While there has been a great deal of restoration and renovation around Providence there has also occurred deterioration of buildings and structures. One such structure is an old railroad bridge that I first saw when I was a freshman at RISD. In fact, I spent a few months drawing it from nearly every angle that I could as the main part of my drawing class that year. While the bridge was in good condition when I knew it, the structure is no longer used and is in a permanently raised state. There is deterioration to the wooden railroad ties and quite a lot of graffiti. The railroad line was discontinued around 1978.
Back in 1972 and 1973 when I was sketching there, a number of short freight train of three or four cars that would come along. An operator was on duty named Norman during the weekdays, and I got to know him fairly well. He was an old timer who had been the bridge operator for more than a decade. He was present when a fire broke out some years earlier and it was so severe that some of the rails became warped. He gave me some background on the mechanics of the bridge and stories about his time there, as well.
I have all of the sketches saved that I ever made of the bridge along with many color and monochrome photos, and even a black and white video showing the bridge lowering and lifting which was shot on the old Sony reel to reel format of that time period.
I've been interested to find others who clearly like the look and the history of the bridge just as I did so many years ago. I have found a number of recent photos on the web and even a great 360 degree panoramic view looking to towards the bridge and the East Providence end beyond.
Here's the url:
In addition, I found a New Haven Railroad discussion forum in which the bridge had been described by someone extremely knowledgeable about it which follows here:
"The Seekonk River Bridge is a Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge. The span would roll back, up and away from the horizontal position on a rolling quandrant (the similar in appearance bascule-type bridge rotated on a horizontal trunion; both completed their movement with the span in a near vertical position). The Seekonk bridge was built (in an opened position to allow for river traffic) by the Phoenix Bridge Company and went into service with the opening of the East Side Tunnel in November 1908. The lift span is 135 feet with a clear width between fenders of 90 feet. The width of the bridged section of the river is 1,150 feet; eleven deck plate girder spans complete the bridge. The bridge was built to bring the PW&B trains to Union Station but the NYNH&H also had the bottleneck at Pawtucket in mind (an insufficient two track line ran through the center of the city with several grade crossings slowing movements). The tunnel and bridge provided a route between Union Station and East Junction that avoided the Pawtucket problem (Northup Ave. classification yard had not yet been built). The Pawtucket problem was solved several years later when the New Haven relocated the line from Woodlawn to Boston Switch, depressed the tracks, eliminated the grade crossings, and four tracked the line. The tunnel therefore did not have as much traffic as its potential allowed."
This bridge is an important part of Providence's rail history and it's unfortunate that such a key element should be allowed to rust and rot away.
Below: a vintage postcard of the bridge I purchased on Ebay. The bridge operator's building is clearly visible in this old color photo.
Below: three photos from a group of 24 color photos I shot in 1973 when the bridge was fully operational and prior to today's graffiti covered situation that is found on the structure.
Aerial view showing the bridge's location on the Seekonk River. Towards the center of the photo is College Hill, the location of Brown University and RISD. Beyond is the Providence River and downtown Providence. The highway on the left is I-195. (Both aerial photos are courtesy of MassGIS/Google Earth.)
A closer look at the bridge.
A series of spring, 1977 photos I took of the bridge showing it to be in excellent condition. These were the last photos I took of the bridge.
A close-up view of the tracks when the bridge was raised.
A photo showing the view towards East Providence with the bridge raised.
A more recent photo found on the web showing the present condition of the bridge. No longer present is the small building where the bridge operator worked during weekdays.
Text and personal photos number 1 through 6 are ©2008 by B+Co., Inc.