last-of-its-kind-in-the-country span.

But if you’re strolling around on a lazy Sunday morning, the longtime ritual can be almost magical.

The hand crank on the William Cribari Bridge. It’s used now only if the mechanical crank fails.
(Photo/Tom Feeley)

That’s what happened last weekend. Jonathan Kaner was filming a campaign video for 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He saw 3 men fishing on the banks of the Saugatuck River.

Suddenly, a police officer came by. The men greeted him.

Turns out, they’re the bridge opening crew. They were there to allow a small boat to go by.

Kaner’s tripod was already set up. He filmed the bridge opening and closing.

It took awhile, of course. So he sped up the video — 8 times.

Except for the boat. It cruises underneath at normal speed.


9 responses to “Cribari Bridge Swings On Sunday

  1. Michael Don Sullivan

    Very cool to see that Dan! Great shot of hand crank by Tom Feeley! Have meant to ask you if you would send my best wishes to Tom! What a gentleman! Miss you all! Mike Sullivan

  2. That’s a keeper. One for the archives! Thanks for a treat of a blog.

  3. Wendy Crowther

    Thanks, Jonathan and Dan, for this great demonstration of how our very special and historic bridge opens. When I saw the opening/closing for the first time (in real time), I was surprised at how quickly it actually moved – much faster than many of us would imagine. And, as mentioned above, it can still be opened by hand using the cranks. This is one of many reasons why it remains a unique asset today.

    When doing historical research on this bridge, I discovered why a swing bridge was desirable. It would create two channels for passing ships, one on either side of the pivot pier.

    Another interesting tale from the old days of our bridge is that in 1927, one of the “bridge tenders,” an Italian immigrant and Saugatuck resident named John (Giovann) Borello, suffered “heart strain” while cranking the bridge. He recovered but died two years later. In addition to bridge-tending, he ran a dry goods store with his brother on the corner of Bridge St. and Riverside. Both John and his wife, Annunzita, are buried in Westport.

  4. Before the bridge’s swing span was mega fortified with crazy amounts of steel so it could handle all legal loads, it was much, much lighter. Consequently, the gearing to open by it by hand back then was taller. And this allowed a person to open it even faster than the electric motor now does. I wonder if there were ever any contests to see who could manually open the bridge the fastest?

  5. Mary Cookman Schmerker '58

    Thank You. What a wonderful treat to see the Bridge opening. I still claim that the only reason my husband proposed 52 years ago was so that he could continue to visit my family and watch our favorite bridge open.

  6. Susan Iseman

    We happened to catch it opening one night a few years back while having dinner at what is now Rainbow Thai. I think they were dredging the river or something like that so a barge had to pass through. It was fun to watch from our ringside seats ~ and the holiday lights were on!

  7. Karen Bulakites Gibbens

    I remember this bridge opening by hand alot when i was a kid and picking up something for my grandma w/my dad at Peter’s, and it was done by hand back in the 60’s

  8. Jonathan Maddock, Staples '73

    In grammar school days (circa 1965) Jim & Bob Donaher & I would fish off the walk way of the bridge. We watched the bridge open many times, up close.
    There were a few times we sneaked (snuck?) down the access ladder to look at the gearing under the span. The bridge was not being opened when we did this!
    I loved getting Twinkies & Funny Bones from Peter’s Bridge Market.

  9. Marty Hauhuth

    Long may it swing