The Toll Bridge

Circa late 1940s toll booth. Photo provided by Ron Patch

The Cheshire Toll Bridge is the iron bridge that connects Springfield and Charlestown. In 1804, the Cheshire Bridge Corporation was granted a charter to build a bridge at this location. This wooden bridge was completed in 1806. A second covered bridge was built in 1831–1833.

The turnpike that began at the Cheshire Bridge angered Charlestown residents. Reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party, one evening the tollhouse was destroyed. A group of men with a couple teams of horses and the aid of a hawser (a strong rope or cable) hooked the teams to the tollhouse and dragged it down to the river. It was sent down the river along with the gate and the toll board.

This bridge was a three-span bridge of the town lattice truss design. The abutments and piers were built of granite. The length of the bridge was 506 feet. “On the upside of each pier, and united with it, is an incline plane of granite, and capped with oak timber, bolted to the stone work, to receive and break the ice, and other obstructions, which may flow against them… The bridge is to be lighted in the day by six dead lights in the sides, and six glazed sky-lights in the roof; and in the night by large lamps, suspended from the center of the beam overhead.”

The contractors for the bridge were Isaac Damons and Lyman Kingsley of Northampton, Mass. Isaac Silsby, a local mason, supervised the construction of the substructure. This bridge was replaced in 1896–1897 with the first steel bridge.

In 1896, the Springfield Electric Railway Company, the operators of the six-mile electric streetcar line connecting Charlestown and Springfield, purchased the covered bridge and tore it down.


First steel bridge

The first iron bridge was three spans and known as a Pratt truss. This bridge carried the electric railroad as well as horse drawn vehicles. The Berlin Iron Bridge Company of Berlin, Conn. was the contractor. This bridge used the same stone piers and abutments as the previous bridge.


Second steel bridge

The second and current iron bridge was built in 1930 by the McClintic-Marshall Company of Pittsburg, Pa. This bridge is also a three-span Pratt truss, 489 feet long.


Cheshire Covered Bridge circa 1896. Photo provided by Ron Patch

My memories

I was about 13 when my father Arnold told me about his experience with the toll bridge. Many will remember paying a toll on the Charlestown side. It cost 10 cents in my father’s time, but 25 cents in my time.

It was about 1937, my father was out late one night with two of his buddies. Dad told me about “running the bridge.” He broke out in a broad smile as he described it: “As I approached the bridge I gained speed. I pushed the headlight control in as I neared the tollbooth and gunned it! There was a light in the booth with a man to take tolls. We flew by the booth, burst out laughing, and opened another beer.” He made it sound so exciting.

It was 1970. I was driving my 1966 Chevelle. I had a case of beer on the back seat (the drinking age was 21. I was 18), and two girls in the front seat. It was late at night, when the bridge appeared. I increased speed, turned the headlights off, and flew across the bridge, past the tollbooth. This was exciting until I made it to the center of Charlestown, and was pulled over by the Charlestown police.

The girls called their parents who came and picked them up. I called Arnold for a brief conversation. Arnold didn’t like being woken up. He knew I was in trouble. “Where are you?” he asked. “I’m at the police station in Charlestown,” I said. “What did you do?” was his next question. I proudly told him, “I ran the toll bridge like you did.”

“You damn fool,” he said. “I went from New Hampshire to Vermont. You can stay where you are.” The next morning my mother came and bailed me out.


The tollbooth

There was an old man who sometimes tended the tollbooth. He was a grumpy old goat. We usually paid him with 25 pennies. One day, Henry stopped to pay the toll. Grumpy was on duty. Thinking quickly, Henry asked if he was listening to the radio. “No, I don’t have one,” says Grumpy. Henry excitedly said, “They just assassinated the President!” Henry drove off, smiling, knowing Grumpy would repeat the fake news to other travelers.


This week’s old saying: “Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are cheese.”



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