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October 3, 2013

Rebuilt Rocks Village Bridge opens

School buses, other traffic can end longer routes


“To me, the biggest attribute is that it’s a shorter ride for students and we will use less fuel as well,” DeRosa said about the reopening of the Rocks Village Bridge.

Earlier this year, Whittier carpentry students built an exact replica of the quaint wooden toll house that stood next to the drawbridge from 1828 to 1911.

The one-room building, which also served as a cobbler’s shop, is an impressive artifact from Haverhill’s bygone days. It’s also tied to the school’s namesake John Greenleaf Whittier, who tells of the toll keeper in his poem “The Countess.”

The toll house was built at the school based on design specifications the Rocks Village Memorial Association neighborhood group obtained from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. The little building was trucked to the site and now sits on the Haverhill side of the bridge, just like the original toll house.

Built in 1862, the toll house was used to collect tolls until 1868, when all highways in Essex County were declared free to travel. The little building remained in use for the drawbridge until 1911, when the drawbridge was torn down and the toll house was moved to a former bridge-tender’s yard.

Henry Ford bought the toll house in 1928 and took it to his museum of American collectibles in Michigan, where it is on display today. Built in 1828, the quaint little building housed a toll keeper who assessed fees from the horse-drawn carriages and wagons that crossed the river.

The neighborhood group was also responsible for the restoration of the old Hand Tub House nearby, which once served as a fire station.

The Rocks Village Bridge project was funded through a $3 billion state effort to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges in Massachusetts.

According to state transportation officials, the Rocks Village Bridge contains the oldest movable span among all bridges presently under MassHighway control. It is located next to the Rocks Village National Register Historic District, on a site which has been utilized as a major Merrimack River crossing since the early 18th century. To date, only 44 movable bridges have been identified in the MassHighway database. The Rocks Village Bridge, the oldest of them all, is still operated by hand.

As one of the earliest riveted metal trusses yet identified in the MassHighway inventory, the Rocks Village Bridge is also the earliest known surviving work of the Boston Bridge Works, a Massachusetts bridge building firm active from the 1870s through the 1930s.

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