Bridges connect shore to shore, and the past to the present, the present to the future.
On a recent evening, we headed over to our Amish friends for a “supper” of popcorn, cake and ice cream (our contribution to the “sweet and salty” meal). Abe and Lizzie recently moved to a farm near Rensselaer Falls. Their closest friends live on the other side of the river. When the bridge is open, it’s about a two-mile buggy ride. With the bridge gone, the detour is about 10 miles. In other words, near neighbors have become friends they can only visit occasionally.
We drove over to the river to look at the construction site and ran into two women who had grown up in Rensselaer Falls in the ’50s and now come “home” during the summer months. Joyce, pictured below, told us about being a 16 year old, in love with a boy who lived on the other side of the Oswegatchie River. On summer nights, they’d run to meet each other halfway across the bridge. Joyce was sorry to see the old bridge go–a landmark that connected her to a time 50 years ago when she and her husband were first courting.
Joyce’s bridge was built in 1930. I have to wonder if the new bridge will last 80 years…or more…or less. And, will a pair of teenagers hold hands at the ribbon-cutting for the new bridge and then, 50 years later, remember the day it opened?
Well, all of this conjecturing got me to thinking about how the bridge, and the river, played a central role in the history of this small village. I visited the Rensselear Historical Society website and found these photos, photos that tell a story of river-oriented activity that is no more.
Watertown Daily Times reporter Matt McAllister covered the story last year, at which time the county’s senior civil engineer, Toby Bogart, indicated the project was expected to take one construction season, from May to November. Further, from McAllister’s article:
The bridge deck currently leaks, and parts of the structure are corroded, Mr. Bogart said. The truss-style bridge will be completely removed and replaced by a one-pier, steel structure with a concrete deck. The finished product in Rensselaer Falls will include a five-foot sidewalk on the upriver side of County Route 14, and will bring the road “back into standard, two-lane size,” he said.
Putting up a temporary bridge while the main structure is replaced isn’t likely because of the expense, Mr. Bogart said. The project will be 80 percent paid for by federal funds, 15 percent by state funds and 5 percent by the county. In total, the project is expected to cost between $2 and $3 million, Mr. Bogart said.”
The old bridge was an icon for 20th century residents of Rensselaer Falls. Tell me about the icons in your community…and if they still stand.