History: London Bridge, Lake Havasu City

Last week, my son and I went on a spring break road trip. As part of the journey, we went from the Yuma, Arizona area up to Grand Canyon West. I took a look at a map, rather than just relying on GPS and Google Maps to tell me the most direct route, and noticed that it would be pretty easy to stop at Lake Havasu City and see London Bridge.

What is London Bridge Doing in the Arizona Desert?

Yes, London Bridge really is located in Arizona. At least one version of London Bridge. For 2,000 years, a bridge has spanned the Thames River as it flows through London. Romans used a wooden pontoon bridge in 53 A.D., and other accounts of different bridges have come down through the years.

One version of the bridge was pulled down at the request of the inhabitants of Britain. Danish Pirates had seized London, and the help of the Vikings was enlisted to bring down the bridge in 1014. This is thought to be the origin of the popular children’s song.

However, the version of London Bridge at Lake Havasu City is the one designed by Sir John Rennie and dedicated in 1831. The stone bridge began sinking into the mud of the Thames almost as soon as it was built. Without the reinforced concrete footings that are part of more recent bridge-building technology, the bridge was too heavy, especially as foot traffic — and later motorized traffic — on the bridge increased. By the time the 1960s rolled around, the stone construction was in serious danger. So the bridge was auctioned off to the highest bidder.

London Bridge, Lake Havasu City

Entrepreneur Robert McCulloch was looking for a gimmicky attraction for his planned city in the Arizona desert, and he bid $2,460,000 and won the bridge. It was dismantled, with the stones numbered as it was taken apart. The stones were then shipped by boat across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, and to Long Beach, CA, where they were loaded up and trucked to their final destination. The bridge was then re-assembled across a dry area of desert near the Colorado River.

It wasn’t until after the bridge was re-assembled that a channel was dug out, turning what was then a peninsula known as Pittsburg Point into an island. Now the bridge spans the waters of Lake Havasu (itself formed by a dam), and it is a tourist attraction.

A small tourist village has been built with a view of the bridge, complete with souvenir shops and rental shops where you can get small personal watercraft to toodle around near the bridge. There is also a resort-hotel, a restaurant, and a psychic. You can also ride the ferry to the California side of Lake Havasu from a dock near the London Bridge.

My son and I enjoyed a stroll around the area and some lunch, and we discussed the novelty of having a world-famous bridge built in Arizona.

What do you think? Have you made a detour on a trip to see something novel or interesting?

Source for historical information: Donald Judson Foust, “The Man Who Bought The London Bridge,” Lake Havasu Genealogical Society (1997).

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