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.


  1. I can also visualize your description of Berlin back in 1888. :P I must say, the wait of the photographer for winter paid off, Brenda. Well, most of these Hartford County bridges need some remodeling, especially the ones that haven't been used for a long time, you know. They could be dangerous to tourists.

    Alphonse Daigle

  2. The Old Drake Hill Bridge has a wonderful structure. You must not just give credit to those workers who built this bridge, but also to those who maintained and made the bridge more beautiful and attractive. It’ll be great to take a walk or bike across this bridge during the day. I wonder though if it will look just as beautiful during the night. :D

    Salvatore Aguilar

  3. If I were to pick which one of these bridges has more distinct design, I would certainly pick the Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge in Simsbury. Well, it seems to me that this bridge was built passionately, and the workers seemed to be like they're dedicated to make it look like that in the picture. It's simple, yet it is genuine.

    Carl Patten