Bridges? Not another article about bridges gasped a sizable portion of the Twelve Mile Circle audience. Yes, I decided to feature more bridges, all from my latest journey. This time I added a bit of a twist. The first two bridges were more interesting than usual. Then I segued back to my standard fare of covered bridges that one should feel free to read about or simply look at the pretty pictures and move along. I won’t take it personally.
Steve from CTMQ and I continued trading tweets as my path finally hit Connecticut and we approached our in-person visit. I’d made it as far as Willimantic for lunch at Willimantic Brewing and would see Steve that evening. He noticed my lunchtime tweet and suggested I see a nearby geo-oddity. It was a bridge. He cited a Wikipedia page on the subject:
Willimantic Footbridge: Willimantic is the home of the Willimantic Footbridge (established in 1907), which is the only footbridge in the United States to connect two state highways, as well as crossing all three major forms of transportation (road, rail, and river).
It sounded fascinating and it was an easy walk so I strolled there after lunch (map). Wikipedia didn’t have a completely accurate listing however, a billionth example of why one shouldn’t place complete confidence in its claims. A marker at the base of the bridge said,
A landmark since 1906, the 635-foot-long footbridge connects the city’s commercial core with a residential area to the south. It is the only such structure east of the Mississippi to span sidewalks, vehicle traffic, an active railroad and a river…
The Willimantic Footbridge represented something remarkable either for the United States or for some portion thereof, I supposed. I walked from one end and back, then headed to my car for the onward journey towards Hartford. I never figured out why Willimantic even had a pedestrian bridge. It didn’t seem like it offered much of a shortcut. Maybe the larger crossings came later.
Walkway Over the Hudson
I debunked the Willimantic Footbridge claim the very next day. The-Very-Next-Day. I hadn’t planned to poke a hole in the pride and joy of Willimantic, it just happened. The Walkway Over the Hudson first appeared on 12MC in an article I called Impressive Pedestrian Bridges. It began as a railroad bridge, fell into decay, and blossomed again when preservationists converted it to pedestrian use, a linear park over the Hudson River. Guinness World Records proclaimed its 1.28 mile (2.06 kilometre) span "the world’s longest pedestrian bridge." I’d hope to see this ever since I started planning my trip. I knew we’d go there once we got to Poughkeepsie, New York (map).
Thoughts of Willimantic came to mind as I walked over the mighty Hudson. I passed above streets, several residential and even a highway. I passed over two sets of train tracks on either side of the river including one that serviced Amtrak. Of course I passed over the Hudson River itself, considerably more imposing than the diminutive Willimantic River. I supposed the marker in Willimantic must have been posted before 2009 when the Walkway Over the Hudson opened as a pedestrian passage. They needed to change it to read "the only such structure east of the Hudson," or something like that, although it wasn’t nearly as impressive. Or maybe they could qualify it by calling it the only such structure designed as a pedestrian bridge. Or maybe they could just pretend the Walkway Over the Hudson didn’t exist, which is probably what actually happened.
Days fell into themes. There was a day of geo-oddities, a day of history, a day of county counting, and a day of breweries. Our drive between races in Maine and New Hampshire was particularly brief so we had plenty of extra time to explore the countryside. Ironically, there wasn’t much to see besides the scenery. There were plenty of covered bridges though, all in close alignment while our path seemed followed the Contoocook River. I’d never hear of the Contoocook. It flowed for about 70 mi (110 km) through an attractive stretch of southern New Hampshire popular with anglers and boaters, a perfect backdrop for covered bridges.
Four bridges could be visited easily in less than an hour.
Contoocook Railroad Bridge
With a river called Contoocook, one might naturally expect a town called Contoocook, and so it came to pass. A railroad came through that town and over that river, and it needed a bridge. This was the first time I’d seen a covered bridge built specifically for trains (map). An historic marker at the site explained,
Built in 1899 on the granite abutments of an older span, this is the world’s oldest surviving covered railroad bridge. It was probably designed by Boston & Maine Railroad engineer Jonathan Parker Snow (1848-1933) and built by carpenter David Hazelton (1832-1908). Under Snow, the Boston & Maine utilized wooden bridges on its branch lines until after 1900, longer than any other major railroad…
Remembering once again that Willimantic marker, I didn’t know whether I could trust the longevity claim or not. Who was I to doubt it though?
Next came Hopkinton and Rowell’s Covered Bridge (map). This crossing was old, built in 1853, and still stood strong. We drove across it a couple of times and it seemed quite sturdy.
At the complete opposite end of history stood the Henniker Bridge, taking the name of the town where it stood (map). Its modern construction reflected traditional techniques so it was hard to tell that it dated only to 1972. This was more of an architectural statement than a utilitarian structure, a footpath between the main campus of New England College and nearby athletic fields on the other side of the Contoocook. It could be difficult to find parking on a busy campus although it wasn’t a problem here. The college dedicated a couple of 15-minute parking spots near the base of the bridge, behind Colby Hall, one of its residential buildings.
The final covered bridge on this brief excursion along the Contoocook River fell along our direct route without even a minor detour (map). We couldn’t have missed this bridge if we’d wanted to because we drove right across it on the way to our race at Greenfield State Park. Here the Contoocook marked the boundary between the towns of Hancock and Greenfield so that added slightly to my interest. This was a "newer" bridge too, albeit not quite as new as Henniker, being built in 1937.
New England articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
New England, with some of the earliest colonies in a place that would later become the United States, harbored hundreds of years of history along with a people who appreciated their ties to the past. Most of my previous trips through the region hugged the coast. I relished an opportunity to wander inland to places less tread by tourists. The history there may not have been as memorable as its coastal cousins although it had been continuous and intense since colonial times.
Every little rural town oozed Eighteenth Century charm. We must have driven through hundreds of hamlets on backcountry roads taking the straightest line between races, although the lines were never truly straight. They all seemed to follow old colonial paths that followed ancient Native American trails that followed tracks through the forest blazed by animals millennia ago.
Hancock, New Hampshire (map) seemed to follow the typical model of a New England settlement with its town square, gazebo and a protestant church with requisite steeple. This place was settled by Revolutionary War veterans who named it for John Hancock, "signer of the Declaration of Independence (who happened to own nearly a thousand acres within the town boundaries), [although] there is no evidence that Governor Hancock ever visited or benefited the community in any way."
We stayed overnight in Hancock because our race took place in a nearby state park the next morning. I got to walk around and take a few photos. Otherwise we would have driven through Hancock without stopping to appreciate it, like we did with countless other Hancock equivalents, similarly attractive and historic.
I’d gotten in the habit of looking for National Park Service properties before each trip because there were often hidden gems to be found. NPS listed scores of options in New England although they tended to congregate along the coast. Pickings were slim farther inland. The Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Springfield, Massachusetts looked interesting though, and caught my eye (map). It wasn’t far from our route either. The Armory became a new nation’s primary arsenal during the Revolutionary War and "for nearly two centuries, the US Armed Forces and American industry looked to Springfield Armory for innovative engineering and superior firearms." It also included the "world’s largest historic US military small arms collection." Too bad I didn’t get to see it.
If I collected National Park Service passport stamps, a hobby I know some 12MC readers enjoy, I probably would have paid closer attention to the website. The armory closed on Tuesdays before Memorial Day. It never dawned on me that a park would be closed on a Tuesday. So there we stood outside of this large edifice and took a few photos because we were already there and what else were we supposed to do, and then moved on to other activities we’d planned for Springfield. The whole setup was kind-of weird too. The armory shared a campus with a local community college so visitors had to wind their way around the school to the back, and past people directing traffic who made sure everyone parked in the right spot.
I probably don’t care enough about firearms to go back although I certainly enjoy wandering outside for a few moments on a beautiful day.
Mark Twain House
I guess I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), lived in Connecticut for many years although his writing drew more inspiration from his formative years in Missouri, growing up along the Mississippi River. Still, themes of New England crept into books occasionally such as in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. He lived in a fancy house in Hartford for seventeen years, 1874 to 1891 (map). The home has since been preserved as the Mark Twain House and Museum. Some of his most influential and best-known works were penned within his upper-floor study on that property, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, and of course the aforementioned Connecticut Yankee.
The tour wound through the interior of Twain’s home although it was one of those places that didn’t allow indoor photographs. The 12MC audience will have to take my word that it was pretty impressive inside, or simply examine the many photos plainly visible on the Intertubes. The docent explained that Twain was a lousy businessman in spite of his success as an author. The house actually belonged to his wife who came from a very wealthy family. She owned it outright in her name. Otherwise Twain would have lost the house during bankruptcy.
Air Line Trail
I mentioned the Air Line Trail, its proximity to the Connecticut-Massachusetts-Rhode Island Tripoint and the infamous 4-train collision that happened there in Of Course Geo-Oddities. It began as the New Haven, Middletown and Willimantic Railroad (NHM&W) in 1873 as a high speed corridor between Boston and New York City. According to the Air Line State Park Trail site, the name came from an imaginary shortest distance "through the air" between those two cities. While completing that theoretical line proved impossible, portions did adhere to the standard and requiring great cuts, fills and bridges to tame the terrain. This railroad was quite profitable for awhile.
Successful businessmen and prominent citizens, including President Benjamin Harrison, rode this increasingly well known line that had gained its name as it sped across Eastern Connecticut with its seemingly luminescent cars being easily recognized – especially at twilight.
The Air Line was a marvel of the Industrial Revolution, like so many other endeavors that took root in 19th century New England. Gradually technology overcame the usefulness of the Air Line and now the former rail bed has been converted into a linear park, for walkers, bikers and equestrians to enjoy.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
I had so much fun at the Woodrow Wilson birthplace a few months ago that I decided to check out the lifelong home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York (map). Technically this wasn’t New England although it seemed close enough so I kept it on the list.
The residence had been preserved as part of his Presidential Library and Museum. There were distinct differences between Wilson’s home and Roosevelt’s abode. Woodrow Wilson was the son of a minister and his home reflected a certain modesty. FDR lived on what would accurately be described as an "estate" called Springwood occupying an entire square mile of land (2.6 square kilometres). He came from a distinguished family and his father increased the family fortune even farther through coal and railroad interests.
Roosevelt became the first president to designate a presidential library to hold his records. He built the library on his estate and kept an office there that he used during trips to Hyde Park while president. Some of his Fireside Chat radio broadcasts took place in the library. His original office remained untouched after he passed away in 1945 and it became a permanent exhibit, an integral part of the museum. Prior to FDR, presidential papers didn’t necessarily have a permanent home. They were personal property of each president and many records became lost over time. He set a precedent by donating his papers to the American people along with a means for public access by designating a permanent library. He then went a step further by donated his entire estate to the government with the understanding that he and his immediate family could remain there indefinitely. The family relinquished the property soon after his death.
Reminders of the Past Everywhere
The past always lurked around the corner wherever we traveled through New England, sometimes in unexpected ways. I was reminded of that as we checked into our hotel in Rochester, New Hampshire (map). There, beside the parking lot and next to the highway stood a small cemetery. It reminded me of the impermanence of people who came before. I doubted that families who established a cemetery a century and a half ago in what was probably a rustic setting ever imagined their loved ones would end up sandwiched between a noisy road and a strip mall. Nothing lasts forever.
New England articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
I returned recently from another one of my hurried trips, this one to the New England states. All of them. Plus New York for good measure. Those of you who followed Twelve Mile Circle’s Twitter account knew that already. The rest of the 12MC audience may not have noticed anything at all. I wrote a bunch of articles in advance and they posted automatically, quite happily, as I cruised backcountry roads for a week.
Once again, I chauffeured my favorite runner through small town America as part of a Mainly Marathons event, this time to the New England Series. This group catered specifically to people hoping to run marathons or half-marathons in all 50 U.S. States (my favorite runner focused on half-marathons), stringing together back-to-back races. The 2016 New England series stopped at Sanford, Maine; Greenfield, New Hampshire; Springfield, Vermont; Northfield, Massachusetts; Coventry, Rhode Island; Simsbury, Connecticut; and New Paltz, New York, on succeeding days, May 15-21. A race happened at dawn, then the circus packed up and moved on to the next state, and the cycle repeated itself. Seven races, seven states, seven days.
This was the fourth time I’ve attended a Mainly Marathons series, with my runner completing the Dust Bowl, Riverboat and Center of the Nation series previously. That was a lot of states. With New England now done, I’ve attended their races in obscure corners of 23 different states. Recently the Mainly Marathons group added a five kilometre option mostly for those of us who attended along with the longer-distance runners. I actually ran the 5K each day mostly so I wouldn’t stand next to the snack table for a couple of hours and stuff myself silly. I don’t have any intention of moving up to the half-marathon or marathon distances though. 5K each day was plenty enough for me.
We made time, as usual, for touring during the afternoon as we traveled between races. I’ll get into all of the details in the next batch of articles. I thought I’d start things off more scattershot with a few signs I noticed along the way. I’ve had a thing for unusual signs and this trip was no different. Ordinarily I’d present these at the end of a series although I thought I’d use them to whet the 12MC appetite. Think of today as an appetizer.
Welcome to Vermont
Surprisingly, I stopped at only one state border to record my crossing. This one occurred on U.S. Route 5 / Vermont Route 11 just after we passed the Connecticut River, as we left New Hampshire (map). This photo was particularly notable for my lack of skills as I managed to capture the top of the side-view mirror at the bottom of the image. That happened because I was too lazy to get out of the car when we stopped, and too incompetent to hold a camera high enough to get a decent picture. That was also the only photo I took of the car, now as I considered it, although I probably should have taken more. We rented a compact car because it was just the two of us. We figured it would be fine and we’d save some gas money. The rental agency must have given away all of the compacts on the lot though, because we ended up with a black, two-door Ford Mustang with only 500 miles on the odometer. We cruised around New England for a week in a sweet ride.
Think of the Children
I still wasn’t sure why the Toonerville Trail in Springfield, Vermont (map) felt it was necessary to ask us politely with a please and a thank you to think about our children in ALL CAPS. So I thought of the children. Unfortunately my only thought was a sign invoking the overworn and pandering expression "Think of the Children."
While fixated on thinking of the children, or so I thought, I began to notice strange minivan school buses in multiple New England states. I’d never seen anything like them before. Were they used by private schools with far-flung pupils? Or for select children in special programs? I could definitely consider a role for these non-bus buses, and wondered if this was a common solution in New England (or elsewhere) or if I’d focused on them simply because they were unusual. I spotted this example on Interstate 91 near Deerfield, Massachusetts (map).
Also, before anyone becomes too concerned with my driving skills and posts a disapproving comment, let it be known that my passenger took this photograph. I kept both hands on the wheel and maintained a safe distance.
I’ve often featured street names on 12MC, the more unusual the better. Generally I’ve only observed them on a map. That’s why I was so pleased to find Marginal Way in Sanford, Maine in the wild (map). It was right on the race course! Runners actually plodded directly down Marginal Way. I wondered about the name. How should a homeowner feel about property considered marginal? Would it affect its resale value? It ran along the edge — maybe the margin? — of a nearby pond. Was that how it earned its weird designation?
This was an instance where I thought a sign might be overkill. Certainly people have jumped from bridges, although generally very high ones and often quite tragically. That wouldn’t be the case here at the Henniker Bridge in Henniker, New Hampshire (map), only a few feet above the water. This was a covered bridge of recent vintage constructed as a pedestrian pathway over the Contoocook River. It served as a footpath between the main campus of New England College and various athletic fields.
College students do seem to get into all kinds of antics. Maybe the sign was necessary after all.
The driving force, the entire premise of this series, were races held in different states. Travel distances ranked higher in important than sightseeing for most participants. As a result, races generally fell within rural, out-of-the-way places near state borders. Sometimes this took us onto America’s Byways, for example the beautiful Connecticut River Byway extending through several states including this spot in Northfield, Massachusetts (map). We ended up putting a little over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) on that Mustang, many of them on winding country roads through quiet scenery.
New England articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr