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T.I. Bridge to celebrate 75th year of operation with open house Saturday

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WELLESLEY ISLAND — Eva S. Hasseler was 17 and had just graduated from Watertown High School when she took part in the dedication ceremony for the Thousand Islands International Bridge in August 1938.

The now 92-year-old summer resident of Henderson Harbor said she participated in the festivities on Wellesley Island 75 years ago as a member of a foresting group that planted maple trees at the border to celebrate formally the completion of this binational effort to connect Collins Landing to Ivy Lea, Ontario.

“Back then, Americans planted maple trees on the Canadian side of the border and Canadians planted white birch on the U.S. side,” she said. “President Roosevelt was there in his car greeting and waving at people and there was a party after that — a dance and buffet-type deal — on the Canadian side.”

The $3 million T.I. Bridge project broke ground in May 1937 and was completed in only 16 months, some 10 weeks ahead of schedule — a remarkable feat considering hydraulic excavators were not available at the time.

Safety measures for construction workers were practically nonexistent, which probably helped speed up the project yet led to one fatality. A Mohawk tribal member from Montreal hired as a high-beam worker died in a fall just days before the bridge opened.

On Aug. 18, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Canadian Prime Minister William L. Mackenzie King rolled in together in the back seat of a customized black Cadillac for the ribbon-cutting, an event that drew a crowd of more than 25,000 people to Wellesley Island.

To celebrate the bridge’s 75th year of operation, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority will hold a public “open house” Saturday featuring a vintage car show, live music and presentations.

According to the authority, annual crossings grew from 150,000 in the T.I. Bridge’s first year of operation to more than 2 million vehicles today.

Ms. Hasseler said she plans to attend the event with her daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters.

The free event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day at the authority property near the U.S. toll plaza on Interstate 81.

Historian Brian R. Phillips, of Rockport, Ontario, and Parsons Transportation — a New York City firm hired as the bridge’s consulting engineer — will host a presentation with archival images and video of the construction project during the event.

Performing live music at the open house will be Brockville Pipes & Drums of Brockville, Ontario, Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division Band and color guard from the Second Brigade Combat Team and Northern New York rock band Tough Luck.

Children’s activities and refreshments, such as ice cream and beverages, also will be available.

Memorabilia, including commemorative coins and postcards, will be handed out during the event and drawings for a pair of Thousand Islands vacation packages, which include a night’s accommodation, passes to a boat tour and admission to Boldt Castle on Heart Island, will be held as well.

Public parking is available near the Thousand Islands welcome center on Collins Landing Road off Seaway Avenue, according to the TIBA.

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