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The crossing of the James River

James River Bridge (8624 bytes)
A 1948 photo of the original James River Bridge.

Read more about local history

When the first radio station came on the air in Newport News, the talk of the town - indeed, the talk of all Hampton Roads - was the pending opening of a bridge across the James River.

WNEW began broadcasting in October 1928 and within weeks gave up its call letters to a station in New York City in favor of WGH, which stood for World's Greatest Harbor.

The 4.8-mile bridge between the counties of Warwick and Isle of Wight was privately financed as a business venture by Peninsula entrepreneurs. With a full day of festivities, the $5.2 million span was opened on Nov. 17, 1928, by a snip of a ribbon and the press of a button. The button wasn't in Newport News, but in Washington, where President Calvin Coolidge, sitting in the Oval Office, sent an electric signal to lower into place the upraised lift span over the James River channel. An oversized pair of scissors was used by Miss Martha Woodroof Hiden - designated for the ceremony on the northern shore as Miss Virginia - to cut the ribbon across the two-lane roadway. Eight thousand spectators watched.

The day's festivities began with a parade through downtown Newport News and up Warwick Boulevard to the bridge. Nearly 100 floats were in the two-mile-long parade. Army planes flew overhead. Gov. Harry F. Byrd Sr. gave a speech. Ships in the river re-enacted the famous battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack. In the evening there were fireworks.

The James River Bridge was taken over by the state during World War II and replaced with a wider span in the 1980s. It - along with commercial radio - has brought both sides of Hampton Roads closer together for more than 70 years.

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