Hardy fishermen and their families have long inhabited Bailey Island, which was settled in the 1720s. Ordinarily, they did not mind crossing to the mainland in their fishing boats. But before the Bailey Island Bridge was built, during certain seasons of the year when violent storms battered the coast, it was impossible to leave the island.
As early as the mid-1800s residents began requesting that a bridge be built from Bailey across Will's Gut to nearby Orr's Island, a distance of nearly 2,000 feet. But the swift tide between the islands precluded using stone-filled timber cribs for the piers, such as were customary in the early days of bridge construction in Maine.
Llewelyn N. Edwards, bridge engineer with the Maine State Highway Commission, devised an ingenious and economic bridge substructure in 1923 and adapted it to use for the Bailey Island Bridge. At a special town meeting in October 1923, the inhabitants voted in favor of the bridge.
A shallow ledge extends between Bailey Island and Orr's Island, broken only by a narrow channel. Granite slabs from nearby Yarmouth and Pownal were laid on this ledge in a pattern similar to traditional log crib piers. The granite is sufficiently heavy to withstand wind and wave action. The open cribbing permits the strong tide to ebb and flow freely through the bridge.
- The structure has a length of 1120 feet, not including the earth-filled approaches, and has a roadway width of 18 feet between curbs. A concrete tee beam spans 52 feet across the narrow and deep channel
- No mortar or cement was used to build the granite cribs. Due to the uneven shapes of the rough-cut stones, pine wedges were driven into the cracks between the stones a certain places to prevent rocking and shifting.
- The project was constructed over 2 years at a cost of $139,000.
- Bailey Island bridge is believed to be the only one of its type in the world.
- According to local lore, Llewelyn Edwards, the bridge designer, originally got the idea of an open-crib design from a bridge in Scotland. However, the Scottish bridge was destroyed by enemy artillery in World War II.