Old Jamestown Bridge to be destroyed

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JAMESTOWN, R.I. (AP) – Rita Crawford’s life stories often share a common setting: the Jamestown Bridge that runs over her waterfront neighborhood.

Her husband drove across the bridge the day he decided to buy a summer home on a whim almost 60 years ago. A bridge tollman called the fire department a few years later when that home was hit by lightening and burned. Her son got stuck at the very top when he ran out of gas the January night he drove home with her newborn granddaughter.

On Tuesday, Crawford, 82, plans to watch from her porch as a demolition crew ignites 75 pounds of explosives, sending the bridge’s truss toppling into Narragansett Bay.

“I don’t care,” Crawford said, when asked if she’ll miss the landmark. “I remember the old bridge, all right. But it’s ugly looking now.”

Rust blotches the bridge’s steel beams and its remaining pavement is crumbling. It finally closed to traffic in 1992 when the sleeker, faster, taller Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge was completed beside it.

Even so, the old bridge’s demolition raised a bit of nostalgia among those who have lived beside it since it opened in 1940, creating an economic artery for an island that previously relied on an unpredictable ferry system.

The bridge was both a landmark and a gauntlet for timid drivers who feared its narrow lanes and the metal grating that allowed motorists to peer into the waters of Narragansett Bay about 150 feet below, just as they approached the pinnacle.

Heavy winds could cause the bridge to shake, adding more angst for motorists caught in the bridge’s sometimes slow-moving traffic. A few of Crawford’s friends even declined to visit her family’s summer home for fear of the crossing that awaited them.

“You’re stuck at the top of that and you look down,” said Ray Rugg, 69, who lives with his wife one house from the bridge. “There are horror stories of people hiding under blankets in the back of their car because they were so afraid of it.”

For every Rhode Islander who hated the Jamestown Bridge, there’s another with fonder memories. Dozens in that latter group have ended up at Rugg’s home this week, taking pictures from his driveway and his yard. A few even knocked on his front door and asked to snap a shot from his rear windows. He finally erected temporary fencing to regain some privacy.

“This is a big thing for Rhode Island,” he said.

Farther up the road, Judy Fraraccio’s parents photographed her standing in front of the old bridge. The 49-year-old Cranston woman drove her parents to Jamestown so they could get one last glimpse, she said.

Frank Fraraccio, her father, said his parents bought land and built a house on the island for less than $3,500 in 1947. Today, Jamestown is one of the most expensive places to buy a house in Rhode Island. The family sold the house years ago.

As a child, Frank Fraraccio fished off the bridge and waved as Navy pilots from Quonset Point buzzed beneath it – an illicit treat.

“This was part of their life growing up,” his daughter said, pointing to the bridge.

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