A bridge to memory

Bridges connect shore to shore, and the past to the present, the present to the future.

The new bridge construction site.

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.

The old bridge is gone. Up close look at work on new bridge.

Joyce takes a little piece of the metal from the old bridge as a souvenir of her youth.

The bridge built in 1930. (Photo: via Rensselaer Falls Historical Society.)

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.

Grist mill and flume. Photo: via Rensselaer Falls Historical Society.

Excursion boat running between Heuvelton and Black Lake (the dredge). Photo: via Rensselaer Falls Historical Society.

View of the river and old bridge from an island in the Oswegatchie River. (Photo: via Rensselaer Historical Society.)

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.

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4 Responses to “A bridge to memory”

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  1. Barb Heller says:

    I used to live across the street from the Rensselaer Falls Bridge, and have fond memories of swimming in the adjacent rapids, fishing at the (now disappeared) park, rinsing my car off (before it was an environmental no-no) at the same spot, and spending hours on the front porch with Kyle and Sally Hartman, watching the Oswegatchie roll by. I watched from my window as the old hotel/bar burned down – and it was nice to see it again in your old photo! I never thought I’d be writing about ‘history’, but I guess we ALL become part of it. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  2. Michael Greer says:

    One spring, several years ago, after a long cold winter, I crossed the Grasse river bridge at Russell. It was just after dark and the entire village had shown up, on the bridge to watch the ice going out. The river was very high, and the blocks of ice, some the size of a picnic table, some the size of a Greyhound bus slid by, bumping the bottom of the bridge with a deep grinding sound, and popping up in the jet black water on the other side. There were probably a hundred people on the bridge that night, and we’re all happy it wasn’t swept away.

  3. Ellen Rocco says:

    In my hometown–Manhattan–the iconic bridges were the Brooklyn Bridge at the southern end and the George Washington Bridge at the northern end. I thought I knew both bridges pretty well–from the Manhattan side as well as from the other sides. Then, a few years ago, I participated in the Great Ramble around the island of Manhattan and ate lunch in the shade of the George Washington Bridge where I discovered the little red lighthouse–a landmark I had never seen or noticed in all those years of crossing back and forth. Take a stroll across the bridge in your town…then walk under it along the shore or check it out from the water in a canoe. I’ll bet you discover something you didn’t know was there.

  4. john says:

    As a current resident on the ‘lower west side’, suburbs of Rensselaer Falls, I can’t wait for the bridge to re-open! Our 1.5 mile walk to the general store and liquor store in the village has turned into an 18 mile round trip … not to mention needing to add 15 minutes to every trip to Canton. I’m glad the work is getting done, but I am already anxious to rejoin society and we still have 5 months to go! YIKES!!!