Springfield's bridges across the Connecticut

In response to a question about bridges across the Connecticut River, I thought I'd post the answer as an article.

Memorial and Toll BridgesMemorial and Toll Bridges

The photo is from a postcard, and shows the brief period of time when both the Old Toll Bridge and the Hampden County Memorial Bridge were standing. In a display of Yankee frugality, the Toll Bridge is being dismantled board by board.

These passages that follow were taken from King's Handbook of Springfield, edited by Moses King, 1884.

=== Begin Article

The Bridges

At the beginning of the present century frequent discussions took place between the people of Springfield and West Springfield about the feasibility of constructing a bridge across the Connecticut River. The business-men and middle-aged people had faith in the project; but the old men wagged their heads in opposition, one prominent rich man saying, " Gentlemen, you might as well undertake to bridge the Atlantic Ocean."

Finally, after much hesitation, the seemingly ponderous job was undertaken. The planting and rearing of the sub-structure was difficult: the two abutments and five piers had to be embedded in the river, and that without previous experience, or the use of modern appliances. Pile-driving was done by horse-power, as steam hammers were not then known to the world. A large floating platform was constructed, and anchored in the river near the site fixed for a pier; on it was placed the necessary machinery for raising the hammer; this was operated by a horse winding a rope around a drum, or cylinder. This horse "swung around the circle" from morning till night, from Monday till Saturday, and from spring till early winter; but no man has numbered the revolutions he performed, nor the thousands of miles he traveled during the process. On the platform was a stable for his shelter and repose at night; for he slept on the "bosom of the deep," not being taken ashore till the close of work for winter. Verily his memory is entitled to a monument. The site of the bridge did not occupy the place of any ferry, nor was it within 50 rods of any road or highway. The bridge company bought land on each side of the river for their approaches, the location being where the old toll, or wooden, bridge now stands.

The first bridge was opened for travel Oct. 30, 1805. It was 1,234 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 40 feet above low-water mark, and cost $36,270. It was uncovered, and painted red; and consisted of six arches supported by two abutments and five piers, each 21 feet wide and 62 feet long. Up the river, in the vicinity of the present railroad-bridge, were built three "icebreakers," or piers like the bridge-piers, with the up-stream sides sloping down to the water, designed to allow the immense sheets of ice in the spring to slide up into the air, and by their own weight fall down in smaller pieces, thus preventing the choking of ice under the bridge. The name of the designer or builder of this bridge is not now known. During the construction, by an accident several of the workmen were injured, and one killed: and also, in the month of March, several of the armorers crossed on the timbers of the framework, to the west side, on a spree, and in returning, late at night, one of them lost his balance, and was drowned.

The bridge was opened with imposing dedicatory exercises, a procession, prayer, sermon by the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lathrop of West Springfield, music, and the ringing of bells. When the procession reached the bridge, a national salute of 17 guns was fired three times; and 3,000 people, standing on the uncovered bridge, gave three rousing cheers.

This bridge was a vast accommodation to many towns on either side of the river, and was duly appreciated. But after nine years effective service it showed signs of weakening; and, after the spring freshets of 1814 had subsided, the company began strengthening the arches, and set up "horses " under the eastern span to support it while undergoing repairs. But on the 14th of July a heavy Pennsylvania wagon, heavily laden with army supplies from the east, attempted to cross. When the team had got well on to the bridge, the first span crippled and went down; but the "horses", or trusses, being equal to the pressure, held up bridge and team, so that the load was saved, and nobody killed. This ended travel across the bridge; and it was soon taken down, having become too much weather-beaten to endure longer service. It was mongrel in style, the travel being on neither the bottom nor top of the chord, but ascending and descending with the curve of the arches of each span.

The present bridge was constructed in 1816; the builder being Capt. Isaac Damon of Northampton, a man of great capacity for construction and superior workmanship, his work having stood the test of 67 years of strain as a bridge, and is now likely to stand 40 or 50 years longer. It was partially carried off by the spring freshet of 1818, and the lost portions supplied in 1820; but never since has it suffered by ice or water. At the last fracture in 1818 Gen. Bliss, one of the directors, thought to save the east end of the bridge, by securing an immense cable or rope to the main timbers, and fastening the rope to a large tree on the bank of the river above the bridge; but the next large sheet of ice that struck the bridge hardly straightened the sag of the cable before it parted, and away went the eastern span of Capt. Damon's superstructure.

The present is the second bridge, and was covered at the time of building. The travel is on an even plane at the bottom of the chord. The heavy pine timber of the arches was cut far up the river, rafted down, and hewed out by hand. Tolls were taken until July 1, 1872, when it was made free by Act of the Legislature.

The next bridge was that of the Western Railroad, completed July 1, 1841, made of wood, on the "Howe" plan, and uncovered. This was taken down in 1855, and replaced by another; the trains all the while continuing their usual trips. The second bridge was covered, and continued in use until the erection of the present iron bridge in 1873.

The North-End iron bridge was completed Sept. 1, 1877, and dedicated by a large concourse of people on the West-Springfield side. Dinner-tables were placed in the goodly shade of a row of maple-trees, refreshments offered to the crowd, and speeches made by the friends of the enterprise; William Chapman of West Springfield leading off with much enthusiasm. It affords the centre of that town an additional and more convenient privilege of access to the Union Railway Station. It is one of the handsomest highway bridges in the United States.

The South-End iron bridge, connecting the city with Agawam, was built in 1878, and completed and opened for travel Feb. 1, 1879. It takes the place of the old steam-ferry, and is a great advantage to the towns of Agawam, Suffield, Southwick, and Granby. From the above it will be seen that there are now four bridges across the Connecticut within the space of two miles and a half.

=== End Article

This explains the history of bridges until 1884. Of the four bridges mentioned, the only one still standing is the railroad bridge; all others were replaced. The Old Toll Bridge was replaced in 1922 with the Hampden County Memorial Bridge; the North End Bridge was replaced in 1925, and the South End Bridge was replaced in 1954.

This map, derived from Google Maps, shows the location of the Old Toll Bridge; it explains why Bridge Street has its name despite not currently leading to a bridge, as well as why there is a similarly unconnected Bridge Street in West Springfield.

Old Toll Bridge mapOld Toll Bridge map

Here is another photo of the Old Toll Bridge:

Old Toll Bridge, SpringfieldOld Toll Bridge, Springfield

Railroad bridge the oldest?

Thanks to Howard for pointing out this Wikipedia link. It is an article attempting to define a list of every crossing of the Connecticut. There are a few defunct bridges missing, but it's a great list.

From the list, it appears as though the railroad bridge from Springfield to West Springfield, built in 1873, is the oldest bridge across the Connecticut. (there are a few others without dates listed though).

Does anyone know if that railroad bridge is definitely the original bridge from 1873?

1873 or 1874? Iron or Steel?

Cannot offer a definitive opinion on the date of this bridge, but I found yet another Wikipedia entry which gives the date of the bridge as 1874:

"...The covered wooden railroad bridge across the Connecticut which opened in 1841, was replaced by the current double-track steel truss railroad bridge in 1874"

The interesting thing about this is the transition from the use of Iron to Steel. If it indeed dates from 1874, it is likely to be an iron (not steel) bridge, and one of the few still in existence and use. However, it is not listed as one in this article:


and it makes sense that it would be steel since the B&A historically utilized the latest technoogy and spared little expense in building the railroad- the Howe truss for the first bridge in 1841 being one of the first, and certainly biggest ever built. In fact, the 1841 bridge was the longest in the world at its completion, and in general, the "Western Railroad" was a technological pioneer, also being the highest railroad in the world in its route up and over the Berkshires via the Westfield River valley.

photos of the train bridge



Thank you

I wanted thank you for this info. The last couple of week I have been doing some photoshot of the CT River Catwalk in Springfield, MA. Now living in Spfld, MA all my life I never really knew the history behind the CT river. I have come across alot of interesting thing walking along the river. Tunnels and walls along the river that till now I didn't understand why they where thier. I have posted some pictures at the link that follows. Now knowing more about the history behind those walls, I will be going back down thier today and taking pictures of those walls.

Toll covered bridge/covered bridges

Hi, I'm working on a covered bridges of Massachusetts volume for the Images of America series. I enjoyed the bridges article you posted and was wondering where I could find good images of the old toll bridge to use in the project - I've seen a few postcards previously. Thanks, John Burk jbphotos2002@yahoo.com


Boy, you just missed an eBay auction within the past 2 months of the Chicopee covered bridge downtown that was replaced by the Davitt Memorial Bridge. It was of a photo negative.

As for the Springfield toll bridge, there were some photos published in a few books, usually the same ones you see replicated as postcards. I don't have anything that is out of the usual for that bridge.

heres a recent photo i took

heres a recent photo i took on 4/15/2011
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Springfield Toll Covered Bridge

Do you know what the length of the Springfield Toll covered bridge was?
Thank You,
Karen Bittinger

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