Letter – Bridge wasn’t the first

Published 7:53 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

One of the things I most look forward to in the Times each week is your local history photo at the top of Page 2.

Allow me to elaborate on (correct?) your Sept. 6 Cypress Creek Bridge image caption. This circa 1930 steel and concrete bascule-type bridge was certainly the first modern span but hardly the “first” bridge connecting the town with Red Point and other points east.

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The documentary record is sketchy. Helen King’s 1993 “Historical Notes” suggests a bridge and ferry were here as early as 1752, but court records indicate the bridge was already in need of repair by 1757.

Robert Friar’s 2010 “The Militia are Coming” also alludes that on Jan. 16, 1781, a small bridge here trembled to the cadence of 200 marching Redcoats of Benedict Arnold’s detachment of the 80th Regiment of Foot crossing here. This threatened the right flank of Col. Josiah Parker’s patriot militia deployed near Mackie’s Mill at Champion Swamp. After suffering several casualties here to the fearsome Jaeger riflemen of Arnold’s German Hessian auxiliaries, our brave Isle of Wight County Militia were compelled to withdraw. Maybe all because of that little bridge over Cypress Creek?

We also know that in 1862 the wooden planks of presumably a later bridge were removed to render Smithfield a military cul-de-sac discouraging any Yankee army land approach. This forced Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler’s Federal infantry to conduct a risky riverine assault on Jan. 31, 1864, that resulted in the destruction of their transport gunboat Smith Briggs and the capture of most of this small invading enemy army. The partially disabled bridge over Cypress Creek had played its role well!

And on that infamous early Wednesday morning of Sept. 17, 1921, this wooden bridge, or most probably a later rebuilt one, almost collapsed under the weight of the Suffolk Fire Department’s modern five-ton American LaFrance gasoline-powered motor pumper as it rushed to assist town residents in the suppression of the great “Fi-Yah” on the steamboat docks below Wharf Hill. That conflagration forever changed our port town’s focus from peanuts to ham. The bridge certainly played a decisive role in that!

So the bridge in your photo was hardly the “first.” But thank you for presenting an opportunity to retell some of our town’s more dramatic historical moments that involved this important little span connecting the town with its eastern settlements.


Albert P. Burckard Jr.

Volunteer, Isle of Wight County Museum