For some, it’s difficult to imagine looking up the Farmington River and not seeing Collinsville’s aging beauty, Town Bridge. So, one can only imagine the view of those Canton residents lucky enough to have lived among the covered bridges of the 1800s.
In the 1800s, there were no less than nine covered bridges across the Farmington River; three of them in Collinsville: Town Bridge, which still exists in its iron iteration; Highway Bridge, over the falls by the Collins Company; and the Three Bridges, aka Railroad Bridge, whose stone abutments are seen behind .
Besides their architectural interest, the covers on these bridges served the purpose of reducing the negative impact the elements had on wooden trusses. Nevertheless, by the mid-1900s, only one of the original nine remained; all others having been replaced by iron and steel models. But, back to the 1800’s…….
Built as a pedestrian friendly throughway, Highway Bridge crossed the Farmington River over a 215-foot span. The Bridge, built in 1849, had covered walkways on either side of the roadway. It was designed in a pattern known as a town lattice plan; where the planks crisscrossed in a lattice formation. By 1888, the Bridge was worn out; its walking paths decayed to the extent that they were closed. So, in 1893 it was replaced by a new iron version. The new design had its own charm, with flowers built into the metal pattern.
Then, the flood of August, 1955 washed out Highway Bridge.
In the course of just over two weeks, Connecticut’s Highway Department spent $30,000 to build a temporary structure over the Farmington River, where Highway Bridge once spanned. The Bailey Bridge was 260 feet long and only accommodated one-way traffic. In 1956, the concrete bridge we know today was erected.
While no photographs of a covered, wooden Town Bridge exist, historians believed it was a 165 foot, near-twin to Highway Bridge; without the pedestrian walkways. It eventually evolved into the iron structure we know today, in 1895.
While it survived the 1955 flood, Town Bridge required significant reinforcements to its support structure. Over the near term, however, it became one of the only pedestrian avenues to get across the Farmington; with the exception of the potentially more perilous Three Bridges trestle.
Railroad Bridge/Three Bridges
The covered Railroad Bridge was built around 1870. It was not meant for pedestrian traffic. Neither was the Three Bridges trestle, built around 1904, to replace it. Nevertheless, the Bridges became a lifeline for Canton residents and businesses needing to get across the Farmington. It has been said that the New Haven & Northampton Railroad, which owned the Bridges, was concerned that another flood could force river-side homes into the water; creating a sort of dam against the Bridges which would divert the river’s flood waters straight into town.
And then there was the issue of liability. While the trains no longer ran, the Bridges' make-shift pedestrian walkway, crossing over wooden planks that apparently allowed views down to the river, created a liability that could not be ignored. So, NHNR tore down the Three Bridges, leaving only the stone abutments we see today.
Here’s the Deal
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Cosker who provided the research & helped About Town keep the photos of the different bridges in the 1800s’s straight!
Canton Historical Museum; 11 Front Street, Collinsville. 860-693-2793: www.cantonmuseum.org.