A little piece of history restored
Boring into pavement; digging a trench to install an iron water main pipe, and a concrete slab; creating a water-tight dam in pond water; lifting a 20-ton concrete culvert, and setting it in its place; restoring a more-than-century-old, four-layer brick culvert, brick by brick; moving earth and stones, and cutting brush; fashioning a pedestrian walkway; adding railings; and widening and repaving Old Town Road.
That was some of the laborious work involved in restoring the historic Mill Pond Bridge. The small bridge sits nestled beside the Mill Pond, constructed in the same spot where a stone house and a wooden mill once stood, built in the 1660s by early settler James Sands. The project’s contractor, J.H. Lynch & Sons, was tasked with restoring the old culvert, the bridge and the road, step by step, working sometimes in harsh winter conditions. The aim: to restore the Mill Pond Bridge so that it could support vehicular traffic and distribute water, fed from Mill Tail Pond, south to north through the brick culvert.
The Mill Pond Bridge on Old Town Road had been deteriorating so badly that it drew the concerns of New Shoreham officials in the 1990s, but failed to be addressed because officials wanted to tear it down instead of restoring it. Interest in the bridge and culvert were a recurring topic at town meetings over the past few years.
The late Merrill Slate, who lived in a house near the bridge, repeatedly campaigned with former Town Manager Nancy Dodge to preserve the historic bridge. Slate, and later resident John Willis, took photos of the brick culvert revealing the historic feature of the bridge, which alerted town officials to the importance of its preservation.
“It is with some pride that I watched the last wooden rail post placed at the Old Town Road culvert project today. It has literally been years since I first approached the Town Council about this sleeping piece of antiquity that was under a road we all pass daily. At first it was just a ‘repair the culvert, especially on the north side’ project. Then, finally, as the road itself crumbled it became ‘save the road.’ Finally, it saved both,” said Willis. “This week it has been accomplished and, oh, how I wish old Merrill Slate could be here to see it. I presented the Council with a few ideas way back when that mostly fell on deaf ears. Ironically, it was [former] Town Manager Jim Lathrop that listened to me and began work on it, but he suddenly disappeared. Today, it’s done and a tribute to the Lynch Company.”
Resident Martha Ball also took an early interest in the culvert.
“It is heartening to see a project long in the works so close to the finish line. We’ve lost so much out here to the idea that new is better, and full replacement was floated, was in the capital budget of the town more than once over the years,” said Ball. “As a community we owe a great debt of gratitude to the late Merrill Slate who did not just grumble, after the fact, over what was lost, but brought the first set of photographs of that brick vault under the bridge to the Town Hall, I think in the late 1990’s. I think I speak for many expressing thanks also to Merrill’s good friend, Dr. John Willis, who brought this bit of history into the public eye via The Bock Island Times, and to Merrill’s nephew, the late Norris Pike, who shared his uncle’s sense of place and heritage and worked quietly with the town engineer to ensure what could be saved was.”
In November of 2016, the project started when Town Engineer Jim Geremia consulted with the Town Council, which led to the filing of an Emergency Repair request with the R.I. Department of Environmental Management. Geremia, and Second Warden Norris Pike, made it their mission to restore the Mill Pond Bridge, and save the culvert. Pike and Geremia would often tour the bridge to assess and check on its condition, sometimes after meetings at town hall.
In Jan. of 2017, Allstate Drilling Company, based in Riverside, R.I., utilized a truck-mounted drill to conduct the first phase of restoration efforts: boring holes in the road to determine the condition of the bridge and its culvert.
In October 2017, Pike and his fellow Council members unanimously approved awarding the contract to refurbish the Mill Pond Bridge to Cumberland-based J.H. Lynch & Sons, the contractor that conducted road work associated with the installation of National Grid’s sea2shore cable in difficult winter conditions.
Lynch & Sons was the lowest of three bidders on the project, submitting a bid amount of $695,920. Finance Director Amy Land said $745,000 of the $821,126 estimated budget for the project would be financed “through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank’s Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund.” Authorization for borrowing the funding for the project was granted at the 2014 Financial Town Meeting, and the balance would be paid from the town’s 2017 and 2018 operating budgets.
During early March, Lynch kicked off construction. By that time, the bridge had been limited to a single lane down the middle and alternating traffic.
Lynch arrived with an assortment of vehicles, equipment, and materials, all parked in front of Town Hall on Old Town Road. Orange and white barriers were set up, and a few “road closed to thru traffic” signs were installed, alerting motorists to take a detour.
Lynch quickly went to work; excavating the road, and installing the water main, and concrete slab in short order. That was followed by construction of a water-tight dam in the pond with technicians wearing wetsuits so work could be conducted on the pond-side culvert in dry conditions. Several large pump tanks were installed on the bridge; utilized to keep the water in the pond level.
A variety of materials were delivered via barge from the mainland, transferred into dump trucks, and trucked to the work site, where technicians used excavators to reposition large stones, and deposit soil and gravel. Like a carefully orchestrated ballet, in what appeared to be organized chaos, the contractor conducted the coordination of machinery and men.
A tall crane hoisted the specially fabricated 20-ton concrete culvert and swung it into place, deftly landing it in the gully on an orange chalk line on the north side of the bridge. Technicians then installed a wooden brace to help aid the merging of the old world with the present-day world; uniting the four layers of old bricks with four layers of brand new bricks.
At the same time, a new pedestrian walkway was installed, with wooden guardrails along both sides, and the road was freshly paved with a three-inch thick layer of asphalt.
The Mill Pond Bridge has finally been refurbished: its old culvert fortified, and supporting vehicle and pedestrian traffic on its new foundation.
Lynch completed the project on June 7.
The Lynch crew who worked on the Mill Pond Bridge restoration project are: Project Manager: Greg Monast; Project Superintendent: Derek Marshall; Foremen: Francys Sosa, and Robert Allard; Carpenters: Tim Bonner, Todd Donahue, Antonio Visinho, and Mark Bulygo II; Operators: Joel Slater, and Gary Myers; Paving Operator: Kevin Teixeira; and Laborer: Keven Carmona. (The subcontractors who worked on the project are: Sprague Farm, BayCrane, Portadam, Cosco Inc., and Lockwood Remediation Technologies.)
The Times witnessed the process from beginning to end capturing various stages of construction on video. Go to The Block Island Times’ website, Facebook and YouTube pages to view the video segments.