Bridges Across the Black

Carthage - West Carthage


In the years 1808-06, New York State cut through a right of way from Utica and Rome to Lyons Falls (then High Falls) along the Black River to Long Falls, Town of Champion, and from there to Oswegatchie, now Ogdensburg and on to Russell.


The Turnpike Company constructed the St. Lawrence Turnpike in 1812-13; by adding another avenue to northern settlements, made a bridge necessary to cross the Black River.  


Russell Atwater and his associates, interested in St. Lawrence settlements, were authorized by the Turnpike Company to build a toll bridge over the Black River where the state road leading to Oswegatchie crosses the river – at the head of the Long Falls in Champion.  


Section of 1855 map


The bridge, to be completed by November 1813, was planned and built for the Turnpike Company by Ezra Church.  When the bridge was completed, the privilege of the first crossing was let and the highest bidder was Elijah Fulton of West Carthage, who gave a gallon of rum for the privilege of driving the first team across the bridge.  “There was high times while the rum lasted.”

The toll bridge was maintained until 1829.  On March 28 of that year the structure was found to be decayed, it was necessary to rebuild it.  Early in the year an attempt was made to secure by public subscription funds to build a free bridge.  A meeting was called and the old piers were purchased for $500.


About the same time, those interested in factories on islands in the lower part of the village (the most active being Joseph C. Budd) started a project to construct a bridge connecting the islands.  Mr. LeRay came to the assistance and five bridges, going from island to island, secured a crossing.  The bridges were damaged by the flood of the next spring, but were repaired.  More damage was inflicted the following spring, and the structures soon fell into decay.


There were later island bridges – this one goes to Coburn Island from the W. Carthage shore.


Meanwhile, those working for a free bridge above the islands gained influence and money.  Dr. Eli West championed the cause and in the summer of 1829 the crossing was affected at a cost of $1,600.  That bridge, built by H. G. Potter, lasted 11 years.


When, in 1840, it was deemed necessary to rebuild the bridge, a meeting of the Towns of Wilna and Champion was called.  The outcome was an act passed in May authorizing loans from school funds- $2,500, Town of Champion; $2,999, Wilna; $750, LeRay and $750, Pamelia – for bridges in their areas, including Carthage-West Carthage.



With those funds, a man named Spaulding, at a cost of $5,000, constructed a covered bridge.  It lasted until 1853 when a “substantial bridge was built by the State”.  In October of 1860 this bridge broke down under the weight of a large herd of cattle.  Some of them went down with the broken span and were killed or injured.


On the morning of Tuesday of last week a drove of cattle passed through our village, and while attempting to cross the bridge, over the Black River, the first span of the bridge gave way, and about fifty head of cattle were precipitated into the river.  A large number had passed the first span before it fell, and these running furiously over the remaining portion of the bridge, the last span adjoining the Champion side of the river also gave way and fell, with some fifteen or twenty head of cattle.  We learned that two of the cattle were so badly injured that they had to be immediately slaughtered.    During that {next} day the sidewalk bridge was made passable and it is expected that by Saturday next the bridge will be again passable for teams. 


                                                                                                CRT Oct 18, 1860


The bridge was repaired, but one year later a Mr. Crumb, a well-known teamster, broke through the bridge while crossing with a load of pig iron.  The iron slid out of the box and the horses swam ashore with the wagon while the box floated downstream and lodged against one of the islands. 

Mr. Crumb was rescued unharmed.


On Wednesday last, two stretches of the bridge over the Black River at Carthage broke, and two teams which were then on the bridge, were precipitated into the river, and Mr. Samuel Chadwick, about thirty-five years old, and a boy about ten years old, named Henry Irwin, son of James Irwin, both of this village, lost their lives.  CRT April 4, 1865



On June 13, 1865 the Republican reported that {State} Commissioner Skinner had taken charge of the bridge and had sent an engineer and contractor to check out the bridge.  Although made temporarily safe by H. Rulison, a decision was made to erect a new “iron chord bridge” as soon as the materials could be procured.



On September 26, 1865, The Republican indicated that work was progressing on the new iron bridge, with engineer O. L. Wetmore of Booneville supervising construction.   Early in October, while placing two of the arches on the new iron bridge the arches with the old timbers for one span fell into the river and Moses LaRock was “considerably injured in his hands and limbs, by falling into the river at the time of the accident.”  On November 14 the newspaper reported that the “fine structure is now complete.  It is 458 feet long with seven spans of arches.  It was built by Messers. Britton & Co., of Cleveland, Ohio.  It is a Patent Tubular Arch Wrought Iron Bridge … of which there are 90 bridges of this style now in use.”  The paper went on to say there had been a party at Morgan’s Hotel in honor of the contractor and the successful completion of the work.




This is the bridge depicted in the sketch of the Carthage Fire of 1884.



In 1872 the railroad was extended into Carthage and a railroad bridge was built at the time.  According to the Republican Tribune for March 14, 1873,  the freight train on the Utica and Black River Railroad which left Watertown yesterday morning met with a serious accident just before entering the covered bridge this side of Carthage.  Three cars jumped the track and fell into the river.  One of the cars was loaded with potatoes owned by John Winslow Jr. {of Carthage}.  The covered bridge was seriously damaged and the track was torn up the length of the bridge.  About a week will be required to repair the damage.  No injuries were reported although the flagman, John H. Wheeler did sustain a minor cut to his forehead.”  (Reprinted RT March 15, 1973)



In 1896 New York State built the Twin Villages’ fifth bridge, wider and stronger, but by 1942 that bridge was in need of replacement; increased traffic and the additional weight of that traffic had caused much wear and tear on the existing structure. 


In April of that year there was an article in the CRT that the idea of constructing the new Carthage-West Carthage bridge might have to be put on hold in deference to a state road from the Deer River Corners in W. Carthage to Great Bend and Pine Camp.  It was stated that the new road would give Pine Camp a straight road south and would fit in with the “new” Deferiet-Fargo road that gave the camp direct access to the north route.  In this way, Pine Camp would become a traffic center with direct routes from that point rather than from Carthage or Watertown. 




 The next bridge was finished in 1948 at a cost of $135,000 authorized by the state legislature.  Interesting information in the November 1947 CRT describes moving the old state bridge fifty feet upstream onto temporary piers while the new span was being completed.  The moving was completed on a Friday morning when Hawes and Farrell, Inc of Oneida whose engineers were in charge of the project, stated “vehicular traffic on Route 26 will open early next week to light traffic although the detour {via Great Bend} will be maintained until the new bridge is completed”.  It was further reported that W. Carthage deliveries presented a serious problem for most firms and that this was further complicated by construction on Route 3 near Great Bend and the closing the first week in November of the Castorland-Naumburg bridges to heavy loads. 


The Tuscarora Construction Co, Inc of Pulaski built the next bridge over a period of 18 months, in 1994-95.  It was done on contract with the New York DOT at a bid price of $4,059,689.75




Great Bend


A bridge was constructed on “the bend” of the Black River in 1804, the first in Jefferson County.  In 1807 a Mr. Tubbs built a dam and gristmill for Olney Pierce and Egbert TenEych above the bridge.  Later that year both structures burned.  A large crowd of people gathered on the bridge to watch when the river seized the ruins of the mill and dam and sent them downstream where they destroyed the bridge.  Some spectators were still on the bridge; two boys were thrown into river where one was drowned.  In 1840 most of the business section was burned along with the covered bridge.

In 1862 floods again destroy the bridge along with drowning a boy who was on it.  [Unsure whether this boy was actually the victim of the 1807 disaster or another child – records aren’t clear].


Deferiet Bridge



Early picture of Deferiet Bridge


In late September of 1964, the bridge over the Black River and linking Route 3 with the village of Deferiet was severely damaged by a 21-ton bulldozer being transported across on a flatbed truck.  The dozer blade had sheared three girders making the bridge unsafe for heavy traffic.  One lane was open to local traffic, but the buses of the Carthage Central School had to be rerouted for a bout a week.  The Deferiet Elementary students that normally received a hot lunch at Great Bend had a ride of nearly a half hour each way instead of the normal five minutes.  It required seven pieces of steel 50 feet long and 2600 pounds were used in the repair work.



 The bridge in Deferiet has been replaced several times.  This picture from the August 27, 1986 CRT shows the new bridge under construction.  The old bridge, on the left, was still in use.  New cement work is seen in the foreground.



The view below shows the work site from the Great Bend side.  This shot was taken on a Sunday as the work went on to finish the project.



Black River


In 1950 the Watertown Daily Times ran this picture along with an article that stated this bridge, built in 1896 would be dismantled to make way for a new bridge that would cost an estimated $100,000.   The new bridge, which had a steel floor roadway 24 feet wide (10 feet wider than the one pictured below) was also 18 feet longer. 



The bridge was opened to traffic on Friday July 27, 1951.   According to the WDT, the first person to cross the bridge after its official opening was the man who directed its construction, Highway Superintendent Walter R. Eggleston.  This bridge was replaced in 2005.




Section of 1888 panorama






Information obtained from articles by Helen B Walker in the March 24, 1976 CRT, the April 10 1941 CRT, August 27, 1986 CRT,  July 27, 1951 WDT,  Sidewalks and Oysters by R. Joseph Giblin (1991), Old North Country Bridges, Richard Sanders Allen (1983) and other sources.