Oct 13, 2009 Steve McMahon Uncategorized
We’re blessed by an abundance of water in Baldwinsville.
Because we live in a temperate rain forest, our predictable pattern of precipitation throughout the year is interrupted only by a handful of sunny days. But, all that water has to go somewhere.
The Seneca River drains some of the larger Finger Lakes, before flowing through Cross Lake on its way through Jack’s Reef and Dead Creek to Baldwinsville and beyond. Oneida Lake supplies the Oneida River, which joins the Seneca at Three Rivers Point to form the Oswego River. Before flowing north through Phoenix, Fulton and Oswego on its way to Lake Ontario, the Oswego River is further fed by Ox Creek.
Sometimes, when crossing over the river into Baldwinsville or Phoenix, I just have to stop and gaze at the sheer beauty of the water as it slowly flows below. Still, surrounded by so many creeks, lakes and rivers, it’s easy to take all this running water for granted. Since the Seneca River separates our two towns and splits our village in half, there was a time when a fair amount of time and effort was required to cross it. But today, our many modern bridges make very quick work of getting to the other side. There are five bridges connecting the town of Lysander to other towns in Onondaga and Oswego counties, not including railroad and interstate bridges, or bridges over the barge canal. They include bridges over the Seneca River at Jack’s Reef, Baldwinsville, Cold Springs and Belgium and one over the Oswego River at West Phoenix. But, since there were a number of Baldwinsville bridges dating back to 1807, let’s focus on those in the four little hamlets for now.
Jacks Reef Bridge
Pioneers first settled Jack’s Reef west of where one of the two state roads, the one now known as the Plainville Road, crossed the Seneca River. According to a Messenger article written in August 1973 by Tony Christopher, “Very early in 1800, two state roads were laid out in this region. One of these roads .was surveyed to cross the Seneca River near Adams Ferry .As to the matter of spanning the river, a bridge was ordered by the supervisors of the towns of Camillus and Lysander .The most feasible spot then stood near Adams’ farm on the Lysander side, where a member of his family had run a ferry service for some time.”
An 1897 Baldwinsville Gazette article attributed Adams Ferry to Charlora Adams, an early Lysander pioneer. This ferry preceded a bridge built by Elijah Snow, son-in-law of early settler Deacon John Tappan, and Lysander Town Supervisor from 1809 until 1813, when he was succeeded by Baldwinsville’s founder, Jonas C. Baldwin. A July 1944 Messenger article by Pearl Palmer reports that the original contract between Snow and the towns of Camillus and Lysander dated Feb. 24, 1810, “said Elijah Snow agrees to build a bridge across the Seneca River above Adamses ferry so called the work to be done in a workman like manner to be completed on or before the first of November next unless high water should prevent raising said bridge.” Christopher’s article goes on to state that, “The bridge was erected through the summer of 1810, and was called Snow’s Bridge after the builder .It was formally opened July 4, 1811, with a celebration .Having been built with public money, it was a free bridge, that is, people might cross without paying toll. The completion of Snow’s Bridge together with the new road carried a great influx of migration.”
This first bridge was replaced years later by a covered bridge closer to Jack’s Reef. By that time, there was less water flowing under less pressure through the rifts, because the state ditch had been dug in 1856, circumventing this narrow, fast-flowing section of river. In a Messenger article written by Richard Palmer in August 1996, old-timer Perry Morgan was 81 years old when he recounted the history of the covered bridge in 1945.
“As I am the owner of a mile of river front from Jack’s Reef bridge west to Cross Lake that takes in the river bed, I looked the matter up. the original channel was changed to avoid the rocks and low water in the old channel. When the new concrete bridge was built on the new channel, and the old wooden bridge was taken down, the old channel was filled up, and the watercourse was narrowed to about one-half the original course. But the rocky channel there is what gives it the name of Jack’s Reef, a natural home for rock bass and fishing.”
Cold Springs Bridge
In the early 1800s, Otis Drake built a log cabin for his family of 15 near where the Cold Springs bridge crosses the Seneca River. As a result, this spot came to be known as Drake’s Landing. According to Pearl Palmer, the name “at an early date came to be applied to a spot in the wide bend (of the river) northeast of the Cold Spring(s) bridge .Many of the settlers in central Lysander coming from the east are believed to have disembarked at Drake’s Landing, and begun their travel by blazed trail from this point.”
In 1869, there was a bill for a Cold Springs Bridge before the House Committee on Bridges in the New York State legislature. By October 1904, the Syracuse Journal reported that, “It was decided yesterday by the State officials to immediately place a free ferry on the Seneca river near Mud Lock and undertake the construction of a new $20,000 bridge to replace the old Cold Springs bridge.” In November 1905, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported that, “The new bridge across Seneca river at Cold Springs is now in commission. It is of steel construction. The over-all span is 367 feet. It succeeds an old three-span bridge which was used until safety required it be closed to public traffic. The new bridge project ‘hung fire’ for a long time, and to accommodate travel a ferry in the shape of a canal scow transferred people and teams.”
By the late 1920s, both the narrowness of its span and the crookedness of its approach had made this bridge a barrier to the increased amount of automobile traffic on the roads. As a result of a succession of tragic auto accidents during the 1930s and 1940s, the superintendent of the New York State Department of Public Works solicited bids in August 1946 for a new bridge on “Route 370 between Baldwinsville and Liverpool with two 75-foot approach spans over the Seneca river.” A new bridge was finally built circa 1955, largely due to the efforts of the Cold Spring(s) Civic League, the object of which was the advancement and improvement of the residential and civic interests of the Cold Spring(s) area.
About five miles up the Seneca River sits the little hamlet of Belgium, once known as Gaskin’s Rifts. According to the 1878 “History of Onondaga County, New York,” by Professor W.W. Clayton, “The bridge across the Seneca River at this point was first built by the Sodus Bay and Westmoreland Turnpike Company, erected in 1824. The turnpike was not made, and Colonel J. L. Voorhees obtained a charter in his own name, and finished the bridge, which was a toll bridge till 1843, when it was rebuilt as a free bridge.” This east pier of this bridge was rebuilt circa 1897.
A new steel bridge was built in 1915. This earlier bridge was located further south, where Woods Road ends at the Seneca River today. But, this bridge, too, eventually became obsolete. According to an article in the Baldwinsville Gazette & Farmers’ Journal in March 1946, “The narrow old span at Belgium, relic of horse and buggy days, is a detriment because of its narrow width. Two automobiles are barely able to pass each other on the bridge and it is impossible for two trucks to do so. Many accidents have occurred there in the past two decades and everyone in this area is mighty happy that the state is preparing to remove it for a safer, wider, more modern, river span.”
This new Belgium Bridge was opened to traffic in 1950. Chester Kingsley, Sr., of Belgium was the construction engineer who supervised the steel on the bridges in both 1915 and 1950. The current bridge was completed in 2005, replacing one that was reassembled upriver over the State Ditch near Jack’s Reef.
West Phoenix Bridge
Over in West Phoenix, John Wall constructed the first toll bridge in 1830 over the Oswego River connecting the little hamlet on the west bank to its larger namesake on the east bank. According to Phoenix settler Captain James Barnes, as quoted in “Grip’s Historical Souvenir of Phoenix and Vicinity,” published in 1902, “John Wall owned four saw mills on the other side of the river. His residence stood on the top of the hill .Wall was instrumental in the construction of the bridge across the river, which was built by a company organized to maintain the structure by collecting toll. He was the principal owner. The toll house stood at this end of the bridge just opposite my father’s store, on the north side of Lock Street.” This 1902 history goes on to state that, “On May 11, 1846, a commission was appointed to erect a free bridge across the Oswego River and canal at Phoenix, on the site of Wall & Peck’s bridge.” After years of service, this bridge was condemned.
According to Grip’s, “On April 6, 1869, the legislature named Gouverneur M. Sweet of Schroeppel and John Pardee and James Frazee of Lysander commissioners to rebuild the bridge at Phoenix.” According to Sweet himself, “three or four of us went to Albany to see what we could do towards getting a bill through for a new bridge. Two pine structures had rotted and it had been found necessary to build a good one. After the excavation of the Seneca river at Jack’s Reefs the annual floods had poured down upon us worse than ever and it had been necessary to raise the abutments of the old structure. It was found desirable to raise them between four and five feet for the new bridge.”
We take them for granted now, but the foundations of our bridges were built long ago. The next time you cross over to the other side, take some time to watch the water flow below.
Looking Backward will appear in the Messenger every other week or so, as long as there are stories to tell and the spirit moves me to tell them. If you have questions about this story or suggestions for future ones, including any local historical images or information, please contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The old bridge built in 1905 over the Seneca River at Cold Springs, next to the foundation of the new one to its right built in 1958, shown here looking southwest toward the east end of Hayes Road.