Who is Thomas J. Hatem of bridge fame?

The Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge was in the news last week, along with the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge. It seems both Susquehanna River bridges' foundations have shown signs of advanced deterioration -- requiring an accelerated rehab program over the next several years.

So who were these fellows whose names now adorn some of Maryland's most importatnt transportation facilities?

Tydings is easy to track down. He was a highly respected four-term U.S. senator (1927-1951) who lived in the Susquehanna River town of Havre de Grace. He died in 1961, so when the Interstate 95 bridge opened in 1963, it seemed only natural to honor him.

Hatem was a little more diifficult to track down. All the Maryland Transportation Authority says is that he was a distinguished citizen of Harford County who devoted his life to public service. Google had little more to offer.

Fortunately, The Sun library and researcher Paul McCardell were up to the challenge. It turns out that Hatem was a longtime Harford County Democratic political figure who served a term in the House of Delegates, a stretch as a county commissioner, a stint as state insurance commisioner and six years on the Public Service Commission. When he died at  59 in 1985, the Susquehanna River Toll Bridge was 46 years old and hadn't been named for anyone. His many friends thought naming the bridge from Harford to Cecil County after him would be a fine tribute. The next year it became the Hatem Bridge.

Sun File Photo of the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge

Incidentally, Maryland's other toll bridges are named after the writer of "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- the Francis Scott Key Bridge over the mouth of Baltimore Harbor -- and two governors.

The William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bay Bridge, better known as the Bay Bridge, is named for the Democratic governor (1947-1951)  who lost his bid for re-election after raising the sales tax to -- among other things -- pay to build the original span of the Bay Bridge. Maryland made amends in 1967, shortly after his death, by naming the bridge for him.

That same year, the state struck a partisan balance by naming the U.S. 301 bridge over the Potomac River for another one-term governor -- Republican Harry W. Nice (1935-1939). The bridge opened in 1940 but Nice was no longer in the State House. It seems the state income tax was adopted on his watch, and he failed to win renomination.

 

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