Bernard A. Drew | Our Berkshires: Bush-whacking

By Bernard A. Drew WINDSOR — We parked on Windsor Bush Road in the town of Windsor.

Near Fred Bird’s old house. Walked down the dirt road beneath a growing canopy of trees. We encountered No Trespassing signs.

I’ll keep a long story short. We couldn’t find our quarry. We conveniently found a town highway equipment operator who was rolling Windigo Road with a German-made Hamm machine.

We told him we were looking for the old Ball bridge. Robert Sumner said he’d only worked for the town for a year, didn’t know the back roads that well, but he had heard of Ball. He consulted his cell phone.

It’s called Coleman Bridge? Yes, the Colemans lived nearby. Crosses Phelps Brook?

Yes. Near the juncture with Windsor Pond Brook? Yes.

Well, you’re looking in the right place. Highway Superintendent John Denno showed up in a huge dump truck. We told our story.

The posted land is to the right at a fork, Denno said. Go left, he suggested. As a chaser to my previous column about an old metal highway bridge newly installed as a ramp at a commercial development in Great Barrington, I wondered what other 19th century bridges survive in the Berkshires.

Bridges were an early local history interest. Forty years ago Donna and I catalogued more than a dozen still in use. Today there are five specimens, only two in their original positions, none open to vehicular traffic.

The oldest is the George Shattuck Morison-designed 1882 Butler Bridge over the Housatonic River near the Norman Rockwell Museum in Glendale. It was restored in the 1990s. Morison (1842-1903) mostly designed railroad spans.

Next in age is the 1888 Berlin bridge in Great Barrington, just mentioned. Three others bridges are, remarkably, the products of one builder, Charles H. Ball (1861-1928), who had a sawmill and machine shop East Windsor.

Ball made bridges of large iron pipes and sold a couple dozen regionally based on his 1893 Patent No.

502,165. The largest stood on Holiday Cottage Road in Dalton until 1990, when it was replaced. Dalton had the old span trucked to a new home, where it rests today, out of service behind the Windsor Historical House on Route 9.

INTO WINDSOR BUSH We found that bridge and also the Ball bridge behind the elementary school in Cummington. The last time we saw that one, in the 1970s, it stood on Stage Road off Route 9.

In its new location it provides children access to a town playground on the other side of a small stream/ A third Ball pipe bridge sits in the northeast corner of Windsor. We made a second try to find it. I’ll again compact the detail.

We parked again and followed a footpath that turned into an animal trail. No. We skipped the next footpath and whacked through the bushes in Windsor Bush (that sort of rhymes) following a stone wall.

No sign of the road. It became spongy underfoot. It was dense with new growth and impossible to skirt.

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How could a road and a bridge go missing?

The road was abandoned. No one lived between here and Plainfield. Where’s the bridge?

A listed by the Massachusetts Historical Commission in 1980? (I wrote the inventory form.) A bridge measured and documented by Historic American Engineering Record in 1990? Donna followed our progress on her cellphone’s GPS. I scoffed at the reliability of GPS in a place as remote as Windsor Bush.

But there was indeed service. We returned to the skipped path and followed it. Someone had mown the grass.

Nothing indicated this was an old road, much less Windsor Bush Road. The path ended abruptly at water. We were at the edge of a pond.

No sign of a road, an abutment, a bridge. As I flailed through the underbrush to no avail, Donna saw a spot of orange 20 yards or so away. The Coleman Bridge was painted orange.

Was that the bridge? Way out there? Really?

Surrounded by water and a brush? Yes. If I’d reread a report by Alan J.

Lutenegger in the Society for Industrial Archaeology Newsletter in 2005 before making this trip, I’d have known what was going on. He noted a beaver dam downstream had raised the water level to within 3 inches of the bridge’s wooden deck, “raising the possibility that the bridge will soon be submerged and inaccessible. There is currently no plan to preserve it.” Chester Gehman posted photos of the Coleman Bridge on the electronic resource Bridgehunter.com in 2017 showing water inching higher.

In 2019 there was no way to get to the bridge to see how high the water was. Highway Superintendent Denno had suggested we might go out Windigo Road and come back on Windsor Bush Road from the other end. I doubted that road would be passable with rut-shy Dodge.

We’d have to walk. And when I checked a Google satellite view, I could see that, if anything, the flooding is wider on the Plainfield end. So without Army Corps of Engineers sanction, without Conservation Commission go-ahead, but with plenty of innate engineering know-how, Buck and Beverly Beaver have in their own way protected the old bridge.

That’s preservation in the extreme. Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.

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