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June 29th, 2005


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12:17 am - Fort Point and the Summer Street bridge
My new job's office is in the Fort Point Channel section of Boston, a beautiful old cluster of buildings and factories and artist lofts and whatnot all along the ol' Fort Point Channel. In fact, I work in what used to be one of the Necco factories, and every day pass by an old ghost ad for the confectioner high up on a brick wall. Fort Point's a neat mix of the old and new, aged old brick buildings slouching next to the giant new convention center, the biggest goddamn thing I've ever seen. Scale and proportion play tricks on you in Fort Point, especially crossing the Summer Street bridge back towards South Station. You are exposed on the bridge, out in the open, to the right is that tall tall tall thin shiny silver building, to your left is the Giant Ass Post Office, and ahead of you, Summer Street's wide lanes give you an open, unobstructed view of a very large expanse of city buildings across the square. Oh, lordy, it's a wonderful conglomeration of old Art Deco and new rose sandstone and it's all there in sharp detail before your very eyes, and every time I manage to look up at it, instead of down at the sidewalk or under the construction-protected scaffolding, I am in awe. It's how I remember my first view of the Rocky Mountains, which just spring up out of nowhere right in front of you, and you get such a clear view of their height and majesty, even from far away, that you can't believe how big the damn things are. So it goes with the view across the Fort Point Channel.

Equally amazing is the Summer Street bridge itself, though I'm not sure how many people contemplate it as they cross it every day. The bridge is rather low to the water, as are all the bridges in the vincinity that cross the channel. There used to be a time when a taller ship actually had a reason to get to the end of the channel (now just a dead end with no docks or ports or nothing) so the bridges across had to be constructed to facilitate access when needed. The Summer Street bridge, built in 1899, is not a drawbridge. No, sir, no boring old drawbridges for this city! Nor does the movable bridge section just rotate on a central pivot to allow a ship to pass by. Can't do that with the Summer Street bridge -- for one, its two lanes are actually two separate bridge sections. And for two, things needed to be more interesting.

I'm not sure what the actual architectural term for this kind of bridge is, but it probably has to do with "butterfly" or something, because what happens is this: Each of the two movable bridge sections is mounted on wheels, set on several parallel tracks going out diagonally from the bridge itself. When the bridge needs to move, both sections move diagonally out on their tracks, independently of each other, making an opening for a ship to use. Now it's been a long time since any ship needed to access that part of the channel, and the bridge looks to me like the movable bits have been permanently glued/welded/otherwise affixed to the non-movable bits and so will never separate like that again, but here's a Very Detailed and Accurate Artist's Rendition of what the thing probably looked like in action:


Fig. 1
The sections in light gray are the movable sections. The tracks, on their own piers, are in brown. The water is light blue which is totally not the color of Boston Harbor water. The boat is worried because it does not think it will be able to go under the bridge, and instead remain locked in the Fort Point Channel dead end, and all the children waiting at the Children's Museum won't get the boat's cargo of delicious ice cream and candy.



Fig. 2
Here we see the bridge has worked its magic -- the movable sections have slid diagonally out on their tracks, and there is now an opening for the happy captain to pilot his happy boat (ship, sorry, it's a ship) back into the real world again. Also note the bridge has magically changed in size and scale as well.



Fig. Newtons
It's not a cookie, mother, it's a Fruit Newton.


Add to this the brown ironwork above the bridge, with "1899" stamped out in brilliant stencils, and you realize that hey, people were pretty freakin' smart a hundred years ago. I'm fascinated with this bridge because it's the most unique movable bridge I've ever known. I've known regular drawbridges, both single and double, I've known bridges that pull the movable section vertically up, like an elevator, with a little pilothouse on top (and what a ride that must be), I've known bridges that swivel on that central pivot point, but never have I ever met a bridge that does quite what the Summer Street bridge does. And more power to it, even if it'll never slide out ever again.

Tomorrow I may tell you about how my phobia of crossing under certain raised drawbridges (didn't know I had that, did you? Well, when was the last time we ever went under a drawbridge together?) and about the vertical-lift bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that I simultaneously adore and fear.

(13 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:tyopsqueene
Date:June 29th, 2005 09:09 am (UTC)
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it's a retractile or traverse drawbridge, but I'm sure you already know that. AFAIK there aren't any of those in the UK; looks like an American specialty.

Rather than bridges, I get excited about boat lifts:
http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/falkirk/falkirkwheel/
http://www.andertonboatlift.co.uk/

*sad*
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:June 29th, 2005 11:22 am (UTC)
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Retractile? Sounds like a problem involving corrective surgery.

That first boat lift link looks like some crazy space-age pneumatic boat-loadin-tube stuff and as such I love it!
[User Picture]
From:tyopsqueene
Date:June 29th, 2005 11:49 am (UTC)
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if I were the sort of person who was organised enough to have a list of things I wanted to do before I die, riding the Falkirk Boat Lift would be on it.
[User Picture]
From:markm
Date:June 29th, 2005 12:27 pm (UTC)
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Wow, that is really cool. That's going on my itinerary for when I visit Scotland.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:June 29th, 2005 01:49 pm (UTC)
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I WILL GO WITH YOU
I CAN BOOK FLIGHTS NOW
[User Picture]
From:gilana
Date:June 29th, 2005 10:53 am (UTC)
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I'm not sure whether I laughed harder at the illustration or the description of the illustration. But that's just wicked cool.
[User Picture]
From:olethrosdc
Date:June 29th, 2005 12:34 pm (UTC)
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Quite interesting. I imagine that a drawback for this kind of bridge is that you have to have to build the underwater tracks, which probably requires good quality sendiment in a quite large expanse, but IANACE.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:June 29th, 2005 01:42 pm (UTC)
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The tracks are actually above water as well. My incredibly accurate artist's rendition neglected to include the pilings upon which the tracks rest.
[User Picture]
From:signsoflife
Date:June 29th, 2005 01:00 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]
From:zmook
Date:June 29th, 2005 01:11 pm (UTC)

I think it looks more like a water boatman

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[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:June 29th, 2005 01:47 pm (UTC)
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Far be it from me to invoke certain Hilton heiresses, but... that's hot. And you can even see my building from there (H-shaped brick thingy, lower right corner.)

I also like how the bridge magically separates the Blue Water from the Murky Green Water!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 29th, 2005 06:32 pm (UTC)

Wharf District

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I worked down in the wharf district last year, and it was a lot of fun, especially in the summer, when you can buy ice cream and lobster rolls out of the milk bottle in front of the Children's Museum, and sit and watch the seagulls on the deck over there. I also liked to walk over to the nice waterfront park near the Federal Courthouse. And I read in the Globe this morning that there will be a farmer's market on the old Northern Avenue Bridge into the fall months. Gee, I'm missing it already. I've got a picture album of some wharf district buildings at http://lesliet.typepad.com/photos/wharf_district_buildings/index.html.
[User Picture]
From:terras
Date:June 30th, 2005 04:46 am (UTC)
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Fort Point Channel is/was a unique collection of openable bridges. At one point it had four operable bridges, each with a different means of clearing the channel:

(Old) Northern Avenue: A center-pivot swing span, with a center lane for the (now-defunct) Union Frieght Railroad. That railroad ran from North Station, around the North End waterfront, down to the freight yards on Fan Pier. It followed roughly the alignment of Atlantic Avenue.

Congress Street: A drawbridge. It had some claim to fame, but I can't seem to recall it at the moment.

Summer Street: The traverse draw, which they took the time to maintain when they last refurbished the bridge, only to pave over the joints.

The railroad bridge: Twin rolling lift bridges, which looked very similar to the pair by North Station. They removed them for the Big Dig, but they're preserving portions of the mechanism for a future park next to the new bridge.

I wish they would keep all of the bridges operable, as a sort of working museum of late-19th century engineering.

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