Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Postcards: The Old Toll Bridge, Springfield, Massachusetts

The third time is indeed a charm when one considers that the grand and magnificent Hampden County Memorial Bridge is the third span built to link the city of Springfield with the town of West Springfield in the approximate location it was laid down in the early 1920s. Prior to that, two very divergent structures served the purpose of transit over the steady waters of the Connecticut river. The first lasted but nine years from its opening on October 30, 1805, collapsing under a heavy load of military material and razed in 1814. The second bridge, pictured in the two postcards below, saw a century pass before its replacement, coming into service on October 1, 1816.

This postcard bears a postmark of October 1, 1906, the 90th birthday of "Damon's bridge," known as such after its builder, Isaac Damon, of Northampton, Mass. Could the sender have known the date's significance?

Damon's bridge wasn't without its early problems. The Spring waters of the swollen Connecticut river damaged the span in 1818, resulting in the necessity of a partial rebuild. The two early bridges were toll bridges, the operations of which were awarded by lottery. The collection of tolls stopped in 1872, although apparently the designation by locals didn't, as evidenced by the two captions referring to the "Old Toll" bridge above.

Like everything else, the cost of crossing the bridge as an alternative to swimming or sailing across the river fluctuated with time's passage. The book Springfield Present and Prospective (Pond & Campbell, 1905), gives us a fine snapshot of what staying dry would set you back in 1808:
"The tolls as established in 1808 were as follows: For each foot passenger, 3 cents; each horse and rider, 7 cents; each horse and chaise, chair or sulky, 16 cents; each coach, chariot, phaeton,or other four-wheeled carriage for passengers, if drawn by two horses, 33 cents; for each additional horse, 6 cents; each curricle, other than two-wheeled carriages for passengers, drawn by more than one horse, 25 cents, each sleigh drawn by one horse, 10 cents; if by two horses, 12 1/2 cents; and for each additional horse, 3 cents; for each cart, sled, or carriage of burden drawn by one beast, 10 cents; if drawn by two beasts, 16 cents; and if by more and not exceeding four beasts, 20 cents; and for each additional beast, 4 cents; for each horse, ass or mule without a rider, and for neat cattle, 4 cents each; for sheep or swine, 1 cent each; and one person and no more shall be all0wed to each team to pass free of toll. But in favor of inhabitants of Springfield or West Springfield some modifications were made."
I suppose I shouldn't be giving Springfield's Financial Control Board any ideas. 'Tis best to keep quiet and travel without impediment or fee in our phaetons and curricles across the great river that waters our valley. It's a bit cold for swimming.

Special thanks to Barbara Shaffer, a faithful friend of history, who donated these postcards (and many more) to EWM to share with you. Her generosity is deeply appreciated.

For more on the Hampden County Memorial Bridge, check out the earlier EWM post Postcards: Hampden County Memorial Bridge.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care!

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sojourner said...

Wow--you picked up on the anniversary date on the postmark! That is a keen historian's observation. Nice writeup! I believe Damon also built Old First Church. Any thoughts on what could be done with that edifice after the congregation disbands?

Mark T. Alamed said...

Pure luck noticing the date! ;-)

I'm not sure about the Old First Church. Maybe that would be a good poll for the citizens of Springfield. Many on the MassLive Springfield Forum were very receptive to Ralph Slate's idea to preserve the old one-room schoolhouse on White Street. If anything, the preservation of the church is even more important to the city from a historical perspective. It would be nice to see everyone put their money where their mouth is.

Thanks again for the postcards, Barbara!