Down East 2013 ©
Never let it be said that Maine towns don’t take their duties seriously. In 1658, the Massachusetts Bay Colony required the recently incorporated town of Wells to erect a bridge over the Ogunquit River as part of its responsibility for building the King’s Highway along the coast of Maine. Now, 338 years later, the neighboring towns of Wells and Ogunquit are rebuilding the bridge in the same site, replacing a piece of Maine history that has carried everything from the earliest settlers to the latest tourists.
Now known as the Tibbetts Bridge, the span was formerly called the First Bridge, locals say, because it is thought by many to be the first official bridge ever built in Maine. “It is certainly the first bridge over the Ogunquit River,” notes Hope Shelley, a local historian and curator of the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit, which until 1980 were one town. She points out that York and Kittery were settled before Wells, and there may have been earlier bridges in those towns, although the sites are long lost.
“In those times, travel was primarily by ship,” Shelley says. “The King’s Highway was built to make a passable road for horses and carts among the various towns along the coast.” John Adams, the second President of the United States, used the bridge on his trips to Wells and Pownalborough as a traveling circuit judge before the Revolution.
In recent years the bridge, which was last replaced in 1940, had fallen into disuse, and the road it carried turned into a cul de sac on each side. Only pedestrians from nearby residential areas dared to use it. This spring Wells and Ogunquit voted a thousand dollars each to buy materials to rebuild the span as a footbridge, with the potential of upgrading it for vehicular traffic later. “We had the option of tearing it up completely,” notes Michael Pardue, the Ogunquit town manager, “but we discovered it was still used by a lot of local people, even in the winter.” Besides it would be a shame to lose such a bridge to the past.
(Published July 1996)