1899: The Opening of the Clifden Suspension Bridge in New Zealand

April 5, 1899

A bridge near the community of Clifden in the southernmost part of New Zealand’s South Island made its debut. (At the time, New Zealand was a British colony; it became a dominion of the British Empire in 1907 and achieved full autonomy in 1947.) The Clifden Suspension Bridge, which is 365.8 feet (111.5 meters) in length, crosses the Waiau River.

This structure – also known as the Iron Bridge — was officially opened by Joseph Ward, New Zealand’s colonial treasurer (the present-day position of minister of finance). Ward later served as prime minister of New Zealand from 1906 to 1912 and again between 1928 and 1930.

The Clifden Suspension Bridge was designed by government engineer C.H. Howarth, and it took about 10 months to build. This one-lane bridge was used initially for horse-drawn vehicles and later for motorized modes of mobility. For several decades, it was an important transportation link in that section of New Zealand.

In the time since a new vehicular bridge was built 426.5 feet (130 meters) downstream in 1978, the Clifden Suspension Bridge has been used instead for pedestrian traffic only. The bridge was closed in 2010 for urgently needed repairs and reopened to pedestrians in 2013.

One of the bridge’s key features is the Clifden Roll of Honour, a plaque commemorating local residents who died while serving in the military in World War I. This plaque can still been seen today on the north tower at the eastern end of the bridge.

The Clifden Suspension Bridge is also renowned as an early example of suspension bridges in New Zealand that were designed with then-innovative materials such as steel and drawn wire. For these reasons and others, the bridge was listed as a Category I Historic Place by Heritage New Zealand in 1990.

Photo Credit: Harald Selke (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

For more information on the Clifden Suspension Bridge, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifden_Suspension_Bridge

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