The George Redding Bridge
The next time you travel across George Redding Bridge and find yourself frustrated by an untimely bridge opening or seemingly endless construction, remember this - it could be worse. In fact, it was.
Early settlers and visitors to Wildwood traversed Grassy Sound through an unwieldy system of log roads and flat-bottom boats. They were not delayed by an opening bridge, but by the schedule of the tides. Imagine horses pulling wagons overstuffed with both passengers and provisions across the muddy meadows. Now that’s a traffic jam you’d want to avoid.
It wasn’t long before the citizens of the growing community realized they needed a bridge, but county opposition to the predictably expensive project was fierce. In 1894 some island residents complained that they were “imprisoned on Five Mile Beach.”
Community support increased with the population of the island. The November 11, 1898 issue of The Five Mile Beach Journal, a weekly Wildwood publication, announced a meeting to “drive the first nail in the bridge,” and encouraged residents to buy shares in the project or pledge to “give so much in work.” The meeting, which took place on November 15, 1898, must have been a success because by 1903, the island’s first bridge was in place.
This first bridge appeared to be little more than a wooden pier that spanned the wetlands from Rio Grande to Wildwood, but it accommodated both land and sea traffic. Foot passengers and wagons passed with relative ease when the bridge was closed. When ships needed to pass through the channel, the draw bridge could be opened using a triangular tower and pulley system. It would certainly have been bumpy, but functional nonetheless.
The wooden bridge was soon replaced with a new steel bridge which accommodated the growing population of tourists who arrived by automobile. This was a swing bridge which opened when the center portion of the structure was mechanically turned outward over the water on a huge pivot.
By 1940, this bridge was in disrepair, and again concerned citizens met to discuss replacing it. Senator I. Grant Scott from Cape May presided over the meeting, and the cost to replace the bridge was estimated to be $350,000. By the end of that year however, the nation was turning its attention to war in Europe, and by the end of the following year the United States was fully engaged in World War II.
According to an article published in The Wildwood Leader in 1950, construction on the new bridge did not begin until several years after the war, when in 1948, Commissioner J. Spencer Miller sent a state dredger to the area, and the project had begun. By this time, however, the cost estimate for the new bridge had almost tripled to one million dollars, and by the time the final work was completed two years later, another million was needed.
The bridge was completed and dedicated on July 27, 1950, ten years after it was originally conceived. Although Senator Anthony Cafiero was largely responsible for securing the passage of the appropriations bill that funded the final phase of construction, it was former New Jersey Senator George A. Redding for whom the bridge was named.
Redding’s long political career began in North Wildwood when he helped organize the Angelsea Fire Company in 1902. That was one year before the first bridge was built across Grassy Sound from Rio Grande. In the years that followed, he held positions as Municipal Clerk of the Borough of Wildwood, Chief of Police in North Wildwood City, and Sheriff of Cape May County. In 1926, he was elected mayor of North Wildwood, and he held that position for twenty years (until 1949). In 1945, he was elected to the State Senate where he served as both senator and North Wildwood mayor concurrently until 1948.
Redding attended the dedication of the bridge which bears his name, and he assisted in the ribbon cutting along with Senator Cafiero, New Jersey Governor Alfred E. Driscoll and Wildwood Mayor George Busfield.
Both the old and new bridges remained opened side by side for the remainder of that summer. The old one remained largely intact, but unused for several years until it was dissembled, leaving behind the old roads that once lead to it.
You can still see the remnants of these roads today. One runs by Urie’s Restaurant and the other into Shawcrest Mobile Home Park behind the Wildwood Welcome Center on Route 47. Both roads dead end at Grassy Sound. The old boat keeper’s house is on the Wildwood side and is now a private residence. On the mainland side, the rails of the steel bridge are still visible. It’s not exactly a tourist area, but it’s a neat place to visit if you get a chance. Don’t make a special trip, though. Just wait until a day when the bridge is up and you have nothing to do but wait.
(Originally publlished in Wildwood Properties)
Articles by Maureen Cawley