Thursday, January 10, 2013

Maynard: Photos of Former Bridges

Click on any photo to enlarge.

The other post mentioned bridges that no longer exist, but some of them still come to us through old photographs. Thomas J, Sheridan, Superintendent of Public Works, created a report in 1979 of the railroad right of way from one side of Maynard to the other. The report consists of 35 color photographs with captions, and includes photos of three of those bridges. The report is in the collection of the Maynard Historical Society.

Heading south from Acton, the railroad tracks crossed Summer Street onto a raised earthern berm. It ran south through the center of what is now the parking lot behind the Paper Store, the Outdoor Store, Subway, CVS and the Post Office. The berm was built because otherwise the slope would have been too steep for trains. As a result, the tracks crossing the Assabet River were elevated much higher than today's footbridge at the same site, and then continued, still elevated, to cross over Florida Road on a second bridge. Farther west the ground rises (parallel to Railroad Street), so by the time the track neared Main Street it was back at ground level. The train station building was near the intersection of Main and Railroad Streets.

Railroad bridge over the Assabet River
This photo is from on top of the berm, facing west, looking at the bridge as it crosses over the Assabet River. Although it was never intended for walking, people did, both back in the years when the trains were still running, and long after the trains were gone. Note no handrails, and a twenty foot drop to the the river below. If the water was low, a jumper would likely hit the rocky bottom and break a leg or worse. If the water was high enough to cushion the fall then it was also in flood and moving fast, so anyone jumping or falling in risked drowning.

Florida Road, taken from Main Street looking north
Florida Road was so narrow at this juncture that it was one way only, from Main Street. People driving south on Florida could turn right (west) onto Railroad Street in order to get to Main Street. Clearance under the bridge was 8'8". The Florida Road bridge over the river can be glimpsed through the opening. After all this was removed the area to the right became the parking lot behind the post office.

Railroad bridge, from viewpoint of Main Street
From 1849 until 1980 the view from the Main Street bridge looking north was of this railroad bridge over the Assabet River. During the latter part of this time - dates unknown - there was also a footbridge under the railroad bridge. Both are visible in the photo.

Why this footbridge was built is unclear, as anyone wanting to cross the river had access to the Main Street bridge, less than 100 yards away.

Footbridge under the railroad bridge

This photo shows how the footbridge crossed diagonally under the railroad bridge. With the railroad and the berm gone, what's there now is a wooden footbridge - much lower in elevation than the railroad bridge- which connects the parking lot behind CVS and Gruber's Furniture to Tobin Park. The new bridge was built in 1989.

When the Assabet River Rail Trail is built (construction tentatively scheduled to start in 2016) it will cross the river at this spot. The existing bridge will be replaced.

Nailing down the year the berm and railroad bridges were removed is proving difficult. Obviously, everything was still in place in 1979 even though the trains had stopped more than ten years earlier. The town's 1982 Annual Report mentioned negotiating with MBTA for the land, and the 1985 Annual Report states that a new parking lot was constructed in the old railroad right-of-way behind Nason Street. One account has the railroad bridges removed in 1980.

Passenger train service from Maynard stopped on May 16, 1958. It had started July 1850, and so had a run of more than 100 years. Freight service apparently continued into the 1960s.

Not in this collection, and apparently not documented in any photo in the Historical Society collection, is any photo of the railroad bridge over the canal. This would have been near Route 117, just a bit west of where Route 117 crosses the canal.

Waltham Street bridge: new side
Also not in Sheridan's report: are any photos of bridges that have been replaced by newer bridges. Here are two views of the Waltham Street bridge currently [2012-13] under construction. The first shows the new work on the west side. Note that it is a single span of steel, with no intermediate piers in the river. The second photo shows the not yet replaced east side. This is of reinforced concrete, with two piers in the river. The old bridge opened in 1928. It replaced an 87 year old bridge that was severely damaged by a flood in 1927.

Waltham Street bridge: old side

At road level, the new bridge will resemble the one it replaces: a road surface flanked by sidewalks on both sides, with a low concrete railing topped by antique-looking streetlights.

The pedestrian bridge (below) is temporary - to be removed once the bridge proper is completed.

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