History of the old Cooper River bridges

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John P. Grace Memorial Bridge | Photo by Boston Public Library, image has been resized

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The above image was sourced via flickr.

A Bridge by Any Other Name

If you’ve lived in the Lowcountry long enough, you’ve seen many bridges come and go. The connection between Mt. Pleasant and downtown Charleston has transformed quite a bit over the past century, so we’ve laid out the history of the iconic bridges that have crossed the Cooper River.

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Grace Memorial Bridge | Photo by Ken Bowman Photography

John P. Grace Memorial BridgeIn 1928, the Cooper River Bridge Company began building the Grace Memorial Bridge, aka the Old Bridge. It got its namesake from former Charleston Mayor John P. Grace. This 250-foot-tall, $6 million infrastructure opened in the summer of 1929 as the largest bridge of its kind in the world. The privately-owned structure consisted of two lanes stretched narrowly over the Cooper River and Town Creek. It became the only bridge to span the Cooper River, which was previously traveled across by boat.

In the winter of 1946, a freighter collided with the Old Bridge, causing several fatalities and $300,000 worth of damage. It was unusable for months, and a temporary one-lane crossing was built until Grace Memorial was fully restored in June 1946. The state took ownership of the bridge + the toll was ended.

As the population and industry rose, the need for a larger connection between the two towns became difficult to ignore. Safety concerns grew on the curb-less bridge + the structure earned a 4 out of 100 safety rating a decade before its demolition. Although the Old Bridge inspired fear in the hearts of many, it is affectionately remembered by community members. It was torn down in 2005, after 76 years of Lowcountry history. Watch the demolition. (SC Picture Project + WCBD)

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Grace Memorial and Silas Pearman bridges | Photo by Charleston Corps

Silas N. Pearman BridgeConstruction on the Pearman Bridge, aka the New Bridge, began in 1961. The new structure opened in the spring of 1966 alongside the Old Bridge and measured 150 feet tall. It was named after former Chief Highway Commissioner Silas N. Pearman + cost a total of $15 million. The structure had three lanes over a 38-foot-wide road, which probably felt vast in comparison to the narrow Grace Memorial. It stood for 39 years before being torn down in 2005 along with the Old Bridge. (AA Roads)

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The Ravenel | Photo by James Simpson Photography

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
Fast forward to the 2000s. Modern freighters needed a passageway along the Cooper River, and many were unable to fit below the Old or New Bridge. The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge was designed by several teams including MacDonald Architects + Parsons Brinckerhoff and was named after politician Arthur Ravenel, Jr., who was born in Charleston.

The Ravenel opened with a week-long celebration in the summer of 2005, becoming the largest of its kind in North America. The eight-lane bridge stretches 1,500 feet + features two towers reminiscent of sailboats that define the Holy City skyline. The Ravenel has a bike and pedestrian lane, and thousands of people trot across the bridge for the annual Cooper River Bridge Run.

The modern structure complements the historic charm of Charleston. It was built to last a century — so if you’re a local reading this in the 2020s, the Ravenel will be a significant piece of Lowcountry architecture in your lifetime. (The State + SC Picture Project)

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