Salt ’n Spar

Things to think about when crossing the Davey Bridge

Mon, 08/01/2022 - 8:45am

    On Sept. 28 it will be 36 years since the new U.S. Route 1 bridge linking Wiscasset to Edgecomb was dedicated to Detective Sergeant Donald E. Davey of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department. I remember the morning of the dedication because I covered it for the newspaper. It was Sunday, a beautiful day brilliant sunshine, blue sky. Governor Joseph Brennan and many others were present to honor Detective Davey’s memory. Two bronze plaques attached to granite memorial stones were unveiled at the bridge entrances and hence forth it became, “The Donald E. Davey Bridge.” It was a fitting tribute to this fine young police officer; he was just 37 when he lost his life in the line of duty being killed in a traffic accident.

    I remember Detective Davey, but I didn’t know him well. I’d only met him a few times during my work for the newspaper seeing him on the occasions when I had to go to the sheriff’s office which used to be in the basement of the courthouse. The dedication took place in 1986 but the new bridge had opened for traffic on June 15, 1983 following a brief ribbon cutting ceremony, so the bridge is actually 39 years old. A Maine contractor, Shoals Construction based in Eliot, built the bridge, the first of its kind in northern New England. It was designed by Figg & Muller Engineering of Tallahassee, Florida; the same engineering company who also designed the Bucksport bridge towering over the Penobscot River Narrows which opened for traffic in 2006.

    The Davey Bridge rises 20 feet over the Sheepscot River at its highest point. You can see upriver to Clark’s Point as far as the iron railroad bridge at Flying Point, and down river to Wiscasset harbor and far beyond to the bridge connecting Wiscasset to Westport Island. I took over a hundred pictures during the construction of the Wiscasset bridge. I used a Nikon 35mm camera with 50mm lens, which meant I had to get pretty close to the work to get good shots of what was taking place. I processed the film and printed the black and white pictures in my darkroom, usually early on Sunday morning so I’d have them ready for the coming week’s edition of The Wiscasset Times, the weekly newspaper I owned. You can’t imagine the amount of time this took and how much easier it is now to take pictures digitally.

    A few years ago, I gave Jason my son my negatives of the bridge construction, which he converted to positive images and then digitized. The result was a picture-by-picture display showing construction of the Davey Bridge from start to finish. Soon after, I made-up a PowerPoint presentation showing them at Wiscasset Public Library. I was seeing many of these images for the first time because when I had the newspaper, I’d only print one, or two shots from a roll of film. That was because that’s all I had room for in the newspaper.

    What amazed everyone, me included, was the extraordinary access Shoals Construction officials had allowed me in taking these photographs. They let me go nearly everywhere I wanted to so long as I wore a hard hat and kept a respectful distance. They even let me go down inside the middle of the bridge which is hollow to take pictures there. On another day, one worker rode me around in one of their small tugboats so I could get shots of the bridge construction from the river. The result were some really great pictures showing the work from start to finish.

    At the end of the project, I took a number of these pictures and put them into a special newspaper supplement, “A Bridge of Firsts.” I called it that because this was the first segmental concrete bridge built in Northern New England. I’m not an engineer but I can share a few things I know about the bridge. First, it’s made up of 318 steel-reinforced concrete segments, each of which was cast by Shoals in Elliot and trucked 100 miles to Wiscasset. A segment weighed roughly 40 tons, measuring 9 feet wide, by 45 feet long. Each of them were numbered and laid in sequence during assembly, so the number one segment became part of the mold for number two and so on. The very labor intensive and delicate work of setting the segments in place involved using a huge temporary steel frame that was set between the bridge piers. Using a mammoth crane, workers then swung the huge segments one-by-one onto the temporary framework. Each segment was then very slowly moved into place after which steel cables were snaked through and post-tensioned to 846,000 pounds. The cables run through the superstructure on either side of each winged segment and basically are what hold the structure together. It was really amazing to watch the work taking place there and seeing the new bridge slowly take shape.

    The final bridge segment arrived in Wiscasset to great fanfare one sunny June afternoon, the crew christening it with a bottle of champagne! Now that the pictures I took are digitized, they’ll hopefully withstand the test of time, kind of like The Donald E. Davey Bridge itself.

    Phil Di Vece earned a B.A. in Journalism studies from Colorado State University and a M.A. in journalism at the University of South Florida. He is the author of three Wiscasset books and is a frequent news contributor to the Wiscasset Newspaper and Boothbay Register. He resides in Wiscasset. Contact him at