Sunday, August 19, 2007

Postcards: Hampden County Memorial Bridge

The Hampden County Memorial Bridge has served with steadfastness and grace as a vital link between the east and west banks of the Connecticut river and the town of West Springfield and the city of Springfield for just fifteen years shy of a century now. As a matter of fact, the span recently marked its 85th birthday, traffic first flowing across the bridge on August 3, 1922. According to the Mass. Highway's 'Bridge Data Sheet' regarding the structure: "At the ceremonies held that day, the bridge was dedicated as a memorial to 'those who had died as pioneers, and soldiers in the Revolutionary, Civil and Foreign Wars.'"

Here are a few linen penny postcards of the bridge, circa 1935-1945, from the Robbins family collection, kindly shared with EWM to share with you.



The 1,515 foot-long bridge originally had a street railway line running down its center lane. The magnificent structure was designed by the architectural firm Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, in conjunction with Haven & Hoyt, architects, and its construction was contracted to H. P. Converse & Company, builders, on April 3, 1920. In a testament to the firm's longevity and good reputation, Fay, Spofford & Thorndike were retained as architects again in 1996, during the bridge's rebuild, which was contracted to the construction company, Daniel O'Connell's Sons.



The Memorial Bridge carries traffic across its graceful arches to what appears to be a virtually undeveloped West Springfield in this view. Note the busy New York, New Haven & Hartford Rail Road Company train yards below the bridge. Interstate 91 - which altered the city's waterfront drastically - is still decades away in this postcard. Folks heading into Springfield over the bridge could continue on straight up Bridge Street, east toward Main, or take a left or right onto Water Street, which would bring them north or south, respectively. West Columbus Avenue now follows part of the route Water Street once traveled. Water Street is seen here running parallel to the railroad tracks.



Bustling and burgeoning Springfield, on the east bank of the Connecticut river, is a sharp contrast to the almost pastoral West Side in the last postcard. The Campanile rises majestically over the scene, symbol of citizens' pride and purpose and sense of duty to the city's aesthetic draw and charm. Springfield architect and author, Eugene C. Gardner, gives a prime example of that civic expectation of enhancement and endowment through cultural concrete when he writes in 1905 - a full ten years before the Hampden County Commissioners had even adjourned the first meeting to discuss the construction of a new bridge to replace the nearly century-old wooden covered structure in place at the time:
"In most emphatic terms, a noble bridge declares the courage and skill of its builders, and there is no grander illustration of the beauty of utility than a bridge of scientific construction and scholarly design. In no other artificial construction is there so little occasion for questionable compromise between grace and convenience, between economy and strength, between daily drudgery and perennial delight. Is it likely that Springfield will neglect an opportunity that has been a century in coming? Is it likely that the county, of which Springfield is the capital, will fail to recognize the benefit sure to follow the closer union and more intimate relationship of the parts of which the county is composed?

To say that a bridge should be built across the Connecticut river in this city in the form of a broad avenue, uniting the east and west shores as closely as Main street unites State to the streets and avenues a thousand feet to the north and south, is not a fantastic speculation, a day dream - it is the plainest common sense of the equine variety. To propose anything inadequate in breadth and strength for the multitudinous traffic sure to occupy it twenty-five years hence - fifty years - a century, - is to forget the lesson of the North-end bridge and waste the public funds by temporizing. To affirm that dignity and stateliness, graceful proportions and beauty of detail are necessarily more difficult to attain than their opposites, is to betray disqualifying ignorance."
Gardner was correct, of course. We are indeed fortunate to have such a "noble bridge" in our midst, an integral part of the ebb and flow of the Connecticut River Valley, our very own fine and "grander illustration of the beauty of utility."

Check out EWM post Postcards: The Old Toll Bridge, Springfield, Massachusetts, to learn more about the bridge which was replaced by the Memorial Bridge.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.



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3 comments:

Tommy said...

Good pictures and writing.

Mark T. Alamed said...

Thanks Tom.

Anonymous said...

I have a commerative bronze relief of the hamden county bridge.The bridge on one side and the moto on the other.Probably sold or given out to dignitaries on dedication day .Two inches in diameter.Nicely done.Would like to know the designer of this piece.....chuckrman13@yahoo.com