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        Parker River Bridge Pictoral History

   Below, you will find the history and a number of postcard photos of the bridge crossing the Parker River just south of Newbury, MA. I have attempted to provide an approximate date based on what was recorded with the originals and the development of the buildings in the background. Correct me if you find otherwise.

   The first bridge across the Parker River was built in 1651 and 1654 by Richard Thurlow. In May of 1654, the General Court voted "that Richard Thurlow, having built a bridge at his owne cost, over Newbury River, hath liberty to take 2d for every horse, cow, oxe...that shall pass over said bridge...provided that passengers shall be free." For 104 years, Thurlow's Bridge was the only bridge across the Parker River for travelers and commerce on the Bay Road from Boston to the north. Although at least four bridges have been built on the spot of the original bridge, they all have been known, even today, as "Thurlow's Bridge." The bridge stands third among bridges in continuous use in New England having been in use for over three centuries.

   Another bridge was built in 1758 by Ralph Cross with fees raised by a lottery. It was a toll bridge until 1850 considerably shortening the distance between Rowley and Ipswich. The original bridge was built with wooden arches and was rebuilt on several occassions.

   In 1910 through 1911 the wooden arches were replaced with steel by S.E. Savage of Newbury. The present cement bridge was built upstream in 1924 and the old structure was then removed.

   In the background is Oldtown Hill, a familiar landmark which looks today as when the current bridge was built. At the right at the further end of the bridge, is a building known as Marston's Restaurant. According to history, this was originally built as a dance hall. Vaudeville acts were performed in front on a stage. In picture #3a below stands one of the old trolly cars (see Pavilion page) at the end of the line from Market Square.

   In the foreground is a gundelow which was used to transport hay up and down the river. It is also reported to have carried cranberries from the cranberry bogs at Plum Island.

   It is said that Benedict Arnold and his men on their expedition against Quebec crossed the bridge in September 1775.  In 1789 George Washington, escorted by cavalry, infantry, and artillery, crossed the Parker River by this bridge.  At the Upper Green he left his carriage, mounted his horse, and proceeded into Newburyport where he was celebrated in an address by John Quincy Adams, a student in the law offices of Theophilus Parsons of Newburyport.  Over the same bridge came President James Monroe in 1817 and the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824.


Parker River Bridge

Ould Newbury, John J. Currier, 1896 pp. 531-539

   Soon after the incorporation of the town of Newbury a ferry was established for the transportation of passengers across the Parker River from Newbury Neck to the settlement at the Lower Green. Oct. 17, 1649, the General Court granted “the petition of Samu : Plumr, ferryman of Newbury, for to Ha 2d p passing, for their transportation” (Massachusetts Colony Records, volume 2, page 283).

   Nov. 20, 1650, the town of Newbury granted to John Poore twenty-two acres of upland on the “great neck” in consequence of “his being so remote from meeting and difficulty in coming over the ferry and for his satisfaction.”

   How long Mr. Plummer remained in charge of the ferry is uncertain. In the spring 1664 he asked for additional compensation for his services ; and May 18, 1664, the General Court passed the following order : -

   In ansr to the petition of Samuel Plummer, fferyman, of Newbery, humbly shewing that, by a country highway & bridge,* set forth & erected vp the riuer by ye County Court of Ipswich for ye benefit of ye country, his inheritance & trade is much weakened & endamaged, & humbly desiring this Court to amk such due reparation to him, in consideration hereof, as in their wisdoms they shall see meet, the Court Judgeth it meete to order & enable the peticoner henceforth to take one penny more than formerly for the passage of each person, & each beast that he shall transport ouer that ferry, & that he is & shall be discharged of all rates that are or shallbe made in reference to the bridg & highway mentioned in his petition, so long as he shall duely attend ye ferry. – Massachusetts Colony Records, volume 4, Part iil, page 103.

   In 1734, an effort was made to induce the town of Newbury to consent to the building of a bridge over the Parker River at or near the place where Samuel Plummer had established the ferry nearly a century before. The following vote was passed and entered upon the records : -

   At a Legal meeting of ye Towne of Newbury May ye 7th 1734

   We do hereby . . . grant liberty to have a Bridge built over Parker River at Old Town (so called), provided it may be built & maintained without being a charge unto this Towne of Newbury, and also provided that it be made a Bridge for coaches and carts, etc., to pass over upon and There be left convenient and sufficient roome for gundelose loaded with hay for to go up or Down Said River under said Bridge, also that all persons either with coaches, carts, etc., or with Horses, or on feet, shall have free liberty to pass & repas on said Bridge as in any Highwayes & also provided that there be a Bridge built as aforesaid within ten years next ensuing ye date hereof.

   This read & considered, and then put to vote by the Moderator ; and it passed on ye affirmative, none discenting.

   The bridge, however, was not built until nearly twenty-five years after the above vote was passed. Meanwhile strong and persistent efforts were made to raise the money necessary to defray the cost of the proposed structure.

   At a meeting of the Inhabitants of the Town of Newbury, held January ye 18, 1749, it was put to vote whether the town are willing there should be a Bridge over the river Parker, alias Oldtown River, in this Town at ye ferry Place, Provided it be Done without any Charge to the Town either for the Building or Supporting the same, & it passed on ye affaimative vote that Mr Daniel Farnam prefer a Petition to ye General Court for a Lottery to Build said Bridge. Provided the Petition be Preferred without Cost to the Town, this was voted on ye affaimve.

The General Court, Jan. 29, 1750-51, passed the following act, entitled : -

   An act for raising the sum of twelve hundred pounds by lottery, for building and maintaining a bridge over the river Parker, in the town of Newbury, at the place called Oldtown ferry.

    Whereas the building a bridge over the river Parker, in the town of Newbury, in the county of Essex, at the place called Oldtown Ferry, will be of public service ; and whereas the town of Newbury have, by Mr. Daniel Farnham, their agent, applied to this court for liberty to raise the sum of twelve hundred pounds, by lottery, for building and maintaining a bridge over said river, at the ferry place aforesaid, under the direction of persons to be appointed by this government, -

   Be it thereore enacted by the Lieutenant-Governor, Council, and House of Representatives,

   That Thomas Berry, John Greenleaf, Joseph Gerrish, and Joseph Atkins, Esquires, and the said Daniel Farnham, or any three of them, be and hereby are allowed and impowered to set up and carry on a lottery, within the said town of Newbury, amounting to such a sum as, by drawing ten per cent, out of each prize, they may thereby raise the sum of twelve hundred pounds, to be applied, by them or any three of them, towards building and maintaining a good and sufficient bridge at the place aforesaid, and for defraying the necessary charges of the lottery aforesaid; and that the said Thomas Berry, John Greenfield, Joseph Gerrish, Joseph Atkins, Daniel Farnham, or any three of them, be and hereby are empowered to make all necessary rules for the regular proceeding  therein, and shall be applied to the uses and purposes aforesaid (Acts and Resolves of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, volume 3, page 538).

   With the funds raised by this lottery the bridge was built in the year 1758 under the supervision of Mr. Ralph Cross.  It was eight hundred and seventy feet long, twenty-six feet wide, with nine piers and eight wooden arches.

   April 28, 1760, an act providing for another lottery to raise £600 additional for defraying the charges already incurred in building the bridge was passed by the General Court.  The preamble to this act states, on the representation of Daniel Farnham, Esq., one of the persons appointed to carry on the lottery, that the bridge is nearly completed, that the cost of the same exceeds the sum raised by the lottery previously authorized, and that an additional sum is needed to complete the work.  It further states that, inasmuch as Thomas Berry, one of the persons named in the act passed by the General Court Jan. 29, 1750-51, had died since the passage of that act, and John Greenleaf, Joseph Gerrish, and Joseph Atkins, Esquires, are unable, on account of age and sickness, to conduct the lottery and attend to the duties for which they were appointed, therefore

   Be it enacted by the Governor, Council, and the House of Representatives, that Caleb Cushing, Esq., Joseph Gerrish, Jun’r, Esq., William Atkins, Esq., and Mr. Patrick Tracey, merchant, together with the aforesaid Daniel Farnham, Esq., or any three of them, are hereby empowered to set up and carry on a lottery within the town of Newbury, and may thereby raise the sum of six hundred pounds for defraying the charges already incurred in building the bridge, and for the management and prosecution of the lotteries, and apply the residue, if any there be, to the maintaining and repairing of the bridge, as on occasion shall require (Acts and Resolves of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, volume 4, page 326).

    In the warrant for the annual meeting of the town of Newbury, dated March 2, 1761, article fourth reads as follows : -

   To know wether the town will take the unsold Ticketts of Newbury Lottery, No. 4, for Building & maintaining the bridge at Old Town, if any should be unsold at the time of Drawing. And what the town will do to Promote & forward the drawing of said Lottery.

    The records do not state what action was taken when this article was reached in the regular order of business.  Probably the tickets were disposed of by persons directly interested in the construction of the bridge ; and the town, in  its corporate capacity, was not called upon to render any pecuniary assistance.

   April 21, 1761, the Lords of Trade in London wrote to Governor Bernard at Boston, New England, substantially as follows : -

    Between February and April, 1760, several laws were passed providing for the construction of ferries, roads, &c., by lotteries, “which is a mode of raising money that in our opinion ought not to be countenanced, and hardly to be admitted into practice upon the most pressing exigency of the state, more especially in the Colonys, where the forms of Government may not admit of those regulations and checks which are necessary to prevent fraud and abuse in a matter so peculiarly liable to them.” We cannot therefore but disapprove these laws upon general principles ; but, when we consider the unguarded and loose manner in which they are framed, the objections are so many and so strong that We should have thought to have laid them before his Majesty for His Majesty’s disapprobation were we not restrained by the consideration that the purposes for which they were passed having been carried into full execution, some inconveniences might have disannulling them ; but it is our duty to desire that you will not for the future give your assent to any laws of the like nature.

   Notwithstanding the objections urged by the Lords of Trade, the General Court, Feb 24, 1763, passed “An act for the continuation of the lottery for raising a further sum for maintaining the bridge over the River Parker.” By the provisions of this act the persons named in the act approved April 28, 1760, were authorized and empowered to continue the lottery under the same regulations and restrictions in order to raise the sum of £300 to defray the charges incurred in the building of the bridge, etc. (Acts and Resolves of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, volume 4, page 615).

   Subsequently an act for raising the sum of £3,200 by means of a lottery, for building a hall for the students of Harvard College to dwell in, was passed by the General Court, but was not consented to by Governor Bernard until he had submitted it to the Lords of Trade and obtained their consent to the same.  In their reply they state that “they are still of the opinion that lotteries in the American Colonies ought not to be countenanced, and are fully convinced that the too frequent practice of such a mode of raising money will be introductive of great mischief ; yet, in consideration of the general propriety and utility of the service to be provided for by the bill submitted for approval, we have no objection to your passing it into a law, desiring at the same time that it may be understood that such a permission shall not be drawn into precedent in any other case whatever.”

   The managers of the lottery having expended all the money that had been raised for the purpose of building the bridge over the Parker River, it became necessary a few years later to provide funds to meet the cost of some needed repairs.  The General Court therefore enacted, June 30, 1768, “that a toll gate shall be erected and a suitable person appointed to receive fees from every person who shall pass over the bridge.”  The act also fixed the rates of toll, authorized the court of general sessions for the county of Essex to appoint one or more trustees to receive of the keeper of the bridge the money collected, and provided that the bridge should be “free for all persons travelling to or from the place or places of publick worship on Lord’s Days.”  The powers and privileges granted by this act “continued in force for ten years and no longer” (Acts and Resolves of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, volume 4, page 1030).

More to come…

  Photo #1 - Good early, color tinted photo of the bridge and town of Newbury. Card created around 1890. Looking north.
  Photo #1a - Same photo as above showing closeup of the Parker River Bridge and Oldtown Hill, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Card mailed in 1906.
  Photo #2 - Early photo. Take a look at how relatively small the trees are in comparison to photo below, especially in front of the white house.
  Photo #2a - Dated on card as 1890 but evidence of large building on the right post dates it from the photo above. Very similar to photo below.
  Photo #3 - Early black and white photo of the bridge at low tide. Notice the addition of a large building on the right.
Parker River around 1890
  Photo #3a - Lithograph in similar position about the same time with barge in foreground.
Photo #4 - Photo of Parker River bridge between 1907 and 1915 from the east side looking north.
  Photo #5 - Photo from west side of bridge taken around 1910.
Boats at the Parker River landing about 1918.
  Photo #6 - Boats at the Parker River landing about 1918.

   If you have further information on Newbury and would like to share it with others, please contact me.

     © - Updated 11 November, 2008