Muddy Brook Project: A Bridge Too Far?

More than 4 years ago, I published a story by Wendy Crowther.

The preservation-minded Westporter described the history of 19 Craftsman-style stone bridges, built over Willow, Muddy and Deadman brooks, at the dawn of the automobile age.

The Cross Highway bridge. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

A century later, 9 remained. They’d survived hurricanes, road reconstruction projects, and collisions with decades of distracted drivers.

Wendy noted:

Today we pass over these bridges daily. Yet few of us notice their rustic presence. Their stone walls (“parapets,” in bridge lingo) were designed to convey the sense of a park-like setting — an aesthetic popular at the time.

Most blend seamlessly into the roadside landscape, often appearing to be mere continuations of Westport’s many fieldstone walls. They are simple, folkloric, and historically important.

And she added: “They are at risk.”

Evergreen Avenue (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

She and fellow Westport Preservation Alliance colleague Morley Boyd were particularly concerned about the Kings Highway North Bridge over Willow Brook.

Its enormous stone foundation perhaps dated back to the original “King’s Highway,” built in 1763 to carry mail between New York and Boston.

Large stones in the abutments beneath the Kings Highway North Bridge: Remnants of a much earlier bridge? (Photo: Wendy Crowther)

Wendy and Morley asked the town’s Historic District Commission to list all 9 remaining bridges on the National Register. She said:

We feel that these very special bridges possess the integrity of location, design, setting, materials and workmanship to qualify for this distinguished honor.

On a more visceral level, the preservation of these bridges will allow us to appreciate the human craftsmanship that went into building them.  By picturing the crew of local men who lifted each stone by hand and mortared them in place, we’ll not just notice these bridges — we will feel them.

Nearly half a decade later, they’re still pushing the HDC to act.

That Kings Highway North stone bridge has already been lost.

The one on Greens Farms Road over Muddy Brook may be next. The Flood & Erosion Control Board voted recently to prioritize its replacement.

The Greens Farms Road bridge over Muddy Brook (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Its historic past was not part of the discussion.

That’s a shame, Wendy and Morley say.

“Of the few remaining circa 1910 stone bridges still remaining in Westport, this is the most beautiful due to its length, its gentle bend, and its setting,” Morley notes.

“Perhaps if the board members had known this, they might have asked different questions, and perhaps some may have changed the way they voted.”

Wendy adds, “Having advocated for their preservation for years, I know that there are ways to deal with or divert flood waters through adjacent culverts without having to replace the bridge in its entirety.

“There are guidelines and engineering publications on how this can be done without ruining the dimensions and historic integrity of the existing bridge.

“These problems can be mitigated without destroying this beautiful bridge. Let’s please insist on seeking alternate solutions to replacement.”

7 responses to “Muddy Brook Project: A Bridge Too Far?

  1. Nicholas Eisenberger

    Totally agree with Wendy. These bridges are not only a part of our history, they are part of the human and natural ambiance of our town that make it such a great place to live. Wendy – Please get in touch and I would be happy to help as best I can as well. Nico

  2. Peter Marks

    Support your efforts 100%. What can be done to save these historical and beautiful toils of men

  3. Michael Calise

    These bridges and their standing in our community in the face of replacement are a sad commentary on the systems we have un place today. These bridges are a work of art that we are often told can not be duplicated. This is very far from the truth. Deeply imbedded in the state bureaucracy is union control that dictates how these projects and at what cost they will be undertaken.. There are plenty of fine craftsmen right her in Connecticut that could repair, restore or replace as needed these bridges. If you doubt me ask a local contractor like Tim Romano or Mark Bolduc who could duplicate and improve these bridges with the same craftsmanship for another century of service. Instead we get men leaning on shovels waiting for the cement truck to arrive backed by the bureaucrats who run our state..

  4. This bridge over Muddy Brook is very close to the site of a “fulling mill” and originally Greens Farms Road was known as the “Country Road” in the early West Parish history of Westport. Trying to solve Muddy Brook flooding since the 80’s (yes I have GFA letters dating back then!) is beset with mis-matches between the town and individual land owners resulting in only one project that helped protect the sewer pumping station on Center Street. The Hillspoint bridge literally had to fail recently before action could be considered and is now in progress. The Greens Farms Association hopes to act as a facilitator amongst all the stakeholders to solve the flooding problems including incorporation of historic preservation goals. As a reminder the GFA has been critical in fending off efforts to destroy (oops, develop) the West Parish open space just down the road which is the second site of Greens Farms Congregational Church) no less than 5 times over 40 years. Let’s all work together to see if we can thread the needle amongst the goals of preservation, flood mitigation, and public safety. In fact we would like to see collaboration within the Tooker administration between the Flood and Erosion Control Board, Department of Public Works, and the Historic District Commission to create a solution before we have to wrestle this through in disconnected public hearings.

  5. Dick Lowenstein

    You gotta watch out for these “bridge builders.” Take a look at the Cavalry Road bridge on 06880 on Feb. 26 (before) and then on June 25 (after). Next to come is the Sasco Creek Bridge at the eastern end of Greens Farms Road. What will it look like?

  6. John F Suggs

    Wendy is absolutely correct when she says: “There are ways to deal with or divert floodwaters through adjacent coverts without having to replace the bridge and its entirety. There are guidelines and engineering publications on how this can be done without ruining the dimensions and historic integrity of the existing bridge.”

    All it takes is the Flood and Erosion Control Board to admit to the obvious: namely that they had voted without fully seeking out the expertise and input of the larger impacted Westport community. As the saying goes when all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail.

    I appreciate the Greens Farms Association willingness to help facilitate a better solution – and I call on our First Selectwoman to provide the leadership to both preserve this beautiful and historic bridge while also protecting the area from flooding. It can be done!

  7. Dan — Great piece on the stone bridges, and for Wendy’s concern for them. There may be one more, in Weston. Lyons Plain Road is a right turn off Weston Road. A quarter mile along Lyons Plain Road, Coleytown Road veers off to the right. Before Lyons Plain Road was straightened (whenever) it crossed one of those stone bridges. It has been more than quite a few years since I visited Weston, but I believe it is still intact. Not sure if calling it a Craftsman-style bridge is most accurate. It might be known as a Clapper-style bridge, with the span supported by stone wing wall abutments. Sorry, group; it’s been a slow day in Portland, and I miss you all. Cheers. J. Wandres