Sunday, June 24, 2012

Gold Star Memorial Bridge, New London-Groton, CT

The Gold Star Memorial Bridge crossing the Thames
Connecticut sure loves cribbing names from the mother country. London -- sorry, New London -- on the Thames? Though maybe they hadn't actually been to the original London at all, since our version of the Thames is pronounced the way it's spelled -- rhymes with games -- and not the English way, tems.

Once one of the major whaling ports in America, New London continues its maritime traditions to this day. It is the home to the US Coast Guard Academy and Global Dynamics' Electric Boat shipyard, where the US nuclear submarine fleet is built and maintained. Busy ferries carry passengers across Long Island Sound to Long Island, Fisher's Island and Block Island.

The Gold Star Memorial Bridge is a pair of steel deck truss bridges that carry I-95 over the Thames. The first bridge was constructed in 1943, and the second thirty years later. Together, they comprise the largest structure in the state of Connecticut, and by far, the longest bridge.

The bridge is just massive. See how it looms behind those warehouses. It absolutely dominates the river.

Amtrack's Thames River Bridge
Paralleling the Goldstar is the nearly as impressive Thames River Bridge, which carries Amtrak over the river. It consists of four truss spans (Wikipedia calls them Warren truss, but they look like Parker truss to me -- Warren truss bridges have no vertical members) and a lifting section in the middle -- the two towers are a dead giveaway.

Pratt truss railroad bridge
Just before the Thames River Bridge, on the New London Side, is this small truss bridge that crosses a N/S set of tracks. Completely overshadowed by the Goldstar and the Thames River Bridge. Sitting there lonely and rusting.

New London is definitely worth a visit on its own merits; there's lots of remnants of its historic past, its roles in the Revolutionary War and its aftermath. It is one of the earlier settlements in New England. Forts guard the mouth of the Thames. There's even an old sailing ship moored in the harbor.

There's no special place to park for the bridge. It's huge. You'll see it. However, if you're looking for a distinctive place to visit whilst admiring the bridge, why not stop by the Old Town Mill?

Old Town Mill
This mill, built in 1650 by the town of New London's founder, John Winthrop Jr, stands today after having been rebuilt several times in its 350+ year history, including most notably after being torched by the traitorous Benedict Arnold during the British invasion of New London in 1781.

It is literally in the shadow of the bridge.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Train Bridge, Depot Street, Manchester, CT

Train crossing Adams St
Sure, it's not much of a bridge, but it took awhile to get the picture. This bridge is fairly near my house, and the tracks parallels my ride home. Sometimes I meet the train along the way, but always I'm behind it. If I could only get ahead of the train...

I heard the distant sounding of the train horn this morning... I'd only have a few minutes. I grabbed my iPhone and my bike and got to the bridge just before the train.

So; not much of a bridge, but it's a picture I really wanted, anyway.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Coombs Covered Bridge, Winchester, NH

The Coombs Covered Bridge crosses the Ashuelot River
I didn't even know this bridge existed. I'd planned my trip to New Hampshire to pass by a couple covered bridges in Massachusetts (the Eunice Williams Bridge in Greenfield and the Burkeville Covered Bridge in Conway), but hadn't even checked to see if I'd be passing any such bridges in New Hampshire. No worries, though -- NH wasn't going to let me stay ignorant. Signs on Route 10 called me out to bridges again and again. The Monadnock area has seven covered bridges -- the Coombs Bridge is #2.

This bridge was built in 1837 by Anthony Coombs Jr, whose father, Anthony Coombs, was a Massachusetts expatriate who settled in Winchester after the Revolutionary War. Coombs lived just past the bridge.

After deteriorating to uselessness, in 1964 the bridge was extensively repaired and in 1967 completely renovated, with a new tin roof, beams, and sidings. Nonetheless, the bridge still appears today much as it did in 1837. A hundred and fifty years ago, if you'd looked down the river in the month of May, this is what you'd have seen. Well, except that in the nineteenth century, most of New England was deforested and given over to farms, so it's likely there would have been a lot fewer trees. New England is more covered with forest now than it has been for hundreds of years. Urban sprawl, however, is cutting into the forests once more, and this is the kind of growth from which forests find it hard to recover.

Portal to the Coombs Covered Bridge
The split granite abutments for the bridge are fitted so closely that there is no need for mortar. The truss work is in the patented Town truss style, instead of the more common Howe truss. The designer, famed Connecticut architect Ithiel Town, licensed his patent for two dollars a foot; this 118 foot bridge would have cost $236 to license. Town's design was also used for the West Cornwall Covered Bridge and the Bull's Bridge, both in Connecticut.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Historic Bridges of Hartford County

Melrose Road Bridge, East Windsor
There's eight bridges in Hartford County, Connecticut that are listed in the National Register of Historic Bridges. I had a yen to go visit them all in one day. I got to seven; that's when the muffler fell off my car, and I came home. The last is the Bulkeley Bridge, which I have written about before, so no big loss. Here are the other seven bridges, in the order in which I visited them.

The black and white photographs are from the accompanying documentation to the historic registry applications, and were in most cases taken at the time of the application to illustrate what it is that made this bridge historically significant. I didn't take them.

First bridge up is the Melrose Road Bridge in East Windsor. This pony truss bridge sits at the very end of Melrose Road, hidden by shrubbery, without a road bed. A walking trail along the Scantic River goes by the bridge. This bridge was built by the famous Berlin Iron Bridge Company, but they didn't install it. The city just wanted them to build the parts and drop it off, so that's what they did.

Bridge overgrown on both ends now.
The application for registered historic status has a fascinating look at the Melrose Road Bridge and the famous Berlin Iron Bridge Company. Note the lens-shaped curved structure of the truss; that was patented by the Berlin Bridge Company and this signature feature is one of the reasons this bridge has such great historical value.

I can just see a large, long wagon being pulled by a team of eight horses carrying a bridge all the way from Berlin in 1888. Though apparently they shipped the bridges in a partially assembled state via train. Well, I'm sure huge horse-drawn wagons were used at some point.

If I ever find myself shifted in time back to the late 19th century, I'm going to try and get a job at the Berlin Iron Bridge Company. Maybe I could do accounting for them, or something.

On the far bank of the river is a railing. Once, this bridge went somewhere; there was something on the other side; homes, villages, people. Now there's just forest. Someday soon this bridge will collapse into the river.

Bridge No. 455, Suffield
I thought I hadn't noticed ever driving over this bridge, and I may not have. I've biked over it, though -- twice -- during my single day photographing every bridge in Connecticut that crosses the Connecticut River. I remember at the time wondering if this bridge was worth photographing.

It's an open spandrel bridge, hidden by trees from every angle I could get to. I did see a state facilities road leading down and perhaps that could have given a better view of the bridge; I'll have to return with bicycle and see as there's no legal place to park nearby. Or just wait for winter and get it when the trees have no leaves.

This photographer wisely waited for winter to photograph the bridge
Bridge no. 455 is one of only six reinforced concrete, open spandrel arch bridges left in Connecticut. It replaced an earlier iron truss bridge and leveraged its unique design to rise high above the ravine in which Stony Brook runs. The earlier bridge sat much lower and had steep grades on either side. It is a marvel of 1920's engineering.

More detail about this bridge is available in its registration forms.

Farmington River Railroad Bridge, Windsor
For a small river, the Farmington River is oversupplied with beautiful bridges. We'll get to the Town Bridge soon, and I spotted a truss bridge crossing the river in Unionville, and another outside Simsbury that didn't make the register of historic bridges.

This railroad bridge carries the Penn Central line between Hartford and Springfield, Massachusetts. If the train had chosen the time I was there to make the crossing, I couldn't have been happier, but we were trainless the entire time. Built in 1867, the bridge has seen continual service and aside from periodic maintenance, looks identical to the time when it was built 145 years ago.

Farmington River Railroad Bridge in 1972, with train
This bridge, like the Main Street Bridge below, is made from Connecticut's signature reddish sandstone. More details can be found, as with the others, in its registration forms.

Stone Bridge on Main Street, Hartford
The looming glass building behind and above the old Main Street bridge is the Hartford Public Library. It's quite a contrast to the stonework of the bridge that once crossed the Park River. Now the river is filled in and is called the Whitehead Highway, but the bridge is still there. I first wrote about the Main Street Bridge in January.

This bridge once rose a full thirty feet above the river and was almost a full half circle arch, but since that's been covered, it's only twelve feet above the road at its highest, and most of the bridge is below the ground. Incidentally, the Park/Hog/Little River still flows through enormous underground tunnels that you can explore (or rather, could explore, but it seems to have been closed off. Or has it?

Stone Bridge and the Park River
So daring was this bridge's construction that it cost almost double what was budgeted and was (wrongly) considered so unstable that farmers arriving for the market that was held on the shores of the Park River would leave their horses on one side of the bridge and carry their produce over the bridge themselves rather than risk everything crashing, with the bridge, into the river below.

More info about the bridge in its registration forms.

Not the Pequabuck River Bridge, Farmington
This is not the Pequabuck River Bridge. It is a bridge over the Pequabuck River, but it is not the bridge that is on the register of historic places. THAT bridge is a little further down the road. I JUST NOW noticed that. I feel like such a moron.

I guess I'll write more about that bridge once I actually photograph it.

This is a nice bridge, though.

Town Bridge, Canton
I first photographed this bridge back in March, just after the last, light, snowfall of winter. I was a little disappointed with how the picture came out. It's a nice bridge, just off River Road/Route 179 in Canton. People were swimming, fishing, just having fun in the shallow waters of the Farmington River. The group traveling upriver in their rented kayaks made this picture, and for that I thank them.

Town Bridge from the portal
The Town Bridge was another example of the work of the Berlin Iron Bridge Company. This bridge uses the Parker truss design -- an improvement over the more common Pratt truss. The tops of Parker truss bridges curve, where the Pratt truss bridges are straight. We have both sorts in Hartford County. The curved top gives more strength to the center of the bridge, allowing it to bear greater weight. However, construction of this sort of bridge is more expensive than a standard Pratt truss, and was only used in longer bridges that needed the extra strength.

Note the iron work ornamentation on the bridge, typical of Victorian-era engineering.

I was pleased to read in the registration documents that after the Berlin Iron Bridge Company was bought out by J. P. Morgan's American Bridge Company, the former employees started the Berlin Steel Company and that company still exists today. One of the corporations that made Connecticut famous and changed the face of the Northeast in the 19th century, still doing business.

Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge, Simsbury
Our last bridge for today is the Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge in Simsbury.

That's what the sign called it, anyway. The flower bridge. It does have lots of flowers on it. There was some sort of function going on on the other side of the bridge so I didn't get the chance to walk over it. Walking over it is all you can do; it's closed for all but foot traffic.

Auto traffic has its own bridge. This bridge, the old one, is at the end of a bike trail that extends for miles. Simsbury is trying very hard to become the best city for bicycling in the state of Connecticut. Wide bike paths and plenty of places to pull off the road and look at the sights definitely puts this on the list of places I'd like to visit on two wheels.

A road once ran through it
This, like Canton's Town Bridge and another Simsbury bridge that I have not yet photographed, is a Parker truss bridge -- curved top -- and are the only surviving examples of this sort of bridge in Connecticut. All three are said by the registration documents to have been designed and built by New Haven's J. E. Buddington. Oddly, the documents for the Town Bridge didn't mention Buddington's involvement with the design, but it seems likely the Berlin Iron Bridge Company served as the fabricator for Buddington's variant of the Parker truss.

The Simsbury selectmen really, really wanted the previous wooden bridge over the Farmington River to be replaced by an iron bridge, but they couldn't pay for it. First, they allotted some money to strength the abutments and approaches to the old bridge, and when that work was done, they turned to actually erecting a new bridge.

Raising taxes to pay for bridge construction wasn't going to fly with the citizenry, and nobody wanted to secure a commercial credit note for the bridge (since if the city defaulted, who needs a bridge?). The city eventually floated five series of $2,000 bonds to pay for the bridge without raising taxes. They later did the same to pay for the other Parker truss in Simsbury.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

National Register of Historic Places

When I posted the other day about the Burkeville Covered Bridge being on the National Register of Historic Places, I got to thinking about whether I'd seen all the suitably historic bridges in the Hartford, Connecticut area -- my area.

I downloaded the entire database in one comprehensive Excel formatted spreadsheet. I don't have Microsoft's Excel program, but was pleased to see the file opened fine in OpenOffice Calc. I filtered the sheet by State = Connecticut, Object Type = Structure and Name contains "Bridge" to get a list of all the registered historic bridges in Connecticut, copied those to a new sheet and did the same for Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

If I ever find myself running low on bridges or just don't feel like traveling all that far to get to one, I can now just open the spreadsheet and pick one off a list. Someone has taken the entire list and moved it into Wikipedia, so often there's more detail available online.

My car has just come out of the shop with a rebuilt engine and a warning to treat it gently for the first few hundred miles. So this weekend, instead of going off to Poughkeepsie, I figured I might just go see the bridges here in Hartford County.

I was shocked to see I'd missed some. Bulkeley Bridge I have, of course. The Main Street bridge in Hartford I got one cold morning. That was taken with the old camera with the scratched lens, though, and I wouldn't mind taking that one again. The Town Bridge in Canton was a favorite that I felt I didn't capture well. I photographed the bridge on Meadow Road in Farmington, but never wrote about it because it wasn't a great picture. The other bridges I didn't know about at all.

So that's the plan for the weekend -- capture all the Hartford County bridges that are registered as historic places.

The Canton, Simsbury and Windsor bridges all cross (I believe) the Farmington River. This river has a wonderful, paved bike trail along large sections and more ragged trails on the other sections, so that would be a potential bike trip. Or follow the Connecticut River up from Windsor to Suffield and get those three -- the Melrose Road one appears to be abandoned and hidden in some underbrush, best to find with a bike. I can get the two Hartford ones on my bike this morning if I wanted.

But to get all of these in one day requires a car. Anyway. Historic register is good stuff.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Burkeville Covered Bridge, Conway, MA

Burkeville Covered Bridge
Lots of covered bridges cater to the tourist trade. Going up Route 10 in New Hampshire, I saw lots of signs directing passers-by to the covered bridges along the way, they even had them numbered. Suggested a bicycle tour of all six.

Not this bridge. The Burkeville Covered Bridge just sits placidly in a spot, guarding the placid South River that it crosses. You'd miss if you weren't looking for it, no signs that I saw indicating it existed, even the Google Map leads you to the wrong spot (close by, but still wrong). Crawl down one country road and then another and then another and there it is -- between a farmhouse and a church, next to a machine shop, closed to car traffic by an old mill stone but still welcoming the walker.

It just is.

Burkeville Covered Bridge interior (and my car!)
The Massachusetts Covered Bridge web site shows that back in 2003, at least, the bridge was in dire shape. A plaque inside the bridge claims the bridge was built in 1871 and restored in 2005. The site linked above says it was variously built in 1951 and 1970, replacing an earlier bridge. I kinda believe that this bridge is not the same one built in 1871 -- these wooden bridges just don't last that long. Best care in the world won't make that timber not weaken after decades of traffic.

3G Construction seems to specialize in the restoration of covered bridges, by the way. They did this one and also Coombs Bridge, which I'll probably post about next.

Portal to the bridge, note millstone
Conway's annual "Festival of the Hills" features a 10K run, "The Covered Bridge Classic", that starts here.

It's a nice little bridge. If you happen to be heading toward (or from) Vermont on I-91 passing through Massachusetts, and you have a spare hour or so, it might be worth seeing. The Eunice Williams Bridge is nearby, and there's another covered bridge not far from this one that I didn't have time to go to (looked like another hour of threading narrow country roads, and this was the day I was heading to New Hamster).

You can park where I parked, on the other side of the bridge. There's a little area to pull off. I'd suggest making this bridge part of a bicycle tour, if you happened to be bicycling through the Berkshires anyway.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Haunted Eunice Williams Bridge, Greenfield, MA

Eunice Williams Bridge
It looks peaceful enough now -- a secluded spot by a water pumping station, a bridge crossing the placid Green River, a favorite fishing spot for the locals -- but this bridge has a history. And a ghost.

In the dark of leap day, 1704, a group of French and Indian raiders attacked the settlement of Deerfield, Massachusetts in what has become known as the Deerfield Massacre. The raiders force-marched the settlers 300 miles to Canada. Anyone who couldn't keep up was instantly killed.

That was the fate of Eunice Williams, who, having just given birth hours before, collapsed as she tried to cross the river. She was instantly killed by a tomahawk to the back of her neck while her husband, John Williams, the reverend of the town, and their children watched. The family survived the trip to Canada and were eventually allowed to return to the States. Their daughter, also named Eunice, refused to return, though, and married into the tribe of Indians that had kidnapped them.

It is said that if you drive into the bridge on a moonless night, shut off your headlights and beep once on the horn, the ghost of Eunice Williams will appear and beg for the baby that was torn from her as she lay bleeding to death in the river. Follow those links to read more about this haunted bridge.

Eunice Williams Bridge
Though actually, this bridge isn't really that old. It was built in 1974, replacing an earlier bridge. If there'd been a bridge here back in 1704 when the Indians were forcing prisoners across the river, maybe Eunice Williams would have survived.

Last year's Hurricane Irene severely damaged the bridge, knocking it off its abutments and erasing much of the near bank. It was already closed to traffic and being pounded by a storm and a torrential, overflowing river did it no favors. The town of Greenfield decided to restore the bridge. It's been placed back on the abutments (the Google Maps "satellite" view currently shows the bridge in the river, off the abutments, by the way) and the road is being reconstructed.

The bridge is closed to both car and foot traffic, but someone (not me) has bent the fence back on the other side enough so that an enterprising tourist can crawl through it.

But if you do visit, do it during the day. When the night is dark and the moon is out of the sky, who knows what ghost a chance sound might summon?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Last Voyage of the Enterprise (and the Gil Hodges/Marine Parkway Bridge, Brooklyn-Rockaway, NY)

The Enterprise passes beneath the raised Gil Hodges Bridge
I really don't like driving in New York City. I'd already been the day before to test drive a new car in New Jersey, and it would take a lot to get me to go to NYC twice in the same weekend.

A space shuttle being floated past one of the most beautiful bridges in a city known for its beautiful bridges? Yah, I guess that would do it.

A crowd gathered at Bennett Field to watch the shuttle sail by
The Enterprise never flew in space. It was the prototype space shuttle, and was dropped from great heights to study its aerodynamics and tune the shape for the production shuttles that followed. A letter writing campaign convinced NASA to name the shuttle for the famous starship, and most of the original cast members made it to the space plane's dedication.

The shuttle with the 500mm lens
I'd plotted out just exactly where I was going to park and where I was going to watch the shuttle -- park at the ranger station near the airfield, watch the shuttle from the Gil Hodges Bridge. I figured that would give me a nice perspective, and I could get the sea level view when it passed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge a couple hours later.

Well, traffic was awful. I was far from the only person to show up; the place was as crowded as a fireworks show, bemusing the fishermen who had set up poles on the beach, expecting to have the place to themselves. Not on shuttle season. Even the park rangers came to watch. Police and TV helicopters buzzed the shuttle on its slow journey into the bay.

Lots of people did watch from the bridge, but I elected to just sit on the beach and read a book, protected from the sun by an umbrella, until the shuttle showed. It was just a dot far in the distance, but I could see it clearly with the 500mm lens. I'd left my tripod in my car when it went into the shop. I had to use my Gorillapod mini-tripod grabbing onto my knee. Scrunched up on the beach, squinting into the camera on my knee, I took picture after picture as the shuttle approached.

Gil Hodges/Marine Parkway Bridge (sans shuttle)
The Gil Hodges Bridge, named for a famous baseball player with the Brooklyn Dodgers, connects Brooklyn with the Rockaways, a peninsula that juts out into the ocean. Brooklyn and Queens comprise the western tip of Long Island, which had me half wondering if it would be a good idea to just head through both boroughs to the Long Island Expressway and take the ferry across the sound to Bridgeport or New Haven. Rather than parking on the Van Wyck Expressway, which is what I ended up doing anyway.

When you leave Brooklyn, the sign says, "Fuggedaboudit!". Followed by a more sedate "Welcome to Queens", the more eastern borough clearly embarrassed by her brash husband (Brooklyn is in Kings County, Queens is in Queens County. Kings, Queens -- get it? Fuggedaboudit!).

If you'd like to visit the bridge, dammit, bring a bicycle. There were hundreds! The Flatbush bus stops right off the bridge, or you can park in the ranger's station down Aviation Road just before the bridge. I imagine, when there's no shuttles floating past, there's plenty of parking there. I didn't cross the bridge into Rockaway because it cost money and I didn't want to pay. Frickin' Bronx-Whitestone Bridge cost me $6.50 each way.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

George Washington Bridge, Manhattan, NY - Fort Lee, NJ

George Washington Bridge from Fort Tryon Park
I had business in New Jersey this morning. I got lost, as usual, and didn't approach the George Washington Bridge the way I normally do -- where before I know it, I'm on the bridge, staring in wonder at the towering, um, towers and the massive cables. Instead, I'd gotten lost in Yonkers and ended up crossing the Henry Hudson Bridge (sorry, no pictures) into Manhattan and taking Route 9A down along the Hudson River and seeing, for the first time, the bridge from the side.

This picture, I took on the way back, when the sun was hidden by clouds. If there'd been a place to pull off the highway and take a shot of the bridge illuminated by the morning sun, just broken through storm clouds, I absolutely would have.

This bridge makes over a million dollars for the city of New York, every single day. They got my $12. And $8 for crossing the Henry Hudson Bridge twice. It's like they don't want you to come into Manhattan.

I paid my $12. I was going to look around. I headed down Broadway (yes, the Broadway) to 187th, took a left and a right, dodged some double parked cars and came to Fort Tryon Park. This beautiful riverside park is home to the flower & heather gardens, miles of bike and pedestrian walkways, open areas everywhere... and the Cloisters.

Cloisters @ Fort Tryon Park
I found lots of friends there; a family of woodchucks was showing off for the tourists, and birds were everywhere. I got this little guy looking very happy with himself about something.

Sparrow resting
He was one of a group, but I was using the 500mm lens and it was impossible to keep more than one in focus with the super shallow depth of field. They looked awful. Except this one.

George Washington Bridge from Fort Tryon Park
There is plenty of parking in Fort Tryon Park; park near the entrance to explore the Washington Heights/Inwood sections of Manhattan, park further down to walk among the gardens and forests, or keep going to the Cloisters and walk the grounds or take a tour through the museum.

If you want to cross the bridge without having to take your car, grab your bicycle or your walking shoes and head over, though you might want to start from the New Jersey side. Manhattan traffic is terrible. The pedestrian/bicycle walkway was filled with people on two wheels or two feet. It truly is an experience.