Friday, December 4, 2009

Troubling Bridge Over Waters

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte

John Fowler’s tour of New York’s Auburn Prison having ended very early in the morning he was back to the American Hotel shortly after seven AM, in time for breakfast. Immediately afterwards he was off on foot for a look at the rest of this village on Owasco Creek, with its approximately 4,000 inhabitants (probably excluding the inmates of the penitentiary).

He remarks on the one principal street, running east and west, containing businesses and residences, a courthouse and another hotel, the Western Exchange. In addition to a number of new buildings going up there are, “extensive mills and manufactories.” He also mentions the canal running about seven miles to the south and the plans to construct a waterway connecting to it. We’ll hope, if that happens, the engineers employed have a little better sense of direction – the canal lies more to the west.

His coach continues on to the village of Cayuga, which does lie to the west, on the northeastern corner of the lake bearing the same name, at a spot a few miles south of where the Cayuga & Seneca Canal, completed two years earlier, enters the lake at its northern end. And here he encounters one of the recent marvels of engineering in North America – the Cayuga Bridge.

Built back in 1800 to enhance travel across the state, and to bypass the Montezuma Swamp further to the north, the mile-long-wooden bridge had collapsed four years later, then been rebuilt in 1812 and 1813. Back in 1818 another English traveler, John Duncan, described his crossing of the 132-foot wide wooden structure. “The wheels of our chariot rolled along the level platform, with a smoothness to which we had long been strangers; and so luxuriant seemed the contrast, that on getting to the farther end, some of the passengers proposed that we should turn the horses and enjoy it a second time!"

The span’s greatest enemy was the weight of the ice forming on its span during the upstate winters. By the time Mr. Fowler crossed over, the experience was not quite as salubrious as that enjoyed by Duncan.

“. . . a most barbarous structure, built upon piles, and conveying the idea, if not the reality, of great insecurity; as the planks, or logs, upon which you pass, uncovered with gravel, soil, or other material, are of all shapes and sizes, heedlessly laid across from side to side, without rails or any kind of fastening whatever. In many instances I observed them scarcely resting upon the supports on each side, and the waters of the lake every where visible below: of course, as they were acted upon by the weight and motion of the coach and horses, they were perpetually jolting up and down, so that it was a matter of astonishment to me how the animals could pass over at the rate they did, a good brisk trot, without getting their feet between them; the accompanying noise and clatter, too, was anything but agreeable. An English traveller, however, must leave all his fears and prejudices at home, and be here content to dash on, over, under, or through whatever it may please the driver and his steeds to convey him."

Guess it’s all in your timing.

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