Mark Kramer: A View From The Bridge

Mark Kramer spent 3 decades as a writer-in residence at Smith College, Boston University and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation. He also enjoyed a storied career as a book and magazine writer, editor, speaker and consultant.

Mark has not lived in Westport since graduating from Staples High School in 1961. But — as an alert “06880” reader — he notes from afar that “the Saugatuck (Cribari) Bridge is threatened by traffic and time.”

It meant a lot to his childhood — and the town. Mark also has an idea for the bridge’s future. He writes:

I fished from that bridge in the 1950s. I loved watching the crew of volunteers (including John Santella from his dad’s barber shop), Paul Nette from Bridge Garage, and a few firemen from the nearly adjacent firehouse answer the call to pivot it open.

They appeared with a giant wrench — a waist-high T of iron, shaped like 3-pins of the traditional lug wrench that came in auto tool kits.

They stuck the socket into an embedded peg in the center of the bridge, and leaned into the crosspieces of the wrench. Slowly the massive bridge swung parallel to the river, a sailboat or two passed under, they swung it closed again and walked back to work.

Hand cranking the “Bridge Street Bridge,” back in the day.

People crossed the walkway for the pleasure of the view from midstream. They probably still do.

There’s an example of bridge preservation, connecting the twin towns of Shelburne Falls and Buckland, Massachusetts — not far from Smith College — that might be a feasible way for Saugatuck to go.

The “Bridge of Flowers” has had a big part in invigorating the commercial life of the twin towns, which has seen craft workshops and good restaurants come, along with scads of tourists on weekends.

After the local trolley quit, its bridge was long neglected. Then a local committee, led by a visionary real estate woman, raised some minimal funds, turned out lots of volunteer help, and turned it into a 3-season amazement, a walkers’ bridge bulging with horticultural wonders.

The “Bridge of Flowers.”

Now active committees, and perhaps a paid employee or two, keep flowers planted and flowing. It is a community-binding wonder, defying time and making folks happy.

Meanwhile, a new bridge across the Deerfield serves traffic a few hundred yards upstream.

I lived a town away for years, and my perspective on the Bridge of Flowers shifted.

At first it was a great place to bring the in-laws. But then I aged enough so the neighborly generosity that made it happen came into view.

The visitors’ book at the Buckland end of the bridge fills daily with thanks from  people who drive there, and walk the bridge. Many stop for lunch or supper, and browse the shops selling ice cream, used books, ceramics and paintings — a good sort of tourism to draw.

Mark hopes Westporters will look into the idea of a Bridge of Flowers — with a new bridge built nearby. Click here for the Bridge of Flowers website. For more information and personal insights, email Mark directly:


8 responses to “Mark Kramer: A View From The Bridge

  1. I don’t know about the pretty flowers bit, but the idea of the state seizing land for another bridge is not a new idea. In 1923 there was discussion of using Ferry Lane and in 1958, there was serious discussion by state highway officials about moving it north to Franklin and Saugatuck Ave. Both plans met with stiff opposition. In 1968, the state came back with plans for a four lane highway between South Compo and Saugatuck Ave. – complete with clover leaf exits. That nearly caused riots. Be careful what you wish for, this silly, spendthrift state has no shortage of solutions looking for problems.

  2. Karen Saidel Schur

    That is such special area- We go to Bridge of Flowers every year and it really does connect the town is a beautiful way.

  3. I second everything Mark writes–we were carpool friends in Staples high school, friends when he lived in the Valley, and I am a huge fan of both his writing and the Bridge of Flowers.–Jane Yolen

  4. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    I echo what Morley has said and what I have also said….Be careful what you wish for. Wait! I am shouting : Be careful what you wish for. Take your thinking all the way to a conclusion. Think Forensically. If this, what then. This area is vital, commercially, ecologically and visually. I remember all the tears and legal battles that took place when the Turnpike when through. Fight for what is right for the town and its residents.

  5. This article has nothing to do with our real dilemma about traffic and antiquated infrastructure. Such sepia-toned memories of $1 haircuts are actually counter-productive to solving a very real problem of traffic because they isolate a place and time, and hence the discussion, away from the changes of the last 50 years, or even that last 20, making the solutions harder to arrive at.

    Everyone would love to stroll their local streets like days of yore, before they became Waze-routed thoroughfares. But that doesn’t seem likely to change. Everyone except Westporters are looking for a way to offload traffic from 95, especially in the case of accidents. Sticking our heads in the sand and pining for the good ole days is like saying how we loved the old hand-pumped firetrucks or the mom and pop stores on Main Street. Either time marches on, or you have to figure out a way for the past to be viable.

    20 years of putting our heads in the sand and saying NIMBY puts us in the same dilemma as housing. We wish that more teachers, police and shop owners lived in town, but fought 8-30g for 20 years while the problems have gotten worse and the solutions have become less palitable, and now we can’t get the teachers and the cops to live here because someone else is doing the development.

    Until there’s a forward-thinking discussion that recognizes the whole system, the problem is likely to be resolved in the courts against the us, and in a way that we weren’t able to influence. That works for a few years (when most of these commentators are gone), and then we end up with a solution that is worse much worse than it could have been. – Chris Woods

  6. Juliie Fatherley

    Have been there and done it. A glorious experience and one to be considered for our town. We can look back and appreciate our past and, yet,
    not get stuck in it but what gives our community its visual uniqueness? Uppermost is preserving some of our more significant historic houses
    and historic communities. Once these vestiges of our amazing past are gone we are nothing more than yet another look alike community. Julie Fatherley

  7. I learned this watching my father, Sidney Kramer, who founded Save Westport Now and led it for a useful half-century (while my mom ran the Remarkable Bookshop): A civic idea like this is a Rorshach Inkblot Test in which everyone, pro and con, sees their own concerns as the essence of the image. I think the Shelburne Falls Bridge of Flowers is a good example to explore, in its own right, as part of a bigger-picture solution. It has pros and cons. As avid respondents have made clear, it does not solve Westport’s ecological woes, nor preserve our historic houses, nor solve the Rt. 95 traffic overload, nor clear up whether state land seizure is a new or good idea, nor undermine the proven need to be wary of what you wish for, nor address the stupidity of State planning, nor do much to make Westport inviting for more teachers and police.

    Nevertheless, such a bridge could work well in Saugatuck, drawing the right type of customers to shops, providing joy in its own right (for sepia-toned flower-smellers, and many others too), and drawing neighbors together in a worthy volunteer effort. If Sid were still with us, he’d probably have taken it on–he often enjoyed the bridge in Shelburne Falls while visiting me. I have just gotten a note from the organizing committee there offering to share administrative methods with anyone interested. A Westport-based leader in residence (I teach in Boston) who is intrigued with the project would have to step forward, form a little study group, and introduce a more developed version of the idea into whatever processes are dealing or failing to deal with the fate of the much-enjoyed pivot bridge in Saugatuck.

    • You know, of course, that there has been a developer talking about a bridge across the river for years, as stone’s throw from the site ot the Remarkable Book shop. That hasn’t happened, nor has it changed the situation in Saugatuck. – Chris Woods