Visitors love the story of Arizona’s London Bridge

Many people thought Robert P. McCulloch was crazy when he purchased the famous London Bridge in 1968.  After all, its intended destination was land in Arizona, not over a body of water.

London Bridge at Lake Havasu

On the contrary, the purchase was a stroke of genius, bringing to a nondescript area a curiosity that has become Arizona’s second biggest tourist attraction (after the Grand Canyon, of course). Guided half-mile tours now share with visitors the strange and fascinating story of how London Bridge came to the middle of the desert.

The tale began in the city for which the bridge is named, London, England. A timber bridge built in the late 12th century over the Thames River is the one sung about in the nursery rhyme. Houses were built on the narrow bridge, and passage was limited. London Bridge survived for more than 600 years but required frequent repair. Between 1305 and 1660 the bridge became the site where severed heads of traitors were displayed. By the end of the 18th century the bridge needed to be replaced, but the new bridge began sinking at the rate of an inch every eight years.

After World War II the bridge was too small for automobiles and it couldn’t withstand the impact of 20th century traffic across the Thames. When a modern bridge was constructed, London Bridge was sold to the city of London in 1962 and  put on the market in 1967.  The winning bid went to developer and entrepreneur McCulloch for $2,460,000.

Close-up of the bridge and support structures

In order to transport the reinforced concrete structure to America, it was dismantled and each exterior granite block was numbered. The blocks were shipped through the Panama Canal to California and then trucked to Arizona where the bridge was painstakingly reconstructed at Havasu City, the development founded by McCulloch on the east shore of Lake Havasu, a large reservoir on the Colorado River.  Although the original London Bridge had 16 arches, the reconstructed bridge has five arches, some of which bear scars from World War II skirmishes.

In Arizona the bridge was rebuilt on land not over a river. After reconstruction, a canal was dredged under the bridge to get fresh water to Thompson Bay, which had become stagnant. The bridge now traverses a navigable route between Thompson Bay and a section of Lake Havasu—so perhaps the project wasn’t totally frivolous. Being a wise businessman, McCulloch sold unused granite from the interior of the bridge and reportedly made back more than the $5 million price tag of relocation and reconstruction.

View from top of London Bridge

As expected, London Bridge has brought many curious people to the area and an increase in tourist attractions in its vicinity. A stage under the bridge has become a popular entertainment venue. Whether you take a tour or just walk across and around the bridge on your own (51 steps to the top), you can’t help but marvel at the massive task relocation and reassembly of the bridge must have been. In October 2011, the city commemorated the 40th anniversary of the bridge’s dedication. It’s a landmark that has served the city well.


Read more about Lake Havasu City

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

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