By Deborah

August 09, 2013 2:00 AM

KITTERY, Maine — The sense of anticipation was palpable Thursday morning on Badger’s Island. This was the day. This was the moment Memorial Bridge would open. People were smiling. Hugging. Slapping each other on the back.

What a day!

It was a day to celebrate one state, New Hampshire, working with its sister state, Maine. It was a day to commemorate the bond of the city of Portsmouth, N.H., with the town of Kittery. It was a day of community and pride, a historic day for a 21st-century bridge.

It took years, and more than years, to get to this point. In January 2009, Kittery resident Ben Porter put out a survey. “How important is this bridge?” he asked. From that moment, the Seacoast began to coalesce.

I think what it does for me is it reinforces the power of the whole community,” said Porter, who went on to form the citizens group Save Our Bridges. “I may have sparked it, but once it took hold, it took on a life of its own.”

Porter joined hundreds of people who processed across the bridge Thursday morning — people who each played a part. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., held the hands of her children as she walked. Members of the bridge advisory committee hobnobbed with U.S. senators from Maine and New Hampshire. Hard-hatted construction workers strolled with state transportation officials.

Their walk ended where, just a short time later, a frail but smiling Eileen Foley, a beloved former mayor of Portsmouth, officially cut the ribbon to symbolically open the bridge. Now 95, she was just 5 years old on that long-ago day in August 1923, when she cut the ribbon for the first Memorial Bridge.

As throngs of people cheered her on, Foley rode up in a golf cart, family members in tow, to the sounds of “Rocky Fanfare” played by the Portsmouth Brassworks.

“We love you,” some in the crowd yelled.

When the cart stopped, her daughter, Mary Carey Foley, asked the former mayor whether she wanted to stand up to cut the ribbon.

“Yes,” she said decisively.

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