Mystery Bridge

When I was a boy, not yet ten, I became aware of the remnants of an old bridge crossing Skaneateles Outlet. It consisted of two steel arch girders tied together at midspan at deck level by a steel beam and resting at each end on a low abutment of limestone blocks. There was no floor. The general location was behind what was then Main & Hunt Company's storage barns (later the Skaneateles Supply Company). The eastern end was in a pasture that wrapped around behind Main & Hunt's and probably belonged to Arlo Drew. The western end was on land that seemed to be part of the Village Yards. Unlike a similar bridge behind the sauerkraut factory (still with a floor) that led to a small structure where Fiddler Ben lived, this bridge seemed not to come or go anywhere in particular. Even as kids we could not seem to find any useful way to work it into our network of shortcuts. It simply went nowhere. It was useful only as a challenge to cross it, which was only moderately difficult. One simply sidestepped on the lower part of the girder while holding onto the arched top, provided one was tall enough. The bolder walked across the top of the arch like an aerialist on a tightrope.

Fast forward about sixty years. Still I wondered. Near the eastern end I recalled in some underbrush there had been remnants of a concrete wall and a large steel pulley mounted on a driveshaft. I wondered--still do--if that might have been wreckage left after the fire at the Bowdish Boat Company. When I returned to the site a few years ago (circa 2005), the wall, pulley and shaft were no longer there. I was surprised to find the bridge girders still in place, although a rather large tree was rooted in and breaking apart the eastern abutment. At that time I took a few photos, one of which is shown here.

Forward again, this time to September 2011, when, while looking through some vintage Skaneateles photos, I discovered a photo of the old Elizabeth Street bridge taken in 1883. I was delighted to spot a man on a tricycle on the pedestrian side-bridge, but even more delighted to detect a familiar structure poking through the clutter of the picture. This second illustration is derived from a detail that was excised from the 1883 photo. The red marking emphasizes what attracted my attention. The bridge girder is of the same design as the old relic that I had photographed a few years before!

Perhaps this is only a coincidence. I choose to think otherwise, but I have been unable to prove anything. The decrepit bridge is within a few hundred feet of the place where Elizabeth Street crosses the outlet. My conjecture is that when it came time to replace the span at Elizabeth Street with a new concrete bridge it was decided to use parts of the old to construct a temporary detour. With its new footings prepared in advance the span could be moved in very quick order, thus minimizing the period of time during which the flow between the eastern and western halves of the village would have been seriously disrupted. Having the alternate crossing would then have provided the opportunity to build the present concrete bridge free from the pressure of time. Once the detour had served its purpose it would have been abandoned, becoming a "bridge to and from nowhere."

Any other theories? This one, at least, explains the placement in such an apparently useless location.

Parting related thought: Could the bridge behind the sauerkraut factory have been the original Kelley Street bridge recycled?
Kenneth Jennings Wooster
27 Abdallah Avenue
Cortland, New York 13045-3302
File created: September 12, 2011.
File modified: September 12, 2011.