Centerway Bridge opened to traffic in 1921, when Warren G. Harding was president of the United States. It closed to motor vehicles in 1981, when Ronald Reagan occupied the White House. It was built to relieve the stress of growing automobile and streetcar traffic on the Bridge Street Bridge, the city's only other river crossing in the early 20th century. The project was so controversial that the decision was submitted to city voters in a 1920 referendum, which passed by a 2-1 margin.
In return for its approval, Corning's Houghton family gave the city 100 acres of land on the Northside that became the Houghton Plot residential district.
This earth-filled, seven-span structure was designed by pioneer concrete bridge engineer Abraham Burton Cohen (1882-1956) of New York City. Two of his other projects, the Harrison Avenue Bridge in Scranton, Pa. and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad's Tunkhannock Viaduct, are on the National Register of Historic Places. Details of the design and construction of the Centerway Bridge are preserved at Cohen's alma mater, Purdue University, in a collection of his work.
Although high water and a fire in the construction area complicated the building process, the bridge was finished in the fall of 1921 and paved the following spring.
Over the next six decades, wind, rain, snow, ice, floods and increasing traffic caused the deterioration of the bridge until it became obsolete for 20th century traffic. It was scheduled for demolition in the spring of 1980. Before it could be torn down, hundreds of people gathered on the bridge to demonstrate their support for preservation of the landmark.
The "Save Our Bridge" campaign was successful. An extensive renovation led to its reopening in 1986 for use by pedestrians, bicyclists and double-decker, English-style buses carrying tourists from the Corning Museum of Glass to the Market Street Historic District. A maze painted on the bridge roadway became popular with children. Use of the bridge by the tourist buses eventually ended. Another major renovation, begun in 2012 and completed in 2013, created today's bridgescape of a park suspended above the Chemung River.