Who’s Bridge — Hyde Park?

July 30th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Okay, okay. It’s time to roll around in Hyde Park’s local history. We seem to be about to move from one Boston neighborhood, Jamaica Plain, to this other one. The task isn’t hard.

HP went from farmland to housing with some industry. It was the last Boston neighborhood annexed (1912). It doesn’t have many historical sites or landmarks. While there are numerous nice houses that belonged to non-famous people, only one building features in the Boston Landmark’s printed flyer (not online) on Hyde Park. Christ Church (1895) was designed by the same architect who planned the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.

The local historical society doesn’t have an online presence. You need to trot to the HP branch of the public library to read up on the area. Otherwise, during the U.S. Civil War, the first black troops (the 54th Regiment) trained in HP. There’s a memorial, but no other evidence of Camp Meigs.

However, there is  a bridge.

There’s much talk about Paul’s Bridge. Even on the recent Neponset Greenway ride, the leaders mentioned it. However, they didn’t point it out, much less lead us through the trees to see it.

I knew it was roughly at the very bottom of Boston, that is at the very bottom of Hyde Park. I saw from internet searches that it was along the Neponset Valley Parkway. I saw mentions that it had been part of Stony Brook Reservation (now north and west of the Parkway. So why wasn’t I seeing it?

The image in the Landmarks brochure shows a grand stone structure with three  elegant stone arches. How could I miss that?

Paul’s BridgeYesterday, I set off on a long bike ride, including the initial task postively ID’ing Paul’s Bridge. To my humbled amazement, I had likely passed over it many hundreds of times and never paid attention. It’s as though nature and the city had conspired to hide it. Even its landmark sign is in overgrowth, off to one side, and drab brown against brown tree trunks.

First, about the name. That’s a mundane tale too. The area had the habit at the time of applying large landowners’ last names to bridges. Simply, the Pauls owned the biggest farm nearby.

From the flyer, I learned that the 1719 wooden bridge linking Dorchester, Milton and Dedham wore out and was replaced several times. It was Paul’s Bridge by 1784. In 1807, an update combined stone abutments and a wooden roadway. In 1949, Thomas Hollis Jr. of Milton built a stone version, without mortar, just using fitted stone. In 1930, landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff redesigned a version wide enough for auto traffic and with stone parapets on top.

So, that sounds obvious, eh? Not so fast, city slicker.

The bridge that I had driven over many times and cycled over many more — I’m fond of Blue Hill and Canton bike rides, is there, but submerged by geography and botany. Head east on Neponset Valley Parkway, either were Hyde Park Avenue curves at the bottom or off the southern end of Truman Parkway. Just before the right curve in the road at Brush Hill Road, you passed over Paul’s Bridge. So there.

Paul’s Bridge closeThe topping stones are short, under three feet. More important, you see asphalt and fewer than one arch.

The too subtle sign may be obvious from the running path, but not from the road, even at cycle speeds. It is on the southeast corner of the crossing.

Then if you bushwhack a little  on the south side, you can make out the arches over the river. You can cross the street to the north side to get a little better view. There is a beaten path down the steep incline with slightly less obstructed views.

Pic click tricks: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If this opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button to return.

house plaqueThis would be a better sight either from a canoe or at winter without all the foliage. Yet, it’s attractive and looks historic.

In fact, there is little history involved at all. No poets commemorated  important crossings or battles there. There weren’t any. It reminds me of the brass plaque on the front of my current house.

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2 Responses

  1. adamg says:

    One of the things I find absolutely fascinating about Hyde Park and Readville (to the point of boring my wife and kid to death) is its industrial past. No markers or monuments, but you almost don’t need them as you ride or walk along Hyde Park Avenue from the Shaws (on Factory Street, named for the giant factory that used to sit across the street, where the senior complex and McDonald’s are now) all the way past the tunnel into Readville, and along side/parallel streets, such as Business, looking at all the industrial buidlings in various states of, well, decay, or re-use (one of the old factory buildings is now being turned into a charter school – if done right, it’s going to be most cool).

    Walk across the Sprague Street bridge and look out over the train tracks and you’ll feel like you’re right in the middle of somebody’s extensive model-train set.

    But for true adventure, nothing beats kayaking down the Neponset. There’s a place near Paul’s Bridge where you can launch a kayak and you can get almost to Mattapan before you have to turn back (at the dam by the old paper mill that’s being turned into a mall). Almost nobody ever makes the journey, so you pretty much have the river (almost more of a very narrow lake, it moves so slowly, at least in normal years) all to yourself.

    Also, the mural of Hyde Park history down by the Fairmount commuter-rail stop is pretty cool.

  2. Miss Grimke says:

    We will kayak that.

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