Two centuries ago the builders of the Erie Canal used little more than hand tools, wheel barrows, horse drawn carts, and a lot of brawn. Primitive engineering techniques dictated that they follow the contour of the land. Along the Mohawk River this meant that they followed the edge of the river valley between the rich soils of the flood plain and the upland areas where early settlers had built their homes. In some places they separated communities and more often they separated farm fields from the farm buildings. Bridges were built to connect farm buildings and fields giving rise to the farmer’s bridge. Bridging a 40 foot canal and narrow towpath was a challenge, but completed with timber members. Enlarged in 1840s, the 70 foot width and wider towpath were increasingly difficult to bridge.
This is a drawing of the community at Clute’s with the dry dock shown to the left on the upland side of the Erie Canal. Note the fields in the foreground and the farmer’s bridge over the canal to the right.
One of the dreams of the Clifton Park Historical Society and subsequently the advocacy committee for the Mohawk Towpath Byway was to reconstruct one of several farmer’s bridges within what is now the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve. That vision after 20 years of planning, engineering, grant seeking, biding, re-engineering, and current construction is slowly coming to fruition.
The first half of the 100 foot pedestrian bridge arrived for installation at the site of a former farmers bridge just east of Clutes Dry Dock. [This photo was captured by Larry Syzdek].
“At moments like this I wonder how our ancestors bridged the Erie Canal before the days of cranes and prefabricated construction.”
This is the crowning touch to improving recreational access to the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve. Construction including approach pathways, parking lot improvements, and soil stabilization will be complete by the end of October. Once complete the bridge will be opened for our (public) use.
We have once again bridged the historic 1842 enlarged Erie Canal. The farm fields to the right have long been abandoned and is now a remote forested “important birding area”. The Community Connector Trail behind trees to the right was (from 1842 to 1907) the towpath for the Erie Canal. the To the left is the site of a bustling canal community also abandoned in 1907 and now ripe for archaeological investigation and interpretation.
“…low bridge! Everybody down…”
To see a video of the action from fastening together to actual placement watch a video from the Town of Clifton Park’s FaceBook page.