It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...
derspatchel

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.
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