Vintage postcard of Sakonnet River Railroad Bridge
The Sakonnet River is a 14-mile long tidal straight connecting Mount Hope Bay with Rhode Island Sound. The Old Colony and Newport Railroad was built beginning in 1846 and was initially intended to connect Newport with Fall River, Massachusetts but the project was stymied for political and business reasons. Just about halfway between the two cities, the tracks crossed the Sakonnet River, connecting Portsmouth and Tiverton, RI. The pratt-through-truss swing-bridge was built in 1899 by the Pennsylvania Steel Company after the line had been taken over by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad to replace a previous bridge built in 1864.
Sakonnet RIver Railroad Bridge in 1923 - photo credit: Bridgehunter.com
Sanborn Insurance Map (1920) of the bridge connecting Tiverton on the right with Portsmouth, RI on the left
photo credit: US Library of Congress
The bridge managed to withstand the battering of the New England Hurricane of 1938 but later was damaged by an overweight freight train passing over it in 1980, then further compromised when struck by a barge in 1988. The swing structure was demolished in 2006, followed by the piers being blown up in 2007.
Sakonnet River Railroad Bridge during demolition and removal 2006-2007 - photo credit: Turino Group
Flyover of the area today where the Sakonnet River Railroad Bridge connected Tiverton with Portsmouth, RI
Today, the same area is at risk for increased coastal flooding and erosion and like other communities struggles to deal with the threat. Town officials are in the process of conducting hazard vulnerability assessments and working on solutions that address the challenges ahead of predicted rising seas which have according to Climate Central, will impact a fairly densely populated community with a five-foot event.
Rhode Island Department of Emergency Management is taking these issues related to climate adapation in the Resilient Rhody program, designed to adopt a comprehensive approach to building more resilient communities.
NH - Sakonnet River Bridge. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://bridgehunter.com/ri/newport/bh61284
Sakonnet Railroad Bridge Demolition. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.turinogroup.com/project-construction-management/sakonnet-railroad-bridge-demolition
Karr, Ronald Dale (2017). The Rail Lines of Southern New England (2 ed.). Branch Line Press.
(1920) Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Tiverton, Newport County, Rhode Island. Sanborn Map Company, Jul. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn08102_003/.