old highlands bridge

The old Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge was built in 1933.

muriel j smith 120The Captain Joseph Azzolina Bridge was a welcome improvement to the boroughs of Highlands and Sea Bright in 2012, to say nothing of cutting back drastically on the lines of cars trying to get into Sandy Hook on a hot summer’s day. It is actually the fourth bridge that has crossed the Shrewsbury River at that point, not including the railroad bridge which was also located there.

There was much excitement when this newest bridge was built and then dedicated. While the old bridge was being taken down, Bahrs Restaurant was even more popular than ever, and everyone had a story to tell about walking to the beach, or jumping from the bridge, or even sailing under it. Others told stories about getting stuck in traffic when the bridge was raised. Jay Cosgrove introduced a unique drink at Bahrs which was a favorite throughout the construction period….the Bridgetini at Bahrs even had ‘rust’ rimming the glasses, and Bahrs sold gift-wrapped and mounted pieces of concrete from the old bridge which folks treasured for the secrets, memories and dreams they held.

Senator Jennifer Beck, who had worked with Capt Azzolina for many years, and whom she still today regards as her mentor and first teacher in dedicated service to the public, was one of many speakers at this dedication, along with LT. Governor Kim Guadagno, Congressman Frank Pallone, all the freeholders, and the Azzolina offspring who only knew from family stories of all the connections the Azzolinas had with Highlands from the days their grandparents operated a grocery store on Miller Street before the Bay Avenue Food Basket and ultimately the FoodTown Super Markets.

Back in 1933, when the third bridge, the first concrete and steel structure spanning the Shrewsbury River between the two communities was dedicated, there was a two mile long parade and much fanfare at the dedication.

That bridge replaced what army engineers described an “an obsolete wooden structure which has been a death trap and the worst bridge of its kind in history,” at the time.

It took 14 months to build that new bridge in 1933; it was 1,241 feet long, 44 feet wide, had two eight foot wide sidewalks, a height of 35 feet, and cost $650,000, officially becoming the third bridge over the Shrewsbury River.

The first bridge was built in 1872, ten years after the Twin Lights. It cost $35,000 to build and was 18 feet wide. Jacob Swan was the toll taker there for 15 years. Twenty years later, the bridge, owned by Monmouth County, which had also acquired the adjacent railroad, tore down the railroad drawbridge and designed a rail and roadway in a single bridge crossing the river. But with increased vehicular traffic, that bridge became too dangerous, and hence the third bridge was planned, designed, and dedicated in 1933.

So, no wonder there was much celebration!

Fred Bedle, he who also owned Bedle’s drug store, was Mayor of Highlands in 1933….his daughter, the late Catherine James Bedle, became a councilwoman I the late 20th century, and William Fowler was Sea Bright’s Mayor. Acting Governor Emerson Richards, US Senators W. Warren Barbour and Hamilton Kean, along with Congressman William Sutphin, and a host of other state, county and local dignitaries, all came for the grand ceremony when the two mayors met in the middle of the bridge. There were a lot of speeches, moistly about the great beauty of Sandy hook, the view of the New York skyline, and the recent talk s about converting Sandy hook into a state Park, with the Governor strongly in favor of it, saying he could make it as great as Jones Beach. He called on the federal government to fund his ideas, arguing if the government could pay for “wheat fields and irrigation in the west and cotton fields in the South, then it can provide adequate shoreline protection.”

Following the meeting-in-the-middle-of-the-bridge ceremonies, there was a two mile long parade in Highlands, complete with 31 fire companies, five bands, including the 175 member continent from Fort Hancock, plenty of civic organizations from scout troops to garden clubs, to fraternal organizations and veterans groups. Then there was a big party at the Hotel Martin, later known as the Alpine Manor, now the townhouses on Highland Avenue at the Portland Road intersection. The Highlands firemen hosted their fellow volunteers from other communities at their own party at the firehouse which stood at the corner of Bay and Valley avenues until the 1960s. And it was all topped off with a grand ball at Kruse’s Pavilion on Bay Avenue, just west of the bridge on Bay Avenue.

Jacob S. Hoffmann was councilman under Mayor Bedle, and headed up the Dedication Committee. The total cost for the day’s events in 1933? $700.