Watkins Bridge was built in 1899 and crossed Cockle Creek from First Street. The approach was later changed to Second Street. It was named after Davey Watkins, state M.P. for Wallsend in 1894, 1895 and 1898. Before that time the crossing was carried out by means of a punt owned by a Chinese man named 'George,' who lived at Cockle Creek.
The construction of Watkins Bridge over Cockle Creek at Boolaroo was an important link in the development of the northern part of the lake.
The Sydney Morning Herald of Monday 11 December 1899, reported:
"The Minister for Works the Hon. E W O’Sullivan, accompanied by Mr R R P Hickson (Under Secretary for Works) and Mr Moriarty, visited Teralba and Cockle Creek yesterday for the purpose of performing the ceremony of officially opening the new bridge - to be known as Watkins Bridge - spanning Cockle Creek, and connecting the districts of Teralba and Boolaroo. The Ministerial party arrived by the morning train from Sydney and alighted at 12.20 p.m. at the Teralba railway Station, where they were received by Messrs. Watkins and Edden, M.L.A., and the members of the Teralba reception committee. The party was then driven to Cockle Creek, where they were entertained at luncheon by the Teralba residents. A spacious bushhouse had been specially constructed by the townspeople on the banks of the creek to serve the purpose of a banqueting hall, and about 40 persons sat down to an excellent repast. The Ceremony of officially opening the new bridge was performed shortly after 3 o'clock. A gathering of about 300 residents together with a number of visitors from Newcastle, Wallsend, and Toronto, assembled in the centre of the structure which was christened by Mr O'Sullivan as Watkins Bridge. Mr O'Sullivan, in declaring the bridge open for traffic and in dedicating it to the people for ever, said that he had decided to name the structure after their local member, because he believed that the efforts of a man should be recognised during his lifetime."
The Monier System
The above article went into great detail regarding the construction of the bridge which utilised a new method known as the Monier System.
"The new bridge is 305ft. in length, and consists of one timber truss span of 70ft.,with 235ft. of timber approach spans, the width of deck being15ft.throughout. The piers are of considerable interest owing to the use for the first time in the colonies of Monier cylinders in lieu of cast-iron, and also Monier pipes as a protective covering for the piers. The difficulty of protecting timber piers in salt water led to the use of the cylinders, generally of cast-iron filled with concrete, for important piers such as those under truss spans".
The bridge was in heavy use for the next 74 years. The increasing traffic, frequent traffic delays and state of disrepair of the bridge were topics often discussed in the newspapers, and calls for a new bridge were made with great regularity.
The early 1970s saw plans made for two replacement bridges to be built over the five islands at the entrance to Cockle Creek. The first bridge was completed in July 1972, with the second to be completed later that year. The Newcastle Herald of 13 July 1973 reported:
"The first of two concrete bridges being built over cockle creek has completed it’s crossing. The bridge is being built over the southern arm of the creek onto a small linking island. Steady progress is being made with the second bridge over the northern arm. Officials on the job are now confident that if everything proceeds smoothly there is no reason why the bridges should not be ready for use toward the end of December, if not slightly earlier. The president of Lake Macquarie Shire (Cr. MacDonald) who inspected the southern arm on Monday said he was pleased with the progress made. 'we have been looking forward to this bridge program for years, and we could aptly call them the bridges of new hope, while we may describe Watkins Bridge as the bridge of sighs' he said. 'The bridges will provide a new link between the eastern and Western parts of Lake Macquarie. We know that the western and southern parts of the shire have promise of much development, and speedier and better access will accelerate that progress.' "
Delays meant that the opening of the new bridges did not occur until early the following year. The two bridges over Cockle Creek were officially opened by the Minister for Highways (Sir Charles Cutler) at 11am on February 23, 1973.
Access to Watkins Bridge was halted immediately the new bridges came into service. There had been some discussion in the newspapers about what to do with the old bridge once it was no longer in use. The Newcastle Herald of 27 July 1972 reported:
"Lake Macquarie Tourist Authority will try to acquire an old wooden bridge at Speers Point that will have no use after completion of the two bridges being built over Cockle Creek.The president of the authority (Mr L Felowes) said the bridge instead of being burnt as fuel, could serve a useful purpose as an access to Jewells Swamp. It could also be used to link some of the islands teeming with birdlife and native flora. He would suggest to Lake Macquarie Shire Council it be made available to the authority, which could arrange for voluntary labour to move it to the swamp."
None of these suggestions was taken up by council, however, and demolition of the old bridge began on 13 July 1973.
Lake Macquarie Herald (part of Newcastle Morning Herald) 14 May 1970 Increasing complaints on bridge bottleneck
Lake Macquarie Herald (part of Newcastle Morning Herald) 13 July 1972. First span of double bridge over water
Lake Macquarie Herald (part of Newcastle Morning Herald) 27 Jan 1972. Progress on Bridge Work
Lake Macquarie Herald (part of Newcastle Morning Herald) 27 Jul 1972 Hope for old bridge
Lake Macquarie Herald (part of Newcastle Morning Herald) 19 Oct 1972 Cockle Creek Bridges not ready by Christmas
Lake Macquarie Herald (part of Newcastle Morning Herald) 11 Jan 1973.Cutler to open bridges Feb 23
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