Bridges in Medford.

by John H. Hooper.
[Read before The Medford Historical Society.]

The bridge at Mistick.

THE first bridge across Mistick river was built upon the location of the present Cradock bridge, it being the most easterly place, where the land on each side of the river afforded the best means of approaching thereto. The date of its construction is unknown; it was the work of Governor Cradock's agent, and was built of wood, 154 feet 5 inches long, and about 10 feet wide, and was raised about 3 feet above marsh level; its approach on the south side of the river over the marsh was by means of a causeway.

The town of Charlestown brought a suit against Governor Cradock's agent for obstructing the river with a [p. 2] bridge, to the hindrance of boats, and exacting toll for cattle that passed over the bridge, and appointed a committee to prosecute the suit, and also appointed parties to attend court as witnesses.

Charlestown records say that on the 26th of the 10th month, 1638, It was ordered that Mr. Walter Palmer and Richard Sprague should follow the suit at the Quarter Court against Mr. Cradock's agent, for stopping up Mistick river with a bridge, to the hindrance of boats, and exacting toll (without any orders) of cattle that go over the bridge.

George Buncker, Geo. Hutchinson, and James Hayden were appointed to be at the General Court next, to witness to the concerning of Mr. Cradock's bridge.’

No mention is made of this suit in the records of the General Court.

In 1879, when the old drawbridge was removed to prepare for the foundations of the present stone bridge, a portion of an ancient structure was found on the north side of the river, and the removal of this old structure disclosed the methods of its construction. First, there was laid in the mud at right angles with the river, and a little below low-water mark, a quantity of brush nearly a foot in thickness, cut about four or five feet in length; then on this brush, laid lengthwise the river, were large elm logs. Then on these logs was built the abutment of the bridge, composed of logs roughly squared by the axe, laid in courses, each course laid in an opposite direction from the one on which it rested. This abutment was about 10 feet in width, and was found to be in a perfect state of preservation.

From what is known of the preservation of wood in tidal waters we may be justified in believing that this old structure was the work of Governor Cradock's agent in those early days.

It is probable that the same method of construction was followed the entire length of the northerly abutment, as the bridge extended some 70 feet northerly from the [p. 3] present line of the river, the river having been filled in since the bridge was built.

There is a remarkably soft bottom to the river on the westerly side of the bridge; in driving piles for the present stone bridge one was driven 64 feet below low-water mark, and it settled 6 inches under the last blow of the hammer. This soft bottom runs diagonally across the river; while about one-third of the north abutment extends over this soft place, only about 6 feet of the pier is so situated, and there are no traces of it under the south abutment.

This bridge, as will be hereinafter shown, was both rude and weak in its construction, in need of frequent repairs, and, from the peculiar circumstances connected with its care and maintenance, a source of constant annoyance, not only to the inhabitants of Medford, but also to the inhabitants of the neighboring towns, as well as to the Great and General Court.

All printed authorities have heretofore fixed the date of the commencement of this bridge as being in the year 1638.

On a plan of Governor Winthrop's Ten Hills farm, dated the 8th month (October), 1637, is shown a bridge across Mistick river at the place now occupied by the present bridge; there is a singular fact connected with the location of this bridge, which would seem to indicate that if not commenced earlier than the year 1637 (as we believe it to have been) it was at least in contemplation as early as the year 1631. It was in that year that Governor Winthrop received the grant of land known as the Ten Hills farm, and the northwest corner of this grant was located exactly at the southeast corner of the bridge. Could this have been accidental, or was it by design?

As early as the year 1629 there were settlers on both sides of the Mistick river. On the north side Mr. Cradock's men had established themselves, and on the south side Charlestown's territory was being located [p. 4] upon. As these and other settlements in the Colony grew, it must have been early evident that the ford at Mistick, with the water in the river from o to 2 feet deep twice in 24 hours, would be inadequate to the wants of the growing towns, especially as Medford was in the line of travel between the north and south shores of Massachusetts bay. It is entirely within the bounds of possibility to believe that the site of this bridge was selected as early as the year 1631, if not before.

The first reference to this bridge in the records of the General Court is in the year 1639:

‘At the General Court held in Boston the 22nd. of the 3rd. month (called May) 1639. Mr. Mathew Cradock is freed of rates to the County by agreement of the Court, for the year ensuing from this day in regard to his charge in building the bridge, and the county is to finish it at the charge of the public, Mr. Davidson and Lieut. Sprague to see it done and to bring in their bill of charges.’

This action of the General Court shows that, although Mistick bridge was first commenced by Mr. Cradock as a private enterprise, yet it so commended itself to the Court as a public benefit that Mr. Cradock was reimbursed for what he had previously done towards its construction, by freeing him from County rates for one year; and it was ordered to be finished at the public expense, and, as we shall see, the Court ordered it to be repaired from time to time thereafter, at the expense of the Province. The records of the General Court say that ‘Oct. 10th. 1641 it is ordered that Lieut. Sprague and Edward Converse should repair the bridge at Medford over Mistick river, and the same be paid for out of the Treasury.’

Oct 17th. 1643. ‘Mr. Edward Tomlins should have 22 pounds to repair Mistick bridge, to make it strong and sufficient, for which sum of 22 pound he hath undertaken it.’

‘At a General Court at Boston, for elections the 6th. [p. 5] of the 3rd. month 1646. Ralph Sprague and Edward Converse are appointed to view tile bridge at Mistick, and what charge they conceive meet to be presently expended for the making it sufficient and prevent the ruin thereof, or by further delay to endanger it, by agreeing with workmen for the complete repairing thereof and to make their return to Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Russell and what they shall do herein to be satisfied out of the Treasury.’

March, 1647-8. ‘Capt. Ting, Mr. Glover, Lieft. Pendleton, Willie Parker and Edward Jackson are appointed a committee, they or any of them to view Mistick bridge, and certify to the next Court, the two first named to give notice and three days warning to the rest.’

Of the duties of this committee, or of their report, we can only judge by the action of the Court.

March, 1647-8. ‘It was voted by the whole Court that Mistick bridge, should be made and maintained by the County at the public charge.’

This action of the General Court, placing upon the County the charge of maintaining Mistick bridge, was not satisfactory to Mr. Cradock's agent, as will be shown by the following action of the Court:

Oct. 27, 1648. ‘In answer to the petition of Nic. Davidson in behalf of Mr. Cradock for the repairing and maintaining of Mistick bridge by the County, the said Mr. Davidson being sent for, the evidence he can give being heard and examined with the records of the General Court, it appears that the General Court did engage for an exemption from rates for that year, and finishing the same on their own charges, which accordingly hath been done.’

That the troubles of Mr. Cradock's agent in regard to a safe and convenient way across Mistick river did not cease by reason of his petition and the indefinite action of the Court thereon, can be inferred by the record five years later. [p. 6]

May 18, 1653. ‘Upon a petition presented by Mr. Nicholas Davidson in behalf of Mr. Cradock, in reference to Mistick bridge, it is ordered by this Court and hereby declared that, if any person or persons, shall appear that will engage sufficiently to build, repair and maintain the bridge at Mistick, at his or their proper cost and charges, it shall be lawful, and all and every such person or persons so engaging, are hereby authorized, and have full power to ask, require, and receive of every single person passing over said bridge, one penny, and for every horse and man sixpence, for every beast two pence, and for every cart one shilling, and this to continue so long as the bridge shall be sufficiently maintained as aforesaid.’

Whether any person or persons availed themselves of the privileges above granted, or whether the bridge was kept in repair by the County, we are unable to determine. It is clear, however, from this time henceforth the County Court had jurisdiction over Mistick bridge, for, three years later, April 1, 1656, the County Court appointed a committee to erect Mistick bridge, and to levy the charges thereon upon the County according to law, and on Dec. 30, 1656, a committee was appointed by the Court ‘to take into consideration the many defects of the bridges within the limits of this County, and to recommend the methods of keeping said bridges in repair, and the Court order that all bridges already made, shall be repaired at the charge and care of the several towns and precincts wherein they lay.’

May 15, 1657, the committee reported in full upon the subject submitted to them, and we quote only such portions of the report as relate to Mistick bridge, as follows: ‘Only those two bridges, viz: at Billerica and Mistick, to be finished at the County's charge, and from time to come maintained by the towns and precincts in which they are.’

This return of the committee was accepted by the County Court, and the same was presented to the [p. 7] General Court for its approval, which was had on the 18th of the 3d month, 1657. We find from this action of the Court that the two bridges, viz., at Billerica and Mistick, were the only ones to be rebuilt at the expense of the County, the bridge at Mistick being already in progress of construction by a committee previously appointed for that purpose. Under date of June 16, 1657, we find in the records of the County Court the following order: ‘The County Court being informed that the bridge over Mistick river, being now ready to be raised, is likely to be delayed for want of hands to carry on that work, which cannot be secured at the request of the undertakers thereof, do therefore order, that the committee already empowered by the Court for that work, may impress carpenters and sawyers to be helpful therein, provided that due recompense be made them out of the Counties pay, and that none be pressed exceeding one fortnights labor.’

The bridge at that time must have been built good and strong, for we find no further mention of it until July 17, 1668, when, according to the records of the town of Charlestown, a meeting of a part of the Board of Selectmen of that town, and commissioners from the towns of Woburn, Reading, Malden, and Medford, took place to consider measures for a division of Mistick bridge among the several towns who were required by law to mend and maintain it. These commissioners agreed ‘that the towns of Woburn, Reading, Malden and Medford, should pay to the town of Charlestown five pounds in good pay viz: in Corn, or the like, for the present amending of the southerly half of Mistick bridge, and that in the future, and for all time to come, the said southerly half of said bridge, being 77 feet 24 inches in length, should be mended and maintained by the said town of Charlestown, and the northerly half thereof being of like length, should be mended and maintained by the other towns above named.’ [p. 8]

It is a fact well attested by the many records that have been handed down to us that the four towns which assumed the care of the northerly half of the bridge made a division of the same, so that each town assumed a certain specified portion to keep in repair, and although there is no record of any such action, we are of the opinion that the commissioners representing these four towns must at that time have agreed as to the proportional part of said northerly half of the bridge that each town should care for. It is worthy of note at this time that some years after, Medford and Reading appointed committees to search the records for some evidence of such division, and Woburn inhabitants declared, in town meeting assembled, that what they had formerly done towards the repairing of Mistick bridge was only an act of charity to Medford. That a division was recognized by the several towns interested, and also by the County Court, is made evident by the records of that Court.

June 18, 1672. ‘Malden, Medford and Woburn enjoined to repair Mistick bridge, before the Oct. term of Court on penalty of 100 pounds for default.’

Oct. 17, 1672. ‘Charlestown reported that their part of the bridge was done, and Woburn that they had taken effectual order for doing their part of the work.’

Sept. 6, 1687. ‘The Court being informed that Mistick bridge is defective, order that it be forthwith repaired, and that there be rails on each side where they are wanted; by those towns that have been formerly enjoined to do the same, the towns concerned are Charlestown, Medford, Malden, Reading and Woburn, whose Selectmen are ordered to take effectual care and order for repairing the same, Charlestown to appoint the times of meeting for surveying and completing the said work, and to make returns.’

Jan. 20, 1692-3. ‘The Court order the Selectmen of Woburn, Malden and Reading be summoned to appear at the next adjournment of this Court, to answer to presentments for defects in their parts of Mistick bridge.’ [p. 9]

Jan. 27, 1692-3. ‘The Selectmen of Medford, Maiden, Woburn and Reading, are called upon to repair the northerly half of Mistick bridge, as they have been wont to do, forthwith, and to make report at the next term of Court, on penalty of Five pounds in money, for each towns neglecting to attend to this order of the Court.’

Evidently but little attention was paid to this order of the Court, for on Dec. 12, 1693, the Court orders the respective towns to appear and answer to the defects in the northerly half of Mistick bridge.

Dec. 26, 1693. ‘The Selectmen of Medford, appear in Court, to answer to their presentment respecting a defect in the Northerly half of Mistick bridge, and say that their part of the bridge is in very good repair. The Selectmen of Woburn, Reading and Malden appear and say that they have nothing to do with the repairing of Mistick bridge, nor should concern themselves therewith.’

The above orders of the Court appear to have caused great excitement in the three towns above-named. In Woburn a meeting of the inhabitants was called Jan. 10, 1693-4, to take the subject into consideration, and the said inhabitants declare, ‘that what they had formerly done towards the repairing of Mistick bridge, was only an Act of Charity to help Medford when they were low and poor, and to help those men that had formerly engaged themselves to help repair the same, and now Medford was much increased both in numbers and in estate, and those gentlemen that had formerly engaged themselves as aforesaid, being all dead, now therefore the said inhabitants once more voted, that as by law they were not engaged to help repair Mistick bridge, so that they would do nothing to the same.’ The town of Woburn also voted to employ counsel for its defence, and the town of Reading voted ‘not to repair Mistick bridge unless compelled to by law.’ Malden also took similar action. The town of Medford [p. 10] appointed a committee ‘to attend the premises from Court to Court, until there should be a final determination and settlement of Mistick bridge.’

The Court of General Sessions of the Peace answered this defiance of these towns in the following manner, Jan. 20, 1693-4: ‘Whereas there was an order of the General Court, referring the settlement of Mistick bridge, to the County Court of Middlesex, and said Court ordering the repairs of said bridge to be by the respective towns of Charlestown, Reading, Woburn, Maiden and Medford, according to their wonted manner, until the General Court make further provision, and the defects of said bridge having been presented to this Court, before the late law respecting bridges, the Court order that the respective towns, do forthwith make sufficient repairs of the said defects of said bridge, upon pains and penalty of five pounds fine to their Majesties for their respective defaults of each of said towns, and then to make returns of their doings therein to the next General Sessions of the Peace for Middlesex, and that for the future it shall be left to the determination of the law.’

Jan. 23, 1693-4. ‘The Selectmen of Medford appear in Court and answer that their part of the bridge is in good repair.’

This prompt order of the Court had its effect upon the delinquent towns, for Woburn, the leader in the controversy, appeared in Court, Dec. 15, 1694, and the record says, ‘That Woburn's return in regard to repairs on the northerly half of Mystic bridge, accepted by the Court.’ Woburn records also say, ‘That the bridge was sufficiently mended by Josiah Convers, Sworn Surveyor, and returns made as aforesaid, and recorded.’ In obeying the order of the Court without appeal, the three towns were doubtless influenced by the language of the Court in saying that these defects in the bridge were brought to its notice before the late law respecting bridges, and also by the decision of the Court that in [p. 11] the future it should be left to the determination of the law. These towns based their hopes of avoiding in the future any expense on account of Mistick bridge upon the late law above referred to; how vain were their hopes will be hereinafter shown.

In 1698 the town of Medford was again complained of for defects in the northerly half of Mistick bridge, and it voted ‘to empower a lawyer, referring to answer a presentment for defect in Mistick bridge.’

March 8, 1698. ‘Lieut. Peter Tufts, Stephen Francis, and Thomas Willis, Selectmen of Medford, appear in Court, to answer for defects in the north end of Mistick bridge, and inform the Court that their part of the bridge is in good repair, and that the defect is in the part appertaining to Reading, Woburn, and Malden, whereupon the Court order that those towns appear and show reason why they should not repair their part of said bridge according to former usage.’

The town of Medford, fearing that its interests might be imperilled at this time, voted, March 28, 1698, ‘to empower Mr. John Leverett for the further defending the town, referring to Mistick bridge, in case there be need.’

April 8, 1698. The County Court again say: ‘The northerly half of Medford, alias Mistick, bridge having been presented to the Court as defective and dangerous, and the respective towns of Woburn, Reading, and Maiden, that were formerly and from time to time wont to repair the same, having been summoned to appear in Court and show cause why said part of said bridge, should not be repaired by them according to former usage, and the said towns having been heard, the Court order that the said towns make speedy and sufficient repairs on said northerly half of said bridge, in proportion according to former usage, upon penalty of Five pounds fine, for each towns default, and that they make returns to this Court. Woburn, Malden, and Reading appeal.’ [p. 12]

The defendant towns claimed before the Court of Appeal that they were not by law compelled to assist in the repairing of Mistick bridge, and referred to a law passed by the General Court in 1693 compelling towns to choose, annually, one or more surveyors of highways, who should take care that all highways, private ways, causeys, and bridges lying within the limits of such towns, should be kept in repair at the expense of the town wherein they were situated; it was provided, however, that this law should only apply to cases where it was not otherwise settled.

The decision of the Court was, that in the case of Mistick bridge the law of 1693 did not apply, as it had been otherwise settled as to how said bridge should be repaired, and the defendant towns were obliged to submit.

Dec. 26, 1701. ‘The Selectmen of Woburn appear in Court to answer to their presentment for deficientcy in the northerly part of Mistick bridge in which they were concerned, and say that they do not deny to mend the bridge, the Court thereupon order that the towns of Woburn, Reading and Malden do mend said bridge, and make it safely passable and to perfect the same, and make it sufficient by the next term of Court, and report their doings on the same, upon penalty of five pounds for each of said towns default.’

Dec. 15, 1702. ‘The Selectmen of Woburn, Reading and Malden appear in court and say the north end of Mistick bridge is repaired and safe.’

Jan. 16, 1704-5. ‘One of the Selectmen of Woburn appeared in Court to answer to a presentment by the Grand Jury concerning a defect in the northerly half of Mistick bridge, and informed the Court that the greatest defect in the said north end of said bridge, is not in their part thereof, and if their part is not in such good repair as it should be, yet they will do it as soon as the season will permit.’

Sept. 18, 1705. ‘It was ordered that Eleazer Wyer [p. 13] and Samuel Brooks, surveyors of highways for the town of Medford, forthwith cause the northerly half of said bridge, to be well and sufficiently repaired and to make return to the Court, of the cost and charges thereof, who will apportion the charges to the several towns that have time out of mind mended and repaired said north end of Mistick bridge.’

The surveyors of Medford attended to this duty and made their returns to the Court, as will appear by the following record, dated Dec. 15, 1705: ‘The surveyors of highways of the town of Medford, who pursuant to the order of the Court, having brought in their account, which according to allowance thereof, amounted to the sum of ten pounds, ten shillings and four pence, of which sum the Court order the towns of Woburn, Reading, and Malden, shall each pay to the said surveyors, three pounds in money, and the town of Medford thirty shillings in money.’

July 5, 714. ‘The Court upon the appearance of the several towns to answer to the matter of Mistick bridge, appoint a committee to view the same, and consider how and in what way it may be repaired out of hand, that it may be safe for his Majesties subjects, and to make their report at an adjourned meeting of the court, to be held on the 13th day of July.’

On the day above mentioned the Committee report, ‘That the bridge is not passable till some string pieces be put on for safety for the present, and that it be new built as soon as possible.’ The Court accepted the report and appointed John Bradshaw and Aaron Cleveland to provide timber and wood, ‘and when they have done the work, to lay the cost and charges thereof before the Court.’

June 16, 1715. ‘The Court pursuant to their late order, apportioning the building of Mistick bridge, amounting to 135 pounds and three shillings. The Court order the same to be paid by the respective towns of Charlestown, Medford, Maiden, Woburn, and Reading, [p. 14] Charlestown to pay to Aaron Cleveland sixty-four pounds and fourteen shillings, and Medford, Malden, Woburn and Reading to pay to John Bradshaw seventeen pounds twelve shillings and three pence each, and that an order be issued that the several sums be paid within two months, upon penalty of being proceeded against for contempt in making default. Woburn, Malden, and Reading appeal, and are put under bonds to prosecute their appeal.’

Medford at that time chose a committee, to prosecute the whole matter to its final settlement.

It is impossible to tell upon what grounds these towns based their appeal; the decision of the Court was against them, and we hear but little complaint in regard to Mistick bridge for some years; they, however, were not easy under their burden of repairing the bridge, and made several ineffectual efforts to rid themselves of the charge. Woburn appointed a committee to go before the General Court with a petition ‘that they be eased of the burden of Mistick bridge, or have liberty of a landing-place at the river.’ And Reading voted ‘to try to get clear of mending Mistick bridge in future.’

In 1725 the town of Charlestown sold to Aaron Cleveland and Samuel Kendall a piece of upland and marsh, situated on the corner of the great road leading to Charlestown and the way leading to the Ford; the way to the river on the upper side of the bridge was also included in the sale, and one of the conditions of the sale was that the grantees should forever maintain and keep in repair the southerly half of Mistick bridge and the causey adjoining.

The records of the County Court say that ‘March 15, 1736, the towns of Medford, Charlestown, Woburn, Reading and Malden by their respective agents appear in Court, to answer to their presentment for not repairing Mistick bridge, and the said towns plead not guilty, and move to be tried by the Court. The Court thereupon order that Francis Foxcroft, Joseph Mason, and [p. 15] Ephraim Williams, Esqrs., be a committee to repair the bridge mentioned in presentment, view the circumstances, and state the divisional line; consider on which side of the line the defect is, and report to the Court at their adjournment, and that the bridge be forthwith repaired by Capt. Aaron Cleveland, and the charge borne as the Court shall order, and that the committee give reasonable notice of their coming. The committee report that the said bridge, except in one particular, in the hollow work, is in such circumstances as that his Majesties subjects may pass over the same with safety, and that the divisional line is, and ought to be, where the two spear or king posts stand, in about the middle of the hollow work or arch of the bridge, and that the defect is in the part that Charlestown ought to maintain, ordered: that the said town of Charlestown pay a fine of five shillings, and pay fees and costs taxed at thirteen pounds eight shillings, and two pence.’

In 1754, by the annexation of that part of Charlestown situated on the south side of the river to the town of Medford, the southerly half of Mistick bridge and the causey adjoining became a charge to the town of Medford (the town tried in vain to secure the help of other towns in caring for the said south part of said bridge), and Samuel Brooks, Esq., Lieut. Stephen Hall, Jr., and Joseph Tufts were chosen a committee to manage affairs relating to the said southerly half of Mistick bridge and the causey adjoining. Medford town records say that July 25, 1757,‘Samuel Brooks, Esq., Stephen Hall, Esq., and Capt. Caleb Brooks, be a committee to agree with suitable persons to rebuild the south side of Medford great bridge with wood or stone.’

We are now to consider the measures taken to place the whole charge of maintaining Mistick bridge upon the town of Medford, it being evident that the methods then existing were most unsatisfactory. At a town-meeting held in Woburn, July 21, 1760, a committee was chosen to agree with the town of Medford upon [p. 16] a sum of money, by the payment of which the said town of Woburn might be finally discharged from any further care of Mistick bridge. The towns of Malden and Reading also chose committees for the same purpose. At a town-meeting held in Medford, May 13, 1761, a committee was chosen ‘to treat with Woburn, Reading, and Malden, concerning Medford bridge, and to acquit any of them that shall comply: from all further charge, and also to treat with the General Court if there be reason.’

Woburn was discharged in consequence of the above vote by paying the sum of 26 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence lawful money.

Reading paid 14 pounds lawful money and Malden 16 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence lawful money.

Agreements were drawn up between Medford and the three towns above named. They were similar in form; we submit that with Woburn only.

Agreement of Medford about ye bridge.

Know all men by these Presents, that we Samuel Brooks Esqr. Stephen Hall Esqr. Zachariah Poole Gentleman, Simon Tufts Gentleman, Seth Blogget Gentleman, and Benjamin Parker, Gentleman, being chosen and impowered by the town of Medford to agree with the town of Woburn about Medford Bridge, we being all of the town of Medford in the County of Middlesex and Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England. Do agree that for and in consideration of the sum of Twenty-six pounds thirteen shillings and four pence of Lawful money paid by the town of Woburn before the ensealing hereof, do hereby acquit and discharge the said town of Woburn from all past and future charges arising by reason of said Bridge, and do in our said capacity take upon the town of Medford all the charge and care of said Bridge, which the town of Woburn was bound to do or ever shall be: In witness [p. 17] whereof we in our said capacity have hereunto sett our hands and seals this seventh day of July annoque Domini one thousand seven hundred and sixty-one, and in the first year of his Majestie's reign.

Signed Sealed and Deilvered in presence of us

Stephen Hall, [L. S.], Simon Tufts, [L. S.], Z. Poole, [L. S.], Parker, [L. S.], Willis Hall, Aaron Hall. Benjn.

In 1789 the town of Medford proposed to widen the bridge and pave the market-place, and the General Court was petitioned to grant a lottery for these purposes. The petitioners were given leave to withdraw.

In 1794 a number of the inhabitants of Medford petitioned the Selectmen to insert an article in the warrant for the annual town-meeting, ‘To see if the town will build a draw in the Great bridge, or give liberty to certain proprietors to do it, upon obtaining permission from the General Court,’ and at the meeting held March 3, 1794, a committee was chosen to confer with the petitioners. Nothing, however, was done towards building a draw until March 5, 1804, when the town chose a committee to examine the bridge, and report in what manner it should be repaired, and April 2, 1804, the committee report, ‘that it is expedient that a new bridge be built, and recommend that it be 30 feet in width, also that it should have four piers of white oak timber of seven spoils each, the two outside piers to be set 20 feet from each other, to have an arch in the center of 26 feet in the clear, and a draw the width of the arch, provided individuals will be at the expenses of it, also that the south abutment should be taken up, so as to make the water-course 66 feet wide, the north abutment being very good to remain as it is, but strengthened by a pier to be placed in a proper position, and the new bridge to be raised three feet higher than the old one,’ the cost of rebuilding without a draw, and including the cost of a temporary bridge was estimated [p. 18] at 1,000 dollars. The committee say that a draw bridge would very much promote the interests and increase the trade of the town.

The town accepted the report, rechose the committee, and authorized them to contract for a new bridge; private parties subscribed $280 as a contribution towards the building of a draw, but the sum was found to be insufficient, and on May 3, 1805, the town instructed the committee to go on and finish it.

May 20, 1807, the town votes that 12 1/2 cents be charged for opening and closing the draw, and May 20, 1809, the town fixes the price of opening the draw at 10 cents for a lighter, and 20 cents for a larger vessel. On April 7, 1817, the town appointed a committee to take into consideration the subject of a drawbridge, and report as to method of hoisting and keeping


the draw in repair, and May 12, 1817, this committee report, ‘that at the time of building the first draw, certain individuals subscribed $280 towards it, but it cost considerable more, and parties failed to subscribe the balance, that the tackle and apparatus was out of order, and that it would cost $100 to put them in proper repair, and they recommend that the draw be fastened up, and no more raised until a sufficient sum be raised [p. 19] by individuals, and paid over to the agent or agents of the town.’

The town accepted the report, and it is presumed that sufficient funds were forthcoming, as it is evident that the draw was soon afterwards in use. On March 2, 1829, ‘A committee was appointed to see if the draw in the Great bridge could be dispensed with, and closed, and on what terms, also what repairs are needed, or whether a new draw must be made.’ This committee reported, May 4, 1829, ‘that having consulted eminent counsel, they are advised that the town is under no legal obligation to make, or maintain a drawbridge, but may build without a draw as heretofore, they also say that they are not aware of any interests that the town has in a draw of sufficient moment to justify the expense of it, they therefore recommend that the draw be closed, and the bridge made permanent, unless individuals should be willing to secure the town against the cost and expense of building and maintaining it, also, that the bridge be rebuilt, and that it be built as wide as the street leading to it from the market place, and with walks on the sides, railed in, for foot passengers.’ This report was accepted by the town, and a committee was chosen to repair the old bridge, or build a new one, as shall appear to them to be for the best interests of the town. This decision of the town to leave the building of a drawbridge to the discretion of a committee did not prove satisfactory to quite a number of the inhabitants of the town, for at a meeting held May 16, 1829, only twelve days later, the town voted to instruct the committee in charge of rebuilding the bridge to build with a draw. This decision of the town to build with a draw was no doubt influenced by the fact that a shipyard had already been established above the bridge, and as early as the year 1815 a ship of 370 tons burden had been built there. The register of vessels built in Medford shows that prior to 1829 some 13 vessels had been built above the bridge, and their construction must have [p. 20] given employment to quite a number of mechanics and laboring men, as the demands of commerce from time to time called for a larger class of vessels; so the demands of the parties interested in shipbuilding caused the town to vote to widen the draw in the Great bridge. In 1833 Mr. George Fuller built at his yard above the bridge a ship of 440 tons burden, and was obliged to make changes in the draw in order to allow her a passage down the river.

Stone bridge.

The town reimbursed Mr. Fuller for his expense, and in 1834 authorized the Selectmen to widen the draw when they should find it necessary to do so. Under this vote the draw was widened, and answered all purposes until 1838, when, in answer to petitions, the town appointed a committee to investigate the subject of widening the draw. In April, 1839, this committee reported in favor of widening the draw 3 feet, and the town accepted their report. In 1845 Mr. Paul Curtis had upon the stocks at his shipyard near the Winthrop-street bridge a ship of 850 tons burden, it being the largest vessel built in Medford up to that [p. 21] date. This ship was too wide to pass through the draw, and the town was again petitioned to widen the draw, and March 12, 1845, chose a committee to repair according to their discretion; under this vote the bridge was rebuilt, the width of the draw increased to 40 feet, and the north abutment relaid. In 1872, the shipyards above the bridge having been abandoned, and there being no further demand for the opening of the draw to navigation, the Selectmen petitioned the General Court for a permit to build a level bridge, which petition was granted, with the proviso that it should be so constructed as to allow a section 40 feet in width to be removed for the passage of vessels up and down the river. No action was taken to rebuild until 1879, when the General Court was again petitioned by sundry inhabitants of the town, asking that the proviso requiring a movable section be repealed. This petition was granted, and the present stone bridge was built in 1880.

The bridge at the wears.

The first mention of a bridge at the wears is in the town records, March I, 1699, ‘Put to vote whether the town will give Mr. John Johnson, three pounds towards building a sufficient horse bridge over the wears, said bridge being railed on each side, and the said bridge raised so high, as there may be a fit passage for boats and rafts up and down said river. Voted in the affirmative.’

No doubt a bridge was built at that time, but it must have been a frail affair, and of short duration, for in December, 1721, the towns of Charlestown and Medford were complained of for not maintaining a bridge at the wears. The town chose a committee to make answer before the Court, and the complaint was dismissed. Again in December, 1736, May, 1738, and in May, 1743, the said towns were indicted by the Grand Jury for neglecting to erect a bridge at the wears. The defence of Medford [p. 22] was that the ford was easy and convenient, and that Medford people seldom or never travelled that way. Each time the towns were found not guilty. In 1746 a petition was presented to Governor Shirley and the General Court, by a number of inhabitants of several towns in Middlesex County, asking for a bridge across Mistick river, at the wears. The town of Medford was notified of this petition, and at a meeting held May 19, 1746, a committee was chosen to draw up an answer thereto. At an adjourned meeting held May 25, 1746, the committee reported; the town accepted their report and voted an answer, in accordance with said report, as follows: ‘To His Excellency William Shirley Esq. Captain General and Governor in chief, in and over His Majesties Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, to the Honorable His Majesties Council and House of Representatives in General Court assembled at Boston on Thursday 29th of May, 1746. The town taking into deliberate consideration the beforementioned petition, humbly beg leave to suggest, that inasmuch as the inhabitants of many of the towns, do pass and repass said place much oftener than the inhabitants of Medford, it being out of our way of marketing, etc. and but seldom used by any of us, we having and helping to maintain a bridge over Mistick river, in the road leading most directly to Boston. And even the inhabitants of the westerly part of Medford, who are nearest to the Wears, rarely travel that way, nor would if there was a bridge. Besides it may be worthy of consideration, that although the town of Medford be one of the smallest in the Province, both as to lands, as well as inhabitants, yet its charges as to the gospel ministry, a grammar school and a representative, are perhaps equal to almost any of the large and wealthy towns about us: therefore and for other reasons (for we would not be tedious) we pray that if your Excellency and Honors, should in your great wisdom, order a bridge to be erected at the place abovementioned, the charge of building and maintaining [p. 23] it, may be laid, either on the County of Middlesex, or proportioned among the inhabitants of a considerable number of towns, who will most use it.’

Charlestown chose a committee to oppose the building of a bridge. The General Court granted the petition for a bridge, and the towns of Medford and Charlestown were ordered to build and maintain one over the wears, and each pay one-half of the expense. August, 1747, the General Court ‘order that Samuel Danforth, William Brattle, and Edmund Trowbridge, Esqrs., be a committee of said Court, empowered and directed, to cause a good and sufficient bridge, to be erected over the place called the Wears, between Medford and Charlestown.’

Nov. 4, 1747, Andrew Hall, Ebenezer Brooks, and Francis Whitmore, Jr., were appointed a committee on behalf of the town of Medford to build one-half of the bridge. Two hundred pounds old tenor was raised to pay for it.

May 12, 1760, the Selectmen were chosen a committee to divide the bridge with the town of Charlestown. From this vote it seems that the bridge was, up to that time, under the joint charge of these towns, and that it was now deemed desirable that each town should care for that portion within its limits. This bridge has been several times rebuilt; it assumed its present shape in 1892; its care and maintenance is now a charge to the city of Medford and the town of Arlington.

Gravelly bridge.

Gravelly bridge is located in Salem street over Gravelly creek, and as the flow of the tide at that point was sufficient to prevent the passage of teams at high water it is more than probable that the first bridge over this creek must have been built in the early days of the settlement of the town. April 27, 1716, Deacon Thomas Willis, John Whitmore, Jonathan Tufts, Ebenezer Brooks, and John Willis were chosen a committee to view and consider what method may be most proper [p. 24] for the repairing of Gravelly bridge, and to report at the next meeting. June 11, 1716, the town voted to raise five pounds to repair the meeting-house and mend Gravelly bridge; in 1751 the town voted to rebuild Gravelly bridge with stone.

The bridges over Marble or Meeting-house and Whitmore brooks in High street were by order of the town rebuilt of stone in 1803; these brooks where crossed by the street are not affected by the flow of the tide. All of the bridges above mentioned were originally built so as to allow fording-places at their sides for the purpose of watering horses and cattle, and they have since been enlarged and extended so as to cover the entire width of the streets.

The bridge over Gravelly creek at Riverside avenue was built in 1746, by private parties, for the purpose of making a convenient way to the tide-mill; and by agreement with the owners of the land over which this way was laid the bridge was built of stone.

The bridge over Mystic river, at Harvard avenue, was built in 1856; it is situated in the city of Medford and town of Arlington, and by a vote of the town of Medford in 1857 was named ‘Usher's bridge.’

The bridge at Winthrop street was built in 1857 and named ‘Winthrop bridge.’ The decree of the County Commissioners required that it should be built with a draw, or with a movable section so as to allow for the passage of vessels.

The bridge at Boston avenue was built in 1873; it is situated in the cities of Medford and Somerville, and its abutments and piers are the same that supported the aqueduct of the Middlesex canal, which crossed the river at that point.

The bridge at Auburn street was also built in 1873.

Middlesex-avenue bridge was built in 1873, by the County of Middlesex; it is situated in the cities of Medford and Somerville, and is maintained at the joint charge of those cities; the care of the bridge and the [p. 25] appointment of draw-tender devolves upon the city of Medford.

The bridge over the Boston & Lowell Railroad at College avenue was built in 1861, by the town of Medford, and is the only bridge over that railroad whose maintenance is chargeable to Medford.

The bridge over this railroad at Winthrop street was originally built eighteen feet in width. When the County Commissioners laid out this way as a county way, they ordered the bridge to be widened to twenty-five feet. The railroad company contended that it was not liable for any expense in widening the bridge, and the matter was settled by the town assuming the expense in widening, and the company assuming its care and maintenance so long as it should be needed for the said company's convenience.

In addition to the railroad bridges above mentioned, there is one at Harvard street, where the street passes under the railroad, and one each at North and Grove streets, where those streets pass over said railroad.

Mention should be made of those bridges that once existed in our streets over the Middlesex canal. There was one over the branch canal at Mystic avenue near Swan street, and one each over the main canal at Main street near Summer street, at Winthrop street near West street, at North street at its junction with West, Cotting, and Auburn streets, and at High street at its junction with Boston avenue.

The abutments of the bridge over the canal, where crossed by the Boston & Lowell Railroad, may still be seen near the Chemical Works, on Boston avenue in the city of Somerville.


Number previously reported, 226.

Begien, Henry M.

Brown, George E.

Bruce, Mrs. F. P.

Buss, Charles B.

Coburn, Charles F.

Fuller, G. S. T.

Hollis, Mrs. Mary P.

Kennedy, Dr. J. S.

Leavitt, Harry B.

Montague, Mrs. Hattie B.

Start, Mrs. Philena C.

Sturtevant, James S.

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