Excerpts from Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, by Thomas Franklin Waters

The stone bridges which span the Ipswich river with their graceful arches are picturesque and interesting, but the readiness with which the Town proceeded to build the latter two stone bridges is in singular contrast with the belligerent opposition to the earliest ones.

Footbridge from South Main to the Mill, circa 1900. Photo by Arthur Wesley Dow.
Footbridge from South Main to the Mill, circa 1900. Photo by Arthur Wesley Dow.

The foot bridge at the Mill

South Main Street was an ancient way, extending to the river, where early foot-travellers crossed the river on a foot-bridge. For the first dozen years of the settlement, all travel across the river by horses or wheeled vehicles was at various ford-ways. This original foot bridge was “near the Mill,” and was sometimes called the “Mill Bridge.” In 1655, some repairs were needed, and the Town “agreed with John Andrews Jr., to bring so many sufficient rayles to the bridge-foot, as will cover the Bridge over the River, neare the mill, for the sum of £3. ”

At the location of the Caldwell building next to the Choate Bridge there once stood a large mill built by Dr. John Manning. The mill failed, and it became a commercial building, and hosted the Ipswich Post Office until the building burned in
At the location of the Caldwell building next to the Choate Bridge there once stood a large mill built by Dr. John Manning. The mill failed, and it became a commercial building, and hosted the Ipswich Post Office until the building burned in

The cart bridge

On the 4th of January 1646, “the names of such as promise carting voluntary toward the Cart Bridge” were entered in full in the Town Record. This is the first definite allusion to construction of a bridge for wheeled vehicles, and it occupied the site of the present Choate Bridge. Forty pounds sterling were appropriated. Mr. William Payne, John Whipple and Richard Jacob were chosen as a building committee. On March 11, 1647, the work was so far advanced, that it was “Ordered that the Surveyors shall take care to make good the passage at both ends of the Cart Bridge, sufficient for passages of horse and carts soe soon as Carpenters have made it capable.” Col. Samuel Appleton at that time owned and lived in the Sherborne Wilson house, still standing, and the bridge thus came to be known as the “Appleton Bridge.” The river side of South Main Street was wholly unoccupied and ungranted as late as 1693, except one small lot by the dam, which was occupied by Samuel Ordway’s blacksmith shop.

The Choate Bridge, with the Caldwell Building on the left and the Ipswich Female Seminary beyond it.
The Choate Bridge, with the Caldwell Building on the left and the Ipswich Female Seminary beyond it.

The Choate Bridge

On May 13th, 1762, the Town voted that “Col. Choate, Capt. Farley and Capt. Baker be a Committee to take a view of Appleton’s Bridge & consider the expediency of building said bridge into a stone bridge etc.” The old Appleton bridge was found too narrow by six or eight feet for the increased travel, and a new one twenty feet wide was planned by the Town. Application was made to the County to bear half the expense. The substantial Stone Bridge was built forthwith at a cost of £996 10s. There was a suspicion of a mild “graft” apparently, which was indignantly repelled by the Committee. Col. John Choate’s account was scaled to £13-6s-8d, whereupon he gave his services without charge. Aaron Potter received ten shillings. Joseph Appleton Esq. received £20 for measuring rocks, keeping and settling accounts, paying and receiving money etc. Capt. Isaac Smith and Mr. John Appleton were refused any compensations. Col. Choate was the moving party in the great undertaking. There is a tale that his horse was tethered nearby, when the wooden arches were removed, that he might mount and ride if the popular belief that the bridge would not stand. This story may be consigned to the limbo of idle traditions, for even a suspicion of such a casualty is a libel on the intelligence of our highly cultured Town.

The Warner bridge on the Ipswich River connects Ipswich and Hamilton.
The Warner bridge on the Ipswich River connects Ipswich and Hamilton.

Warner’s Bridge

The road from the Warner dam to Topsfield road was originally located west of the present Mill Road, which was laid out and accepted by the Town in Dec, 1817. In the Spring of 1820, the Warners and others petitioned the Court of Sessions for a bridge. The Town opposed but the Court ordered it built. The Town then petitioned for a discontinuance of the road. Another petition was filed by the Warners in the following year with no better success. Five years then elapsed. The petitioners were as determined as the Town, and in 1829, they secured from the County officials a fresh order to the Town to proceed. The bridge was built, a beautiful three-arched structure of granite, but the Town voted in July, 1832, to employ Rufus Choate “and such other learned and respectable counsel to contest payment of any portion of the expense. The case went to the Supreme Court, which rendered an adverse decision in November, 1833, and assessed the Town $1498.

The Choate Bridge, from the northeast riverbank. Many people remember the building on the right as Bill's store.

The Choate Bridge (again)

In March, 1829, while the battle for the bridge at Warner’s Mills was hot and furious, the Town and County began to consider plans for widening the ancient Choate Bridge, which had been built in 1764, and was now too narrow for the great volume of travel which passed through the Town. Nothing was decided and in 1834 Joseph Wait and 194 others came to the Town with a proposition that in addition to the widening of the bridge, the Town should secure the widening of the road up the hill. The County Commissioners relocated the way over a portion land of Joseph L. Ross, and paid him $800, and removed the house, bam and blacksmith shop. A public subscription netted $654, the buildings were sold for $470 and the Committee reported on Dec. 8, 1834, that only $126 more was needed to cover the expense. The Town voted to raise this sum provided the land be in the highway forever, and petitioned the County Commissioners to include it within the highway bounds.

Contentions now arose as to the location of the road and the widening of the bridge. A variety of makeshifts to avoid expense were resorted to by the Town, the most ingenious of which was a Remonstrance to the Legislature in March, 1837, against any Act which would make the Town liable for any part of the cost, as Choate Bridge was over tide-water. This clever device failed to carry, and the Town was ordered to proceed. The matter was referred to a committee, but man after man refused to accept appointment. Finally, Joseph Farley, Daniel Cogswell and Otis P. Lord consented to serve, but the question of widening was indefinitely postponed. Again in 1838 the County demanded action, but the Town postponed indefinitely. The bridge was widened and the Town’s portion ($1037.50) was assessed in January, 1839. Legal advice was again sought but in vain. The most amusing feature of the affair was that the sum assessed was nearly two hundred dollars less than the $1200 the Town had agreed to pay in 1836. The battle of the Stone Bridge had surpassed in virulence the battle of Warner’s Mills.

Bridge on Winthrop St. over the Ipswich River
Bridge on Winthrop St. over the Ipswich River

The Willowdale Bridge

The Willowdale bridge, or the Winthrop Street Bridge as it is now known, was built in 1844 or 1845. A petition for a road and bridge by Dr. Manning’s mill was filed in August, 1844. The Town opposed its construction but the County ordered the road and bridge built and the work was accomplished. (The document seems to indicate that this was a stone arch bridge, which has been replaced by a wooden structure.

The County St. Bridge. William J. Barton wrote, "In December, 1860, Ira Worcester and others of Ipswich, Hamilton, Wenham and Essex addressed a petition to the County commissioners. At that time, Cross Street as it was called, terminated at Green Street (the present day County Street) and all travel towards Hamilton passed  over Town Hill , down the hill and over the Choate Bridge. The petitioners characterized this route as very circuitous and hilly, and inconvenient. The County Commissioners laid out the new road on March 5, 1861. The town voted on March 11 to build the bridge. The County Street stone arch bridge was built in 1861 by the town at a cost of $7896.75. Thomas J. Roberts, an Ipswich citizen who was a master builder on the Boston City Hall, the Thatcher Island Lighthouse etc. was the superintendent." Photo by George Dexter.

The County St. Bridge. The County Commissioners laid out the new road on March 5, 1861. The town voted on March 11 to build the County Street bridge at a cost to the town of $7896.75. Thomas J. Roberts, an Ipswich citizen who was a master builder on the Boston City Hall and the Thatcher Island Lighthousewas the superintendent. Photo by George Dexter.

 

County St. bridge, with wool / box factory
County St. bridge, with wool / box factory

Joseph Ross became a partner in a group that in 1863 purchased land next to the newly constructed County St. bridge and erected a water-powered yarn mill, later adding machinery for the production of hosiery and knitting.

County St. Bridge

Green Street was once called Green Lane and was anciently known as Bridge Lane. There was apparently a foot bridge that crossed the river, where the Island in the middle of the span on which the present bridge stands. County Street, or Cross Street, as it was called, originally terminated at Green Street, and all travel from North or East toward Hamilton passed up Green Street, past the churches and back down Town Hill and over the Choate Bridge. In 1860, Ira Worcester and others of Ipswich, Hamilton, Wenham and Essex, addressed a petition to the County Commissioners, characterizing this route as “very circuitous and hilly and otherwise inconvenient,” and affirmed that “vast quantities of heavy material such as granite, coal, timber, lumber, lime and hay” passed over this roundabout road. They asked that a way be laid out over the land owned by the County and then by a bridge over the river to Mill Street, as the section of County St. from the river to County Rd. was then called. The County Commissioners laid out the new road on March 5, 1861, and the Town voted on March 11th to build the road and bridge.

William J. Barton Wrote, "This is Water Street from Summer to Green Street, Ipswich, Mass. For a long time it was called "Clam Shell Alley." The old wooden bridge in the distance was condemned, and a new stone arch bridge was built in 1894. For several years, I have been the last living man who worked on the bridge (not for pay). I helped my father as a boy working on wooden arches that held the granite in place. The Ipswich County House (House of Correction) is at the extreme right of the picture. My father, William E. Barton, had a Massachusetts Bay pilot license, and he piloted the rock sloop loaded with granite to build the new stone arch bridge. The river is not to deep." Photo by Edward L. Darling. Photo by Edward K, Darling.

William J. Barton Wrote, “This is Water Street from Summer to Green Street, Ipswich, Mass. For a long time it was called “Clam Shell Alley.” The old wooden bridge in the distance was condemned, and a new stone arch bridge was built in 1894. For several years, I have been the last living man who worked on the bridge (not for pay). I helped my father as a boy working on wooden arches that held the granite in place. The Ipswich County House (House of Correction) is at the extreme right of the picture. My father, William E. Barton, had a Massachusetts Bay pilot license, and he piloted the rock sloop loaded with granite to build the new stone arch bridge. The river is not too deep.” Photo by Edward L. Darling.

 

green_st_bridge
The Green Street bridge today

Green Street Bridge

The men living on Turkey Shore and other inhabitants of the Lower End of the Town had petitioned for the privilege of building a bridge on March 27, 1719, over the river at their own charges & cost to Foster Lane (Water St.), convenient for horse and men to pass over. The desired privilege was granted, provided the river be not obstructed, but it was never implemented. The extension of Green Street to Turkey Shore was considered at the March meeting in 1880, and after due consideration, the Town voted on October 12, 1881, to build a wooden bridge. The wooden bridge soon decayed and the Town voted on May 4, 1894, to replace it with a bridge of stone.

High Street before the first bridge was built
High Street before the first bridge was built
High St. bridge, newly constructed
High St. bridge, newly constructed in 1906

The High Street bridge

A trolley line from Beverly through Hamilton to Essex and Gloucester opened in 1895, and on June 26, 1896, the first car on the branch that followed Candlewood Road to Ipswich arrived in town. The following year, the Georgetown, Rowley and Ipswich Street Railway opened, but its tracks ended at the High Street crossing of the B&M railroad, Passengers wishing to continue through Ipswich had to walk the distance from High Street to Market Square to change lines. In 1906 the town and B&M railway gained permission from the Massachusetts Grade Crossing Commission to construct the High Street Bridge, and on July 1907, the first set of improved eight-wheel trolleys crossed the bridge, making it possible to go from one end of Essex County to the other for 15 cents.

 

Other bridges

The old Fox Creek bridge on Argilla Road
The old Fox Creek bridge on Argilla Road

 

Goulds Bridge, Arthur Wesley Dow
The old Goulds Bridge on Labor in Vain Rd., photo by Arthur Wesley Dow

One thought on “Battles of the bridges

  1. Hi Gordon, thanks for reviewing the interesting history of those many bridges in Ipswich with great old and new pics. All scenic – Choate is my favorite…

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