A little history lesson on that bridge by Everett Arena

This undated photo shows the Bridge Street bridge over the Merrimack River in Concord next to where Everett Arena is currently situated. Courtesy of James W. Spain
This undated photo shows the Bridge Street bridge over the Merrimack River in Concord next to where Everett Arena is currently situated. Courtesy of James W. Spain

For the Insider

Long before our time, our ancestors would cross the Merrimack River by ferry. This was a somewhat lucrative business when Concord was still a Province of the Crown and named Rumford. The early ferry would charge to transport people, livestock, wagons and merchandise across the river for a few shillings, depending on what the time of day might have been.

As the 1800s approached, the people of Rumford felt that there was a need for a bridge. A covered bridge, in fact, where the surface would be covered and protected from the snow, ice and rain and allow for safe passage. The problem was the cost to build this bridge. 

So, some of the local affluent families gathered the funds needed and built the bridge for the people. Being prudent Yankees with a vested interest in the new covered bridge, they decided that they would have to charge a toll to people that needed to cross the river. The fee was nominal but the people paid the fee and the investors remained pleased with a tidy profit. Our ancestors only crossed the toll bridge when they needed to, with some people deciding that they did not want to pay the fee, especially on Sunday, when they were supposed to be at First Church, on the site of the present-day Walker School Media Center.

After much discussion and some input from the minister and parish, the town was approached with a request. The church asked the town to make a lump-sum annual payment to the owners of the toll bridge, allowing the passage to be free, but only each Sunday. The town agreed to make the annual payment and the toll bridge owners were pleased to open the gate each Sunday. The church was also pleased to see more people attending, and it became quite desirable and somewhat of a novelty to cross the covered bridge without cost. It warmed the old prudent Yankee heart so much that there was an outpouring of support to make the passage over the toll bridge free every day of the week.

So, it was – the old covered toll bridge that was built in 1840 down on Bridge Street started providing free passage and forever after was known as “Free Bridge.” The town supported and maintained the Free Bridge until ice washed it away in 1849. The need for the bridge and the free passage without toll had become so popular that the bridge destroyed in 1849 was rebuilt by the town within one year and again opened in 1850.

After 1850 there were more issues with the covered wooden bridges due to the freshets, ice and flooding. As the 1800s were ending, plans were made to replace the bridge with one made of steel supported by concrete piers. Many of us grew up using the steel bridge that is pictured here and fondly remember the charm of crossing the old Bridge Street Bridge.

 (James W. Spain is a Concord historian.)

Author: James W. Spain

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