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!
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.