As it turns out, a rose by any other name can also be a bridge.
State officials celebrated the opening of the new Christina River bridge in Wilmington Wednesday by naming it the Sen. Margaret Rose Henry Bridge after Delaware’s first Black state senator.
The bridge, part of an $82 million project 20 years in the making, connects the north side of the riverfront, where Frawley Stadium sits, with the south side, where the 76ers Field House has been built.
Officials hope it will help spur some of the prosperity seen on the Frawley side — office buildings, retail shops, restaurants and hotels — on the “forgotten” side, as Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki called it.
Gov. John Carney said he also wanted to make sure the bridge has an iconic name that lasts, because no matter what it’s officially dubbed, some kind of nickname will be coined and then slip into general use.
“I’m going to be the first to plant a flag in it and say let’s call it the Margaret Rose,” Carney said, to great applause. “I’ve always loved that name. It’s so welcoming …
“We have the Linc, we have The Bob, we have the GW Bridge. Let’s make this the Margaret Rose.”
The ribbon cutting was a combination salute to Henry and to perseverance that began with a muddy winter walk in January 1995 to talk about developing Wilmington’s riverfront. A few moments slipped into stand-up comedy:
Veering into comedy
— At the ceremony’s start, Secretary of Transportation Jennifer Cohan looked around and pointed out to Gov. John Carney — who has been begging people to wear face coverings to help stop the spread of the coronavirus — “We have 100 percent mask compliance!” It was probably the first time in months, he said later.
— Carney said that when he realized the dedication was on his schedule, “I scratched my head and thought, ‘Did Sen. Henry pass and I missed that?’” While the audience laughed, one woman said loudly, “Oh, my god,” Carney went on: “Well, we usually honor people after they pass away, not while they are still among us.”
— Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said the occasion is the first time he put on a tie in three months. It was a triumphal moment for him. He was hired in 1996 to start the Riverfront Development Corp. to turn the area from an industrial wasteland to a walkable place to live, work and have fun.
— U.S. Sen. Tom Carper pointed out that after decades as an elected official, the only structure named for him is a combined water-sewer overflow. That cracked up the audience and doubled up Purzycki. “You can’t make this up,” Carper told Rose. “But I don’t look with envy at this sign when I spent 20 years trying to raise money to build it because I love you and am happy it’s named after you.”
The new bridge, which runs from Justison Street along the end of the shopping center across from the Westin Hotel, ends on U.S. 13/40 across from the fieldhouse.
The 470-foot bridge includes two 12-foot lanes for vehicles, as well as a separated 14-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian path. A staircase extends from the riverwalk to the bridge.
The project also included the creation of more than 1.5 miles of new and improved roads, sidewalks, parking and drainage.
The work will improve access and traffic flow, while making the area safer and more user-friendly whether you are on foot, bike or in a car, Cohan said.
Putting a face on history
Henry was elected in 1994 and retired after the 2018 session. She worked in nonprofit administration and championed legislation for causes such as education, autism, health, housing, gun control, mental health, medical marijuana and expanded services for seniors.
Officials said naming the Margaret Rose after Henry was an easy decision.
“A bridge to me is two things,” Carney said. “It’s a welcoming structure and it’s a connector. And I think those are two qualities that have been a very important part of your service to our state and certainly part of our friendship.”
“Too much of our history is consigned to facelessness,” said State Rep. Stephanie Bolden, D-Wilmington, while introducing Henry, “which makes it all more desirable that we pass on whatever is possible by bringing alive the name and faces of those who built bridges before us and those who continue to build bridges that are still here.”
She and others talked about Henry’s ability to bring people together.
“This is an honor I never dreamed I would have,” Henry said. “I want to tell my grandchildren especially that I built bridges between different political parties, different points of view and between people who need help and those who can offer help.
“That’s why I’m so excited to have something that will be a lasting memento of my work.”
Purzycki said he hopes the bridge will mean “much grander” projects will be on the way for the south side of the bridge.
Carper talked about the muddy day he walked around the trashy industrial area in 1995 with city and state officials and the Baltimore mayor who had built that city’s inner harbor. That mayor told them they could transform the area and to do it, they needed to form a riverfront development organization.
Carney said he couldn’t see it, but went to work trying to get federal money for it. More than 80 percent of the money that paid for it has been federal, he said.
“People think of bridges as a way to move people and a way to move products, and it’s true,” Carper said. “But bridges also have a way of uniting us and pulling us together.”