The High Street Bridge Caper

If there is one thing I can say about Ashland residents, nothing ceases to amaze us. Consider our property taxes as an example. Proposition 2 1/2 was supposed to limit how much our tax rate can increase annually, but how many times have we gone to Town Meeting for a debt exclusion that is only supposed to last 5 years or so and our taxes never seem to go down after the bonds were paid off? Maybe they did, but then we probably voted for a new debt exclusion, or maybe an operational override that replaced it. Anyway, I won’t call “Help Me Hank” because we do, hopefully in good faith as a community, vote these things in. Today’s story however, is about another “What happened to it?” Please consider the High Street Bridge.

If you cross the High Street Bridge today it is obviously new. The bridge it replaced was over 100 years old and constructed using Warren Pony trusses on each side. The Warren Truss Bridge is a design patented by 19th century designer James Warren, and this particular model was popular with the Commonwealth and used throughout the state. It is considered of historic value, and whenever extensive repairs or replacement of something historic is considered every agency comes out of the woodwork. Enter the Massachusetts Historical Commission (HMC). Then Representative John Stefanini stated in a 1993 article in the Ashland Directions: “Last month the Town received final approval from these agencies (various state and federal) for the construction plans and funding for the project. The biggest roadblock was the Massachusetts Historical Commission.”

The MHC investigated and wanted the trusses preserved. The good folk at the Ashland Historical Commission suggested to the state and feds that the bridge be preserved and relocated, and they agreed. A year after the closing of the bridge, plans were in place to move it to a new location near the original start of the Boston Marathon (now Marathon Park). The bridge would be scaled down to a foot bridge and span the Sudbury River between the Ashland Fish and Game Club property and town owned land on Pleasant St. There was some question of ownership of the land next to the Ashland Fish and Game Club by the Sudbury River, but the land was deeded to the club by action of Town Meeting in the ’60s. Eventually all parties involved agreed. The bridge would be refurbished and installed, maintained by the Town, and everything seemed to be in place. Or was it?

The Warren bridge was closed in 1992, dismantled, and stored next to the tracks while the new bridge was under design and construction. I still remember seeing the Warren trusses along the tracks. The state then installed a temporary one-lane bridge know as a Bailey Bridge while the lengthy process progressed. At an estimated cost of $1.2 million, the new bridge was to be located to the left of the original bridge if seen from High Street heading down the hill. If you look to the right just before the new bridge, the access road to the MBTA parking lot was the original road to the bridge.

The new bridge was completed in 1999 and normal traffic was restored to High Street. But something was missing. What happened to the Warren Bridge that was supposed to cross the Sudbury? Marathon Park is there, but no foot bridge. I made a few inquiries, but people’s memories are a little hazy on the subject. I spoke with Ashland’s Dave Foster and he grumbled a bit at the question. Dave, along with Ashland Historical Society’s Dick Fannon was instrumental in the planning and procurement process, and apparently both were away when the decision to sell the bridge was made. “Dick and I were both away. We came back and the bridge was gone.” said Foster. When I asked him where it went, he wasn’t 100% sure. “A town north of here.” was all he said. You would think someone would notice a bridge leaving town, but maybe it left during the night. I’ll keep my eyes open for it.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
September 2011