Monday, December 13, 2010

An Invitation from the Past: Natchaug River Bridge, Connecticut

Thumbing through a three-ring binder from the bookshelf, I came across a neatly folded invitation to a 1934 bridge dedication. In late May 1934, the Honorable Andrew T. J. Clark in Brooklyn, Connecticut was invited to the planned opening of a bridge built across the Natchaug River by the boys of Camp Fernow.

The invitation lists the governor of Connecticut along with the commander of the 3rd Corps area and the director of the US ECW, Robert Fechner as guests of honor. Today I wonder if these esteemed gentlemen did in fact attend the ceremony and I wonder if Mr. Andrew Clark made the journey.

A Google search for images of the bridge yielded nothing. The bridge does receive mention on a Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection website and I’m sad to read that the bridge is no longer deemed safe for vehicle or pedestrian traffic. Perhaps it crumbles away in plain sight of visitors to the Natchaug State Forest. My hope is that the bridge is at least marked with interpretive signage.

Elsewhere on the web you’ll find a personal remembrance of life at Camp Fernow posted at the CCC Legacy website. Former CCC enrollee Bill Beckett writes fondly of his time helping construct the bridge using the simple tools and equipment available at the time – unlike today when cranes and heavy equipment are the norm. He recollects with pride that the bridge is still in use as of his writing in 2009. One has to wonder what has taken place in the last year or so to make forest officials decide to close the bridge. I also wonder if Mr. Beckett was present at the dedication ceremony, standing proudly with his fellow enrollees that day in June 1934. Most certainly there were speeches and, as the invitation states, a tour of the CCC camp. Maybe a lunch was served to guests and visiting dignitaries. It’s important to remember the useful part these dedications and open houses played in the life of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Camps were often filled with young men from out of state and in an era when older residents may have rarely traveled outside their own county, having “outsiders” was a potential disruption that could cause friction if not handled with tact and diplomacy. Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, dances and dedications open to the public were all means of making local residents feel welcome and a useful tool to show folks the value of CCC work in their area. The ceremony to mark the opening of the Natchaug River bridge was no doubt just such an event.

When we think of fall colors, we often think of places like Connecticut and in our mind’s eye there is often a stone bridge mantled in a shroud of red and gold fallen leaves, a crisp cold forest stream coursing below, its waters soon to be frozen as winter nudges closer. That is what I’m thinking of now as I draw the understandable parallel between the lifespan of this stone bridge and the lifespan of the men who built it. They are in the autumn of their years, all of them, and it will fall to those of us who remain to preserve their important work in the form of stone bridges like the one across the Natchaug River on Fernow Road in a scenic corner of Connecticut.

1 comment:

Tim MacSweeney said...

As of November 1, 2005 the Natchaug Bridge built by the CCC on Fernow Road was closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. This bridge, off State Route 198 between Chaplin and Eastford, leads to the main forest entrance. So, to reach the forest and the CCC trail you must travel north on State Route 198 and turn east onto General Lyon Road. This road is a short distance south of Route 44 in the Phoenixville section of Eastford – don’t go too far! From General Lyon Road turn east onto Pilfershire Road. You’ll cross the Still River and head uphill for about 1.7 miles where you bear right onto Kingsbury Road. After you go past the General Lyon Memorial and the Natchaug Forest Headquarters buildings, turn right onto Fernow Road. The road will probably be barricaded at this point due to the bridge closure. Park here and walk downhill on Fernow Road about 1/3 mile. The CCC trail starts at a small parking area on the left (south) side of the road about a tenth of a mile east of the Natchaug River. There is a sign posted at the trailhead.