Saturday, July 28, 2007

Crossing Into the Future: The Great River Bridge Project Progresses

The landscape is indelibly altered. Trees gone. Yellow tape and foreboding Danger! signs wrap and adorn, warning of progress on the march...dangerous and dirty. Dust rises from scars in the earth as men and machine plow into the future. Nature transformed.

In the end: A building or a bridge, a steeple or a shed. And the years pass...and no one remembers the tearing of the soil, the callouses on solid men's hands. The object just is. A thing...there to be seen, and ne'er often to wonder how it's come to been.

The Great River Bridge in Westfield, Massachusetts from the southeast, the Westfield river flowing beneath on its never-ending journey to the Connecticut river and, ultimately, Long Island Sound and the Atlantic. The bridge, built over the years 1938 - 1939, following the terrible flood of 1938, will be eased of its heavy traffic burden following its restoration after the completion of its downstream twin, underway and expected to take all of three years. The new bridge will be built in the same truss-style construction and comes with a price tag of $60,000,000. Many a summer day of my youth were whiled away sitting on the flat rocks under the bridge, fishing for small mouth bass in the pools below.

The buildings and businesses that lined the northeast riverbank are no longer, taken by the wrecking ball and the claw, and the promise of a better way. Humans mold the planet to their advantage, constant nest-builders and movers of dirt. The new bridge will carry three lanes of travelers north from the Elm Street Spur in front of Holy Trinity Church, depositing them on the opposite bank to continue their journey via Union Avenue under the raised and refurbished CSX railroad viaduct. In the 19th century the Horton Grist Mill occupied the north riverbank directly downstream from the bridge, harnessing the current of the river to power its stones. Change comes, and turns the past.

Looking south down the Elm Street Spur, poised for amplified urban importance. The trees have all been removed from the triangle that is Kane Park on the right, except for one, a fern-leaf redwood, spared for its rarity. The Great River Bridge Traffic Improvement Project plans include the elimination of the segment of Meadow Street from the Elm Street Spur to Elm Street, which will allow Kane Park to be combined with Wojkiewicz Park, on the southeast side of the bridge, where these photos were taken. Both Kane and Wojkiewicz Parks are named after Westfield war heroes. Lt. William Hasset Kane was killed in the Great War on October 6, 1918, at the age of 22. Chief Petty Officer, First Class Frank P. Wojkiewicz died in service to his country on the battleship Arizona at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the first Westfield casualty of the soon-to-be-declared war with Japan.

Sunset silhouettes the peak of the Westfield Whip Manufacturing Company building.

For more on the Great River Bridge Project, check out the previous EWM posts: Sleds, Bridges and Steeples: Thoughts in Traffic, and Westfield Steps Forward.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and take care!

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