The Singapore River is unduly the most important river in Singapore. It has always been and will probably always be. Throughout the years, bridges were built to connect the two banks of the river, facilitating the expansion of commerce in the area around Singapore River.
Today, the places around and along Singapore River has become the central business district, housing a thriving key financial center with major companies, many regional headquarters from all around the world.
As far back as 1819 when the British first step on the shores of Singapore, a footbridge was build to link the north and south banks. The first link has since been rebuilt as Elgin Bridge and marks the boundary between North Bridge Road and South Bridge Road.
Coleman Bridge was built way back in 1840, followed by Cavenagh Bridge in 1868. Cavenagh Bridge links the Civic District with the courts to the commercial center on the southern side of the river. Back then, the this is the only way across each side, other than walking way back to Elgin Bridge, or to pay for a boat ride across the river.
The bridge was named after Sir Orfeur Cavenagh, the governor of the Straits Settlements from 1859 to 1867. Designed by John Turnbull Thomson of the Public Works Department, you can still find the Cavenagh coat of arms at both ends of the bridge. Part of the bridge was made in Scotland, which was then shipped half-way across the globe to Singapore and then assembled locally. Another famous JT Thomson design is the Horsburgh Lighthouse.
Cavenagh Bridge is known for its beautiful and elegantly suspended struts, though it has a major flaw. During high tide, bumboats were unable to pass under it. As such, bumboats would have to wait till the tide goes down before they can get past the bridge. It was broadly thought that the bridge was originally designed to be a drawbridge, but due to mechanically issues faced back then, the plan was abandoned. The bridge saw rickshaws and oxcarts using it, and when automobiles were introduced in Singapore, the volume of vehicles crossing the river using the bridge became too heavy for the bridge to bear.
Anderson Bridge was erected in 1910 to replace Cavenagh Bridge, and it was closed to oxcarts, horses and smaller vehicles. Cavenagh Bridge was saved from demolition and was historically converted to a pedestrian bridge, just like Anderson Bridge eventually. Anderson Bridge remains the only suspension bridge today.
The history of Anderson Bridge was colorful to say the least; it was named after the governor of the Straits Settlements, Sir John Anderson, who was also the High Commissioner of the Federated Malay States from 1904 to 1911. Sir Anderson was well known for trying to reduce opium abuse and improve housing conditions.
During World War II, the Japanese hung the heads of criminals on Anderson Bridge, as a warning to people for breaking the law.
There are many other historical bridges along Singapore River today, many have been converted to serve pedestrians only, and it remains a reminder of Singapore's fledgling commerce, even back in the 1800's.