Charles River Bridges

What a great view of the annual Head of the Charles Regatta from the Eliot Bridge in Cambridge! Standing on the north side of the bridge, we can watch the scullers and crews approaching as they round the turn at tree-covered Riverbend Park, pass the Cambridge Boat Club, then disappear beneath the Eliot Bridge, to emerge again on the other side rowing alongside Herter Park to the finish line a short distance upriver past the hundreds of excited viewers sitting on blankets and folding chairs at the river’s edge or walking through the temporary village of white tents bedecked with signs and flags fluttering, offering refreshments and souvenirs.

I find the Eliot Bridge a visual treat with its red brick structure and graceful arches,  one of many crossings between Boston and Cambridge. This bridge was named in honor of Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot while his son Charles Eliot a landscape architect with the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted contributed to the design of adjoining Memorial Drive with its stately plane trees from England.

In the sixties, a group of Cambridge citizen activists who had loudly objected to the proposal of widening Memorial Drive and removing the trees prevailed in their campaign to preserve this parkway.

Memorial Drive with its overarching canopy of plane trees is closed to car traffic between Mount Auburn Street and the Western Avenue Bridge during the regatta to afford pedestrians and cyclists the opportunity to walk unimpeded along the river and enjoy different views of the race that begins in front of BU’s DeWolfe Boathouse. Traffic-free Sundays during the summer also open this shaded corridor to bikers and walkers.

Another Charles River bridge that I enjoy upriver beyond Watertown Square is the small, graceful Blue Heron Bridge, a suspension footbridge on the DCR’s Greenway, a six-mile pathway designed and constructed for cyclists, runners, and walkers between Watertown Square, Newton, and Waltham, the entrance at Watertown Square marked by a stone engraved with an image of a Native American fishing on the river. We have taken our bikes along the Greenway, occasionally noting small stones with images of trees, plants, fish, and birds in that quiet corridor.

One of my all-time favorite bridges is the dramatic Echo Bridge  over Hemlock Gorge at Newton Upper Falls, once the scene of bustling textile mills, first of cotton and then silk. I was amazed that something like this existed along the river and that it could be accessed from a city street in Newton or that a person could go down to a small platform beneath one of the arches and call out to create an echo. This second-largest masonry arched bridge in the country was built across the gorge (carved out of the rock by the Charles) between 1875 and 1878 by Boston Water Works to connect the sixteen-mile long Sudbury Aqueduct from Framingham’s Farm Pond to Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Newton. I later discovered that in May 2010 when a main break occurred at the Weston water facility and thousands of gallons of water poured into the Charles River, leaving a large swath of the Boston area scrambling for water, the MWRA rerouted clean water through the Sudbury Aqueduct, which hadn’t been used in decades.

Another feature of this special place on the Charles is a point of land where artists can set up their easels and paint a scene that has come to be known as Motif #2. (Motif #1 is Rockport’s famous most often-painted red shack festooned with buoys.) From this point one can see the main arch of the stone bridge reflected in the water, forming a lovely circle framed by trees. A friend and I once enjoyed painting here on a fall day.

*This point where the river bends at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Greenough Blvd. was described in a previous blog entry about the history of Saltonstall’s landing at the head of the Charles River estuary and establishing the Watertown settlement.

**Arcadia Publishing’s “America Series” has a great account of this construction project with several photos.

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