Temporary Bridge, Hartford, Connecticut

The bridge across the Connecticut River at Hartford, seen from the East Hartford side on September 9, 1903. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

Temporary bridge, East Hartford end

The scene in 2016:

988_2016
For many years, the only bridge across the Connecticut River at Hartford was here at the site of the Bulkeley Bridge. In 1818, a covered bridge was built here, and it survived until May 17, 1895, when it was destroyed in a fire. With no other crossings available, a makeshift bridge was quickly built upstream of the ruins, opening just three weeks later. Before the end of the year it was washed away, but was replaced with the temporary bridge that is seen in the first photo.

As inconvenient as the loss of the old covered bridge may have been, it allowed Hartford the opportunity to build an elegant new bridge that reflected the city’s prosperity and importance. When the first photo was taken, work had already begun on building the Bulkeley Bridge and reconstructing Morgan Street on the Hartford side of the bridge. The temporary bridge was demolished after the new one was completed in 1908. The bridge has since been joined by two others in Hartford, but it still plays an important role in the city’s transportation, carrying Interstate 84 and US Routes 6 and 44. At over 100 years old, it is possibly the oldest bridge in the Interstate Highway System, predating the actual establishment of the highway system by nearly 50 years.

Maryland Heights from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Looking across the Potomac River toward Maryland from Harpers Ferry, around 1859. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

729_1859c loc

The scene in 2015:

729_2015 loc
Assuming the estimated date is correct, the first photo was probably taken within a few months before or after John Brown’s raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory.  It shows the view from the Armory looking across the Potomac River toward Maryland Heights, with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad bridge to the right.  The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal also ran through this scene; the buildings across the river were built on either side of Lock 33.

Within a few years, much of this scene would change.  Harpers Ferry changed hands many times during the war, and during one of their retreats the Confederate forces burned the bridge, as seen in the 1861 photo in the previous post, which was taken from the opposite side of the river.  The bridge has since been replaced several times, and the current one can be seen on the far right, a little upstream of the original one.

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal survived the war, and despite increased competition from railroads it remained in operation until 1924.  Today, the stone remains of Lock 33 are still standing, hidden from this view by the railroad bridge and the trees along the river.  All of the buildings have long since disappeared, though, except for one: the two story stone house right up against the cliff on the left side of the photo.  It was built in the winter of 1840-1841, and survived John Brown’s raid, the Civil War, and a number of floods before being gutted by a fire in the 1960s. The stone walls are still standing, though, and it is now part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

One historical curiosity in the second photo is the advertisement painted on the rocks near the center of the photo.  It reads “Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder,” and it was painted in 1906 for railroad passengers as they traveled through here.  Although not as distinct as it once was, the controversial advertisement is still there, despite efforts in the 1960s to remove it using paint remover and carbon black.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Looking across the Potomac River towards Harpers Ferry from the Maryland side of the river, around June 14, 1861. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

728_1861 loc

The same view in 2015:

728_2015 loc
The town of Harpers Ferry had only about 1,300 residents at the start of the Civil War, and its land area was just a half a square mile, but it became among the most contested places of the war.  It was literally located on the border of the Union and the Confederacy, changing hands eight times during the war and ending up in a different state by the time it was over.

As its name implies, this area was first settled as a ferry crossing.  Originally part of Virginia, it is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, and beginning in 1733 colonist Peter Stevens operated a ferry across the Potomac here, enabling settlers from Maryland and Pennsylvania to access the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  The town isn’t named Stevens Ferry, though, because around 1748 he sold his land and ferry to Robert Harper, who operated it until his death in 1782.

Because of its transportation connections and relatively defensible position, Harpers Ferry was one of two locations, along with Springfield, Massachusetts, selected by George Washington for federal armories.  Further transportation developments came in the 1830s: the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (seen in the lower foreground of both photos) was completed as far as Harpers Ferry in 1833, several stagecoach lines were opened in 1834, and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad reached the Maryland (foreground) side of the river later in 1834.  The first railroad bridge was completed in 1837, allowing a direct connection from the armory to the rapidly growing national rail network.

By 1850, this small town had grown to over 1,700 people thanks to the armory (visible along the waterfront to the right in the first photo), but before the end of the decade it would become the center of one of the major precursors to the Civil War.  In October 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a raiding party of 22 men in an attempt to capture the arsenal and start a slave rebellion.  The raid ultimately failed, and most of the raiders were either killed or were captured and executed, including John Brown, whose December 2 execution was seen as a martyrdom by many northern abolitionists.

The Civil War began just a year and a half after the raid, and Virginia’s state legislators voted to secede on April 17, 1861.  One of the state’s first objectives was to take the Harpers Ferry arsenal, which at the time was guarded by just 65 men.  Led by Lieutenant Roger Jones, they destroyed the arsenal and its 15,000 guns before evacuating the town ahead of the Confederates.  The Confederates didn’t occupy the town for long, though.  They left on June 14, and burned the Baltimore & Ohio bridge as they left.  The remains of the bridge can be seen in the foreground of the first photo, which according to the caption was “photographed immediately after its evacuation by the rebels.”

When the first photo was taken, the town was still relatively intact, but as the war progressed it became somewhat of a no man’s land.  Despite the loss of the armory, it was still a vital transportation corridor for armies on both sides, so between 1861 and 1863 it changed hands several more times.  West Virginia became a state on June 20, 1863, with Harpers Ferry citizens voting 196 to 1 to leave Virginia and join the union.  The town was briefly occupied by the Confederates in early July, but they soon evacuated for the last time and Union solders returned on July 13, finally bringing stability to Harpers Ferry for the rest of the war.

In terms of population, Harpers Ferry never fully recovered from the Civil War.  The armory never reopened, and the population has steadily fallen to less than 300 as of the 2015 census.  However, it has become a major tourist destination, with the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park now comprising much of the historic town.  Although the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal has not operated in nearly a century, there are still several railroad lines that pass through here.

One of the bridges, seen to the right in the 2015 photo, also carries the Appalachian Trail over the Potomac River on a pedestrian walkway on the left side of the bridge.  The bridge pier in the foreground is from an earlier railroad bridge that had been built on the spot of the one that was destroyed in 1861.  This bridge, in turn, was washed away in a 1936 flood, and it was never rebuilt.  Today, the modern railroad bridge, as well as trees along the river, help to hide the view of Harpers Ferry, with only a few buildings visible in the 2015 scene.

(Much of the information for this post came from “To Preserve the Evidences of a Noble Past”: An Administrative History of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (2004).  For further reading, it and other resources are available online here at the National Park Service website.)

Put’s Bridge, Springfield Mass

The old covered bridge across the Chicopee River from Springfield to Ludlow, taken from the Springfield side in 1897. Photo courtesy of the Hubbard Memorial Library.

473_1897 hubbardmemlib

The present-day bridge in 2015:

473_2015

Alternately called Putts Bridge, this spot at Wallamanumps Falls on the Chicopee River has long been the site of a bridge connecting Springfield and Ludlow.  The early accounts are somewhat vague, but the first bridge was built in either the late 1780s or early 1790s.  Either way, a bridge was definitely here by 1794; prior to that, Ludlow’s 500 or so residents would have to get to and from Springfield by fording the river, a task that I can’t image was particularly pleasant or safe.  The bridge was constructed by Eli Putnam, hence the name Put’s bridge.  However, bridges here didn’t seem to have much of a lifespan; in the next 30 years, three additional bridges would have to be constructed on this site.

The 1822 bridge must have been different, because it lasted until this 1897 photograph.  By this point, though, the 75 year old bridge was starting to show its age, and the next year it was replaced with a new iron bridge.  However, the replacement didn’t even last half as long as its predecessor before it was replaced by the current bridge in 1930.  Today, this concrete and steel bridge carries Route 21 across the river, and it still serves as the primary connection from Ludlow to Springfield.  The one difference in the location of these two photos is that the covered bridge was at a substantially lower elevation, so the 1897 photo would’ve actually been taken partway down the hill toward the river.  I could’ve recreated the scene from here, but I chose this location since it represents what the surface of bridge today looks like, rather than just the underside of it.

Brooklyn Bridge Construction

The Brooklyn Bridge, before the construction of the walkway, probably taken around 1880. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

449_1880c nypl

The scene in 2013:

449_2013

The Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, but before the roadway could be built, the towers were connected by a narrow walkway.  Although intended for the workers, it was also open to the public, and was a popular destination, to the point where bridge management had to start issuing passes in order to cross.  Of course, this was in the days before OSHA regulations and other safety measures, but it actually wasn’t as dangerous as it looks.  Some publicity-seeking daredevils even jumped off of it and into the East River, with varying success rates.  Upon completion of the bridge, the present-day walkway opened, which can be seen around the turn of the last century in this post.  Thankfully, modern-day bridge pedestrians need not balance themselves on a narrow catwalk, nor ascend and descend the two 272-foot tall bridge towers in order to cross the river.

Tucker Toll Bridge, Bellows Falls, Vermont (2)

Another view of the Tucker Toll Bridge, from the downstream side, around 1907. Photo from History of the Town of Rockingham, Vermont (1907).

419_1907c-2Bhistofrockingham

The bridge in 2014:

419_2014

This is another view of the bridge across the Connecticut River at Bellows Falls, seen from the Vermont side facing upstream.  As explained in this post, this was the site of the first bridge across the Connecticut River when a primitive bridge was built across here in 1785.  The bridge in the 1907 photo was the second on the site, and opened in 1840.  This bridge, known as the Tucker Toll Bridge, was replaced by the current concrete arch bridge, the Vilas Bridge, in 1930.  However, the bridge has been closed since 2009, and as of 2015 it is unknown what will happen to it.

This angle gives a good view of the gorge at Bellows Falls, where the Connecticut River drops 52 feet through a narrow gorge.  It was originally known as the Great Falls, and an early stagecoach line that ran through here advertised that passengers would be able to “view one of the most stupendous works of Nature.”  Today, much of the river’s water is diverted into a power canal just above the falls, so it isn’t as dramatic as it would have been to an 18th century traveler, but it is still an impressive view looking down from the top of the gorge.