Starts & Stops

The story behind the naming of the Longfellow Bridge

For the first time since the conclusion of construction on the Longfellow Bridge in 1907, two of the towers are coming down, temporarily. As reported in Saturday’s Globe, construction crews are taking painstaking measures to remove, clean, and replace each of the four towers’ 529 granite blocks.

For most of the past century, the Longfellow has been Boston’s most iconic bridge (though the Zakim now offers a run for its money). Still, many people may not know why, after the bridge’s completion, it was named after the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Obviously, Longfellow was a cool guy: He wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride,” his bust resides in Westminster Abbey, and he was buddies with Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

But fewer may know that the grand structure connecting Boston and Cambridge was christened in his name because of a poem he wrote about the bridge that was there previously.

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Part of that poem (aptly called “The Bridge”) was read aloud by Boston’s mayor, John F. Fitzgerald, at the Longfellow Bridge opening festivities on July 31, 1907.

Yet whenever I cross the river

On its bridge with wooden piers,

Like the odor of brine from the ocean

Comes the thought of other years.

And I think how many thousands

Of care-encumbered men,

Each bearing his burden of sorrow,

Have crossed the bridge since then.

It’s a feeling that is probably familiar to anyone who commutes home on the Red Line.

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