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Old Cooper River Bridges — Charleston, South Carolina

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Old Cooper River Bridges

The old Cooper River bridges were two parallel bridges officially called the Grace Memorial Bride and the Pearman Bridge. The Grace Memorial Bridge was known fondly (and also somewhat fearfully) by locals as the “Old Bridge.” Its two narrow lanes (10 feet each with no curbs or median) opened for traffic on August 8, 1929, as a toll bridge costing 50 cents per trip. This toll was used to pay for the bridge’s $6 million price tag; it was owned and operated by a private company named Cooper River Bridge, Inc. The president of this company, Charleston native John P. Grace, later served as its namesake.

Old and New Cooper River Bridges

Michael McLaughlin of Johns Island, 2004 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The bridge took 17 months to build. Prior to 1929, people needing to travel between Charleston and Mount Pleasant did so by private boat or ferry. Like the Ravenel Bridge today, the Grace Bridge actually crossed two bodies of water – the Cooper River and Town Creek. In all, it measured 2.71 miles and it stood 15 feet higher than the Brooklyn Bridge. At the time of its construction, it was the largest bridge of its kind in the world.

Cooper River Bridge Historic

Kenneth Dodds of Charleston, 1975 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

27 years later, in 1946, the state of South Carolina purchased the bridge and eliminated its toll. As it happened, a 10,000-ton freighter named “Nicaragua Victory” rammed into the bridge that same year. It ripped out a 240-foot section, causing Elmer Lawson and his family to fall into the water below.

Old Cooper River Bridges

George Penington of West Ashley © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

As time passed and traffic grew heavier, the need for a second bridge became apparent. In 1966, a three-lane twin of the Grace Bridge opened, dedicated in honor of then Highway Commissioner, Silas N. Pearman. Most people, of course, knew it simply as the “New Bridge.”

By the 1990s, however, both of these bridges had become unsafe. The Grace Bridge was deemed structurally obsolete and the Pearman Bridge struggled to handle the heavy traffic between Charleston and Mount Pleasant. Local politician Arthur Ravenel spearheaded the campaign for a new bridge, and it was subsequently named in his honor.

The Arthur Ravenel Bridge opened during a week-long celebration in July 2005. An eight-lane, cable-stayed bridge with two diamond shaped towers, it allows clearance for modern ocean freighters to access the Port of Charleston.

Chuck Boyd © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

When the Grace Memorial Bridge opened in 1929, Charlestonians celebrated for three days! Chuck Boyd of Charleston contributed this picture of his grandmother posing in front of the Grace Memorial Bridge in 1928. He writes, “My grandmother, Alyce May Boyd, is shown primly ‘dressed to the nines,’ standing amid construction on the Charleston side of the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge. She ran a boarding house downtown and construction workers who were staying there escorted her to the bridge – note the tracks used to haul steel up the bridge.”

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23 Comments about Old Cooper River Bridges

Tom Ross says:
September 2nd, 2018 at 10:28 am

What was the height of the Old Cooper River Bridge?

Steve says:
June 16th, 2018 at 7:32 pm

Before the old bridges were taken down, my Brothers and I took a small motor boat and completely navigated around the bridge while I took 243 photos of the bridge. I would love to publish the best of these photos in a book if time would allow. The bridge did scare me enough for me to make use of the emergency parking place in the middle of the bridge but is was a part of Charleston history I will never forget. I do love the ease of the new bridge however.

SCIWAY says:
February 11th, 2018 at 8:42 pm

Hello Thomas, this sounds like a fascinating story! We did a run through of newspaper articles on GenealogyBank and did not see mention of him flying the plane. We do not see any mentions on either. Are you sure that it was 1943? We would recommend reaching out to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History or The South Carolina Room at the Charleston County Library. Both of those places have extensive files and should have a folder or two on the subject. We hope this helps!

Thomas J. Brown says:
February 11th, 2018 at 9:28 am

I am researching the life of LT John Francis Bates. He was a navy pilot in WWII. The story I am trying to run down is that he flew under the old Grace Memorial Bridge in 1943. He may have been stationed in NAS Beaufort for training on PV-1 or PBY-1’s. It probably would have made the papers.

emily benedict gascoyne says:
March 13th, 2017 at 4:46 pm

The bridge height in question is the 1929 Grace Memorial. Txs again.

emily benedict gascoyne says:
March 13th, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Does anyone know the height between the Old Bridge breakdown lane and Drum Island below? Many childhood memories… txs!

Meredith F Helms says:
March 6th, 2017 at 5:21 pm

I have heard that there was an Air Force pilot that flew his jet under the Cooper River Bridge in the 40’s. I was wondering if anyone else has ever heard this story. I have a name of a pilot that may have flown under the twin bridges. Just checking if anyone else has ever heard this amazing story.

Doug Capra says:
January 28th, 2017 at 9:08 pm

I’m doing an article about the sailor Paul Muller whose vessel, the “Aga,” went aground off Charleston in 1929. People there raised $1,000 to build him a new boat and part of the opening ceremonies of the Cooper River Bridge were dedicated to him as he sailed out of the harbor. Do you a file on him, and especially photographs of him while in Charleston?

Betsey Pyatt Norton says:
September 28th, 2016 at 4:29 pm

So very proud of my grandpa R.T. and my Uncle Wayne who worked on so many bridges in this area. Uncle Wayne even saved a worker after he fell off the bridge.

Susanne LeSane Tillery says:
September 4th, 2016 at 2:20 am

During my childhood in the 1950s and early 1960s I used to visit with my aunt and uncle in Charleston in the summer. I couldn’t wait to see that bridge and cross it. Back then they called it the Cooper River Bridge. I loved it!!! The new bridge is beautiful and exciting to cross.

Karen yvonee pyatt says:
June 18th, 2016 at 10:07 pm

My grandpa Pyatt….and my dad Wayne Pyatt helped build this bridge… a long time ago…..

Gail Mcnaughton says:
March 18th, 2016 at 1:58 am

Terri Platts, Mary Ann Riggs was my great grandmother, married to Julius Riggs. Are you from the Burton or Riggs family?

Tracey Huff says:
March 16th, 2016 at 8:36 pm

Terri Platts,

How are you related to Mary Ann Riggs? I am related to her sister, Ellen Burton Rantin.

Bill Raybourne says:
January 24th, 2016 at 2:28 pm

In 1960, My Citadel roomie and I headed toward the old bridge on the way to IOP. On the way he had a flat tire – a dire event on the old bridge. But we got it done somehow. On the way back, we ran out of gas and had to push the car toward Charleston to a station at the end of the bridge.

Sam Mcilwain says:
December 19th, 2015 at 11:13 pm

In 1949, I was just learning to drive and we were in my friends car and we were double dating. I was driving and they all said let’s go to mount pleasant. My heart about quit, but I was to proud to say that I was afraid to drive across the bridge. There was only 1 bridge at that time and for you that drove that bridge back then it was a challenge for an experienced driver let alone for a 14 year old trying to learn to drive. It was a real confidence builder when I got to other side. We still switched drivers on the way back. Lol

David Chapman says:
December 2nd, 2015 at 12:02 am

Scared to death as a child you to lay down & hide when we went over the bridge still scared of high bridges.

SCIWAY says:
November 30th, 2015 at 9:15 am

Feel free to contact any of the photographers through their links to see if they would be interested in selling their images! If you need the email address for a particular photographer, we could probably put you in touch!

Katie Giebel says:
November 28th, 2015 at 8:28 am

I’m looking to purchase a print of all three Mount Pleasant bridges. Do you sell a picture like this? Or do you know where I could get one for a gift? Thank you so much!

George Scearce says:
July 24th, 2015 at 9:38 pm

The old bridge gave me a phobia about bridges for years… I'm over that now!

Laurie says:
April 13th, 2015 at 9:35 pm

Hey, Sparky!
My husband and I used to cross the old bridges from/to Mt. Pleasant for work in downtown Charleston for years (he for longer than I, because I soon sought and found work in Mt. Pleasant, much closer to our house, to cut down on my daily commute; he didn’t have that choice, unfortunately). Anyway, I also took some pictures just prior to the demolition of the old bridges, with both old and new in the photos. Not a whole collection and I’m sure nothing compared to yours! We’ll have to stop in at Royall Hardware and look for your picture-book next time we’re over in Mt. Pleasant (we moved about thirty-five miles inland from there about a decade ago, when it began to get too crowded and traffic started becoming a nightmare in Mt. Pleasant).

Sparky Witte says:
April 3rd, 2015 at 11:03 am

I published a book ” End of an Era” and it is for sale at Royall Hardward in Mt. Pleasant. I witnessed the demolition of the Bridges close up and captured pictures for two and a half years. It is a picture book.

Terry (West/Sheehan)McCabe says:
May 26th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

My Grandfather, John Henry West, died (4/19/1929) building the Grace Bridge. My mother, Joy West, was born the day before the bridge was open for traffic.

Terri Platts says:
July 19th, 2013 at 9:24 am

My great aunt, Mary Anne Riggs, used to take her husband lunch on the Mt. Pleasant side when they were building the Grace back in 1929!


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