Happy Birthday Bridge!

A nice find by the editor

In June, my wife clipped an article out of the paper for me. She knows me pretty well, and despite the fact that I almost never go back out on a weeknight, I think she knew I’d be making a trip on this day. I also think she knew she wouldn’t need to feed me before I left.

The bridge that’s celebrating a birthday is a 150-year-old stone railroad bridge. Stone. Bridge. Railroad. River. Oh my goodness, how does the subject get any better for Dan? Answer: the bridge is next to Bart’s Hotdog Stand. And, let’s add some history! Not look-it-up-inna-book history. Not find-out-what-the-google-says history. Real history. The kind of history that includes more than a few: “I’ve heard” and “townspeople say” facts. Facts that are unvetted, colorful, enhanced-over-time, you-can’t-deny-it-cuz-the-bridge-is-still-standing facts!

But wait, there’s more – there’s cake!

I drive by The Windsor Historical Society every day on my way home from work. It’s almost never open, but I see the sign and say: “I need to check that place out,” but it’s mainly open on Saturdays and that rarely works for me. The Historical Society is on the north side of The Farmington River. I cross the river via “The Highway Bridge” a.k.a. the Ray Henry Memorial Bridge. AMTRAK and a couple of freight trains cross via the Stone Arch Bridge.

The Stone Arch Bridge replaced a wooden trestle in 1867. The wooden bridge had been built in 1844 when the first railroad moved into Connecticut. The wooden bridge burned, and the wooden bridge was cloaked in mystery. Young men playing on the bridge are said to have encountered a train. One escaped. The other was killed. Decapitated. His head was never found. Tell me that story has never been told to some Cub Scouts camping in the area.

The stone bridge supports the rails in a bed of compacted gravel. This has been replaced and improved over time. That’s important, because the freight trains that travel across this bridge today are far heavier than the trains in the late 1800s. Nobody knows how much weight the bridge was designed to carry, or even if that was a consideration. It’s massive. It looks like the engineers that built it just figured “if we make it heavy enough, we won’t have to worry.”

I would try to describe the bridge for you, but I think the way it’s written up in the National Registry of Historic Places application is just simply wonderful:

Viewed from either side, the structure appears perfectly straight, but a sight taken close to the stonework reveals a slight curve toward the east to accommodate the alignment of the rails. Building material is the Connecticut Valley sandstone characteristic of a wide area in the vicinity, dressed into large rectangular blocks of varied dimension. The arches spring from massive piers of the same stone, whose width is extended upward in a pilaster effect to the capstones of the spandrels. This lends a texture to the plane of the wall surface beyond that of the rough-cut masonry work and defines the segments of the whole construction. Large capstones overlap by several inches the thickness of the spandrels and pilasters and finish off the top of the stonework in a suitably massive manner, with an extra block above and emphasizing each pilaster.

Set into the west side of the arch which spans the road is a carved sandstone block with the legend in raised letters: ‘Erected A.D. 1867’. Aside from periodic repointing of the stonework, a century of difference in track construction, and a concrete reinforcement around the base of one pier, the bridge presents very much the same appearance that it must have offered more than one hundred years ago at the time of its completion.“

Originally, I thought I’d also talk about the Windsor Historical Society in this post. That would put it way over my already healthy word limit. Also, since I’ve been taking pictures of this bridge for over 30 years, the gallery couldn’t stand any more photos.

One story that our host told us was about two young men who decided to take a raft out into the Farmington River during a severe storm. As they approached the railroad bridge, they were spotted by emergency personnel. Those men realized that the raft was going to get caught under the top portion of one of the arches, if the kids continued toward the bridge. Working frantically, the people on the shore and the kids in the raft managed to get the raft tied off to a tree limb and they evacuated the kids to the bridge. When the water receded, the raft was found hanging in the high branches of a tree, where it stayed for over a year.

As he was telling this story, an older man in the audience raised his hand and added a few personal details to the story. He had been in that raft. There’s nothing like local history.

In addition to my photos, I have a couple historic photos in the gallery and a video of a train going over the bridge below that.

64 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Bridge!

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  1. I think it is interesting that the trains today are heavier… because sometimes materials are lighter – but maybe the cargo adds more weight too.
    and eerie story perfect for cub scouts for sure… hah

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No one had a good estimate as to how much different the trains are. Certainly steam locomotives and coal cars must have been heavy. I managed to stifle the urge to talk about track gauge and iron tracks vs steel and so on, but the consensus was that the cargo is much heavier today. Still as you can see in the photos with the trains, and in the video, there’s only ever one car over any one section of the bridge. My guess is that it will be here to celebrate more birthdays. Thanks for dropping by.

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  2. Wonderful posting, Dan, with so many fun details including the video of the train crossing). It’s amazing that a structure that old is still standing, considering that it serves a functional purpose and is not simply decorative.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mike. I never worry about riding across this bridge. The ones farther south on the way to DC, that’s another story. Ironically, it’s probably pretty because the locally quarried stone was cheaper to obtain and easier to work with than other materials available at the time. I guess we’re lucky it’s beautiful.

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  3. That raft story has to be the best … drama, happy ending, and then the surprise personal interest in the audience. Perfection!

    An arched bridge is a thing of beauty, but making it out of stone and adding a train makes it perfect. My favourite photo is the one of the red and yellow train going across. That puff of white smoke from the engine makes it perfect.
    Oh my, I’ve used *perfect* in this comment 3 times already … and I haven’t even factored in the cake. Cake!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joanne. It was a perfect combination (and the cake was very good). I was trying to get a good picture while staring into the setting sun when that train came by. I was so happy. I wanted to get a video from the start, but I didn’t want to miss a shot of the loco. I’m glad you liked this.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lois. Watching the weather news from your state, with all the warnings to stay inside, made me think of those two kids who decided it would be a good idea to ride the river in a raft. A mile east of that bridge, the Farmington River joins the Connecticut River – I surely don’t know what they were thinking. The guy admitted to having been “pretty darn stupid” that day.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nifty! It really is cool that your wife snipped that out for ya, and that you went, and shared it all with us.
    Very cool that one of the raft people was present as well.
    It’s a lovely bridge, I do see the curve. I love the photo with the train on it — that photo has everything — train, train breath, bridge, water, reflection, trees :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I was so happy when I heard that train coming. The whole evening was a kid-in-a-candy-store deal for me. I’m really glad she saw the article, because that’s our afternoon paper and I don’t read it all that often during the week.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Awesome post Dan. I love old bridges, especially the covered ones. You slawys know so much history. I took a few photos for you of an old railway bridge while on the Atlanta Beltline walk yesterday. Lee kept pointing at things saying, “Hey, Dan would like that!” 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Dan – we (theoretically) learn when we’re young and think we can do things … gosh those kids were lucky – and how wonderful to have one of the ringleaders (though there were only two) in the audience – brilliant … bringing the raft story to life.

    I wonder who designed the bridge – funny to have one named after a composer of polkas, obereks, and waltzes … love his business card of “most everyone works, I play” – creatives can do that …

    Farmington seems an interesting historical place … particularly the local river – Happy Birthday Bridge – may you have many more … being of stone – I think that’ll be the case – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Hilary. I think this bridge will be around for a good long time. They are just about finished with a double-tracking effort so the line will support light-rail service that will begin next year. It’s a very good thing that they had the foresight in 1867 to make the bridge wide enough for two sets of tracks.

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  7. Like so many others here, Dan, I really like old bridges. Being a Civil War history buff, I’m particularly fond of Burnside Bridge at the Antietam battlefield in Maryland. A relatively small span, but it played host to a lot of history one bloody day in 1862. Great pics — including the burger and the dog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It wasn’t the healthiest meal, but it was a birthday party, so I think I can cut myself some slack. I made an number of attempts to get a circle. The sun was not cooperating, but I like the result. I especially liked it when the train came.

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  8. If you’d just had a beer, all your non-sports buttons would have been pushed! :-) Let’s say nothing about the Steelers-Browns game, lest my husband become more despondent. Anyway, love the stone bridge and it’s funny that you have this post today, because this morning during my walk, I walked under and took some photos of a bridge/trestle and then one with a commuter train coming by on the tracks and thought of you.

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You didn’t ruin anything Dan. It was an organic, nitrite-free beef hot dog. No bun. With organic chips and organic guacamole. It was better than the two pieces of homemade Door County cherry pie that I had over the weekend. ;-)

        There are places here in Appleton that I take photos of year after year…just because they are so pretty. Like your train bridge.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Christine. It was a wonderful night, all the right elements. I especially liked that a train rolled by for me. When the guy stood up and admitted to being in that raft, there was a great sense of amazement in the room.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I liked the locally foundered stone blocks which created this amazing bridge, Dan. The carved letters “Erected A D 1867” and the photo of the sun shining through only one arch photos were my favorites.
    The chance to hear local lore and an actual member of the canoe story being there were such great elements of the evening! Of course, I liked the curve of the bridge photo and the film you included with sound, too. Cake is a bonus. 🎂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Well, foundered stone should be founded stones. The first means to sink by weighing down with stones. Just looked it up, that was not a good substitute word, dear spellcheck engine (?) Have a great day first of the week, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

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