Old Cooper River Bridges – Charleston, South Carolina

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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.”

Old Cooper River Bridges – Add Info and More Photos

The purpose of the South Carolina Picture Project is to celebrate the beauty of the Palmetto State and create a permanent digital repository for our cultural landmarks and natural landscapes. We invite you to add additional pictures (paintings, photos, etc) of Old Cooper River Bridges, and we also invite you to add info, history, stories, and travel tips. Together, we hope to build one of the best and most loved SC resources in the world!

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5 Comments about Old Cooper River Bridges

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!

LaurieNo Gravatar 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 WitteNo Gravatar 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)McCabeNo Gravatar 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 PlattsNo Gravatar 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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