Spa Creek.Then and Now
A priest at St. Mary's recently commented on the daily challenges Annapolitans face from traffic and the repair work on the bridge. He didn't have to specify which bridge; everyone knew - the Spa Creek Bridge.
We love our waterfront town, and living so close to various waterways means bridges. Bridges of all kinds: huge double-span bridges; small, one-vehicle crossings. And perhaps dearest to Annapolitans, the Spa Creek Bridge.
One of its many charms is the bell that tolls the happy news that the bridge is about to be raised to let sailboats pass. Once the bridge is up, there's little you can do, although some have been known to turn around on the spot rather than wait. It is the cycle of life: the bridge will open, the boats will pass; the bridge will close and the traffic will move.
The Eastport section of Annapolis was settled in mid-1800 and residents crossed the creek in boats. When the Naval Academy was established in 1845, its staff came from all over the city, including Eastport, and faster passage across the creek became vital.
The first bridge was a small wooden structure built in 1868. Passage was free to walkers and there was a small fee for horse-drawn wagons. There were many waterfront businesses on the Eastport side, including a large glass factory, and shipbuilders and oystermen worked there as well.
The late 1800s saw an increase in bicycle traffic in Annapolis as people searched for faster ways to get around the city. By 1900, there were 8,000 automobiles registered in the U.S. That often seems like the number of vehicles trying to cross the bridge in any given hour during Boat Show days.
Indeed, the increase in automobile traffic required a new bridge that could bear the weight, and in 1907, the little wooden bridge was replaced. This new metal structure had a house for the bridgemaster, who lived on the bridge and opened it for ships and boats. Bill Branzell lived and worked there as bridgemaster for over 25 years. Both the new bridge and its predecessor were owned and operated by the City of Annapolis.
After WWII, there were infrastructure changes all around Annapolis. Construction on the Bay Bridge started in 1946 and, in 1949, the old Spa Creek Bridge was history. When the new bridge opened, it featured a lift span of 17 feet and six-foot sidewalks, at a cost of $667,000. (The current resurfacing project will cost an estimated $920,000.) This is the bridge in use today.
In 1951, the State of Maryland annexed Eastport, Germantown, Homewood, Parole, Wardour, West Annapolis and more to the original city of Annapolis. This made Annapolis the fourth largest city in the state and put the Spa Creek Bridge under the jurisdiction of the state.
Today the day-to-day operations of the bridge are managed by a private contractor. The scheduled openings are set forth and managed by the U.S. Coast Guard. The standard is: every half hour in the summer, if needed, and as needed the rest of the year. The traffic safety, both over and under the bridge, is provided by the city of Annapolis.
Bridge renovations and upkeep are ongoing. It is a necessary sacrifice in a very special city.
Inside Annapolis will spotlight local areas of past importance as an opportunity to see how all that is present today has been built on an earlier significant foundation.