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Photograph of Longfellow Bridge (then called Cambridge Bridge) from Cambridge looking toward Boston, circa 1923. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Photograph of Longfellow Bridge (then called Cambridge Bridge) from Cambridge looking toward Boston, circa 1923.
Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

What do the Harvard Lampoon Building, Jordan Hall, and the Longfellow Bridge have in common? All three Boston area landmarks – and many more – were designed by architect Edmund M. Wheelwright (1854 – 1912).

Don’t recognize the name? You’re not alone. Wheelwright is rarely mentioned among Boston architectural all-stars, such as Charles Bulfinch, Henry Hobson Richardson, and Charles Follen McKim, but he made significant contributions to the city’s architectural landscape.

As Boston’s City Architect from 1891-95, Wheelwright designed numerous buildings, including 21 schools and five hospitals. One of his most distinctive municipal structures is the 156-foot brick tower that once served as Boston’s Fire Department Headquarters in the South End. Modeled after the 14th century Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy, the former headquarters is now home to the Pine Street Inn.

Edmund M. Wheelwright, circa 1876. Courtesy of the Harvard University Archives

Edmund M. Wheelwright, circa 1876.
Courtesy of the Harvard University Archives

Wheelwright made his biggest contributions to public transportation while in the private sector. In 1897, when Boston opened the nation’s first subway system, patrons entered Park Street and Boylston Street stations in style: through eight Neoclassical, granite and glass head houses designed by Wheelwright. Four of the head houses still stand in Boston Common.

The next year, the Cambridge Bridge Commission was established to design and construct a replacement for the 1793 West Boston Bridge, the first bridge to cross the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge. The Commission appointed Boston City Engineer William Jackson as Chief Engineer, who quickly tapped Wheelwright as Consulting Architect.

To prepare for this grand undertaking, Wheelwright and Jackson traveled throughout Europe, researching the design and building materials of famous bridges. Returning to Boston, Wheelwright created the now well-known design for the Longfellow Bridge: eleven graceful steel arches supported by masonry piers, punctuated with four stone towers near the center span that would give rise to the nickname “salt and pepper” bridge. In selecting the design, the Commission predicted that the new bridge would be “one of the finest and most beautiful structures in the world,” and would provide the eastern boundary of an 18-mile riverfront area “destined to be the most beautiful park in the country.”

Restoration of the Longfellow Bridge will maintain its historical character and integrity, while bringing it up to modern standards, repairing structural deficiencies, and improving access for all users.  Courtesy of White-Skanska-Consigli, Joint Venture

Restoration of the Longfellow Bridge will maintain its historical character and integrity, while bringing it up to modern standards, repairing structural deficiencies, and improving access for all users.
Courtesy of White-Skanska-Consigli, Joint Venture

Construction of the bridge began in 1900 and was completed in 1906. Originally dedicated as the Cambridge Bridge, it was renamed for poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1927. A little more than a century later, the iconic Longfellow Bridge is undergoing restoration and repairs. MassDOT’s Longfellow Bridge Rehabilitation Project is updating the bridge to meet modern standards, repairing wear and degradation, maintaining its historical integrity, and providing improved access for all means of travel. The project will ensure that this celebrated bridge will hold fast as a Boston landmark for many years to come.

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