The promontory overlooking the confluence of the Clutha and Kawarau Rivers was originally referred to as 'The Point' by the first runholders in the 1850s, but when a gold-rush town sprung up in the early 1860s it became known as 'The Junction.' On the 16th of October, 1866, the town officially became the borough of Cromwell, with Captain William Jackson Barry as the first Mayor.
Before the river was bridged, a boatman rowed travellers across the river charging 'half-a-crown per head.'
The first bridge across the Clutha River was erected at Deadman's Point, 4 kilometres upriver from the Cromwell Junction, by Henry Hill, and opened in May, 1863. It was a suspension footbridge suitable for packhorses.
"The connection between Cromwell and the country lower down the Clutha River, was a pack-bridge erected over that river by Mr. Henry Hill. Wagons with stores and goods had to unload, and everything was packed across on horses." - Past & Present, and Men of the Times, by Captain William Jackson Barry.
Hill's bridge, however, was swept away that Spring by a devastating flood that ripped away riverbanks, mining-camps, and buildings along the length of the river, claiming over a hundred lives.
In 1864 the Government commenced the construction of a single-lane truss bridge close to the 'point', at a cost of £28,000. Completed in 1866, this massive bridge, supported by three stone piers, connected the main street of 'The Junction' with the route from Clyde on the east side of the Cromwell Gorge. "Superintendent Thomas Dick conducted the opening ceremony amidst great jubilation. A bullock was roasted whole, free beer was served out, and the township was for some days what a euphemistie writer might term a scene of jollity." - The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1904.
The original Cromwell Bridge was of a timber-truss design, and having a lattice-like appearance it was sometimes referred to as the "Lattice Bridge." When the timbers began to age, the bridge was rebuilt in 1891 as a steel-truss structure. The dramatic location of the bridge, spanning the roaring Cromwell Gap rapid and commanding the junction of two great rivers of different colours, meant that it featured on numerous calendars and postcards.
Cromwell Bridge, circa 1988
Remarkably, this bridge served for a hundred years, until traffic was re-routed over the new Deadman's Point Bridge in the early 1990s. The decking of the historic bridge was removed, its Cromwell-side approach was entirely dug away, and it was inundated by the rising waters behind the Clyde dam in 1993.