Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pratt Stories-Henry Bartram's Bridge

If you have been following the Pratt Stories Emails you know that my great-grandfather Henry Bartram died September 9, 1864, as a result of injuries sustained that day in a bridge-building accident. Despite considerable effort, I have never been able to learn any details about the accident or where the bridge project was located. In Pratt Stories-The Bartram Family XIII, Emailed Oct 7; and XIV, Emailed October  8, I told about the entries in his diary the day before and the day of the accident and about his funeral and indicated my intent to keep pursuing the matter.
I have no hope of finding a contemporary account of the accident since there was no local newspaper at that time and tragedy was apparently not important enough to make the local histories. Not being able to know anything about Henry's particular bridge I have looked for and finally found (in my own personal library) an illustrated bridge-building story that can give us a feel for just how Henry would have gone about the job of constructing a wooden bridge across a small stream in the early or mid-1800's. It is from "Diary of an Early American Boy" by Eric Sloane.
The late Eric Sloane was in my opinion the premier artist, author and historian on Americana. Google him to see some of his beautiful stuff and learn more. I have several of his books and prints of his paintings.
In an old house in Connecticut Sloane had found a small leather-bound diary kept by 15 year old Noah Blake in 1805. The book is based on that diary and his unquestioned expertise on period tools and the methods of construction of early American wooden and stone structures.
Noah's father, Izaak, had plans to build a waterwheel mill on the stream at their place, but first they had to replace the deteriorating temporary bridge. From Noah's diary:
"April 9. Flooding all but washed our bridge away. Father says the new bridge beams are seasoned and ready. When the waters subside, we shall begin to erect it. We are shaping up the abutments."
At age 15 Noah was probably a real help on the job. Henry's diary tells of taking his son Burr to the job, but at age 10 he was probably more in the way than a help. However, if Henry was anything like my Dad, he enjoed having the kid around.
"April 10: Worked on the bridge abutments. Daniel (their ox) helped with the bigger stones.
         11: do  (ditto).
         12: Good Friday. It rained all day. Brook went up.
         13: Bluebirds arrived. We finished the abutments. River lower.
         14: Easter Sunday. A fine service. Saw Sarah Trowbridge the new girl at the Adams. She is very pretty."
Sloane: "The little bridge across the brook was nothing more than two very long trees with planks set atop to walk across. It had lasted 10 years, but in the meantime Izaak had prepared a set of truss beams ready for erection as a new bridge as soon as Noah was old enough and strong enough to help.
'The bridge will be a big memory in the boy's life,' Izaak had said, 'and he will want to have taken part in putting it up'."
NEXT: Building the abutments.

Emailed Nov. 7

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