By HHA Member Tom Helmer
Everyone understands the concept of a bridge, but before people put an effort into constructing a bridge they simply waded across the river or stream at a shallow place. In time these shallows were marked by usage trails and became part of the “Transportation Network” of long ago. The first problem was seasonal. It was not fun to wade across any cold river or brook in the Fall through Spring. And in early Spring the water level was high, and it became dangerous or impossible to wade across a swollen river. Unless you had a boat or a bridge, you simply stayed on your side.
For little “Trickle Brooks”, the easiest thing to do was keep throwing softball sized rocks in the brook. As your feet and wagon wheels smushed down the banks and widened the flow, just keep chuckin’ rocks, and eventually your wagon wheels won’t get bogged down in the reinforced mud of your ford. But your feet will still get wet. No one at HHA ever says life was easy for the Colonials!
The earliest 4 season crossings on Tomaquag Brook were the naturally occurring rocks at “3 hop crossing” and “4 hop crossing”
Trickle brooks were relatively easy to make a 4 season bridge over. First you dig out a straight channel for the flow and two parallel side walls which you build. Then you span the two walls with 4 to 5 large fieldstones to make a decking for your road, and poof! There are at least seven of these Colonial bridges still functioning in Tomaquag Valley! There is an 8th one that is incorporated into today’s modern Tomaquag road!
The Colonists built a 4 season bridge across Tomaquag Brook 150 yards upstream from Jedediah Davis’ Grist mill. The footings are apparent, although the bridge washed away long ago.
The old “Meeting House Bridge” was a much larger wooden structure vital to our ancestors transportation network. It crossed the Pawcatuck River at about the current location of today’s Route 3 bridge between Westerly and Hopkinton. At this one convenient location, over the years there have been at least three versions of foot/wagon/automobile bridges and one Trolley bridge.
In this Photo Tour, you can see pictures of the two wooden “Meeting House” Bridges, and the current Route 3 concrete archway rising above the remains of central footing of the old wooden bridges. For a field trip, park on the shoulder of Hiscox Road and view that central footing, still above the surface in low water, as well as the two bridge end footings. The Northern one is easily visible from Hiscox, and all three are clearly seen from the side walk across the span on the Western side. From the Eastern side, you can see the concrete footing for the Trolley bridge, all of them remembering the good old days.
Also pictured is an unusual bridge that carries one of the magnificent modern walls lining Chase Hill Road. If the waller just continued his three foot wide wall across that seasonal brook, fairly rapidly the small gaps between the stones would clog up and create a mini swamp. Instead, he built a “Wall Bridge”, just like a Colonial trickle brook crossing, only just wide enough for his beautiful wall.
I encourage you to take a drive along Chase Hill Road.
These walls, all modern built, will be landmarks for a long time into the future!