Whittemore Bridge work begins

A Naugatuck police officer directs traffic on Maple Street in Naugatuck before the Whittemore Bridge Monday morning. Work on a $6 million bridge reconstruction project started Monday. –LUKE MARSHALL

A Naugatuck police officer directs traffic on Maple Street in Naugatuck before the Whittemore Bridge Monday. Work on a $6 million bridge reconstruction project started Monday. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Drivers traveling through downtown Naugatuck will face detours as work on the 104-year-old Whittemore Bridge is under way.

The $6 million reconstruction project on the bridge, which connects the east and west sides of the borough over the Naugatuck River via Maple Street, started Monday morning. Traffic will only be allowed to travel over the bridge heading west from the Route 8 off ramp toward Church Street. Traffic heading east toward Route 8 will be diverted onto Water Street, Cedar Street, Meadow Street, Cherry Street, over the Salem Bridge and onto South Main Street.

The work on the bridge is expected to continue for nearly two years until the spring of 2018.

The project includes replacing the concrete arches holding the bridge up. The concrete on top of the arches has begun to rot away and the footings have been weakened by the running water of the river. This has reduced the bridge’s weight limit to 40 tons and prevents some larger vehicles from crossing it.

The work also includes recreating the walls and parapets that used to run along the bridge. The intent is to restore the bridge to how it looked before it was destroyed in the historic Flood of 1955. The bridge will also have benches and old-fashioned light poles.

The Plantsville-based Mohawk Northeast, Inc. was awarded the contract for the project. The work will be paid for with $3 million in bonds approved by borough voters and a $3 million a grant the borough received from the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

The original bridge was constructed in 1912. It was built to honor businessman and philanthropist John H. Whittemore, one of Naugatuck’s most famous residents, who died in 1910. He was head of one of the borough’s largest industries, the Naugatuck Malleable Iron Co. Plans were drawn by architect Henry Bacon of McKim, Mead & White of New York, one of the most famous firms of the era. Bacon is most well-known for his final project, designing the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The website of the Public Archaeology Survey Team, a private nonprofit organization that specializes in archaeological and historical research and public education in the Northeast, states that Bacon’s design for the Naugatuck bridge was lauded as “a monument to the memory of Naugatuck’s most public spirited benefactor” and “a fitting tribute to who has made our abiding place ‘a city beautiful.’”

The Republican-American contributed to this article.