The need for a crossing of
the Cooper River and Town Creek had been longstanding.
The issue was how it should be done, and who would
finance it. The solution came in 1928 when the
dream of Charlestonian John P. Grace and others
of building a Cooper River Bridge materialized,
with financial backing from H.M. Byllesby and
Company of Chicago and its allied financial group.
The 2.71-mile bridge, later to be named the Grace
Memorial Bridge, was built in just 17 months,
at a total cost of approximately $6 million. It
was opened with a three-day celebration on Aug.
The bridge was designed by Waddell and Hardesty
of New York, with Charles Kyes Allen as their
resident engineer in charge of construction. The
sub-structure was built by the Foundation Company
of New York and C. E. Hillyer of Jacksonville,
Fla. The superstructure was built by McClintic-Marshall
Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Virginia Bridge
and Iron Company of Roanoke, Va. The main span
of the bridge, 1050 feet between supports, was
the fifth longest cantilever truss in the world at the time of completion, 150 feet above
the river and 15 feet higher than the Brooklyn
Bridge in New York.
The new facility, which was the largest bridge
of its type on the world, was operated as a toll
bridge by the Cooper River Bridge, Inc. John P.
Grace was the company’s president. The toll
for crossing the bridge was 50 cents.
In 1946, the state bought the bridge and removed
the tolls. That same year, a freighter rammed
into it, ripping out a 240-foot section. Three
steel girder spans had to be replaced.
In 1959, three spans over Drum Island were widened
for emergency parking. In 1965, the fender system
for Pier 2 in Town Creek was built, and extensive
major repairs were made to Pier 6. The west end
of the bridge was widened in 1967 to provide an
additional lane of traffic coming off the bridge.
In 1979, due to extensive metal deterioration,
an 8-ton axle weight limit was posted on the bridge.
In recent years, maintenance and repairs have
been a continuing and ongoing problem. Today, partly
because of the narrow 10-foot lanes and steep
grades, the bridge is considered functionally
In ceremonies on April 29, 1966, a new $15 million
bridge over the Cooper River, parallel to the
Grace Bridge, was opened to traffic, and dedicated
in honor of Chief Highway Commissioner Silas N.
Actual construction of the two-mile bridge began
during 1963, although preliminary work was begun
in 1961. The structure was designed by the consulting
firm of Howard, Needles, Tammen and Bergendoff.
The bridge would carry northbound traffic on U.S.
17, while the older structure would carry southbound
traffic. The 38-foot roadway of the new bridge
would provide for three lanes of moving traffic,
one lane of which would be reversible, so that
it could be used for southbound traffic if and
when there was a need.
The Pearman Bridge had vertical clearances of
150 feet over the Cooper River and 135 feet over
Town Creek, and provided adequate horizontal clearances
for the passage of the largest watercraft.
Now the diamond towers of the Ravenel Bridge have been named the John P. Grace Tower and the Silas N. Pearman Tower to remember the men and the bridges that served Charleston.
The SCDOT partnered with Mount Pleasant and Charleston to preserve the memory of the Grace Bridge. Pieces of the bridge were delivered to each town to be put on public display in the future.