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“ Whereas, there was an order of the General Court, in the year 1691, referring to the settlement of Mistick Bridge to the County Court of Middlesex, the said Court ordering the repairing of said bridge to be by the respective towns of Charlestown, Woburn, Malden, Reading, and Medford, according to their wonted manner, till the Court make further provisions, and the defects of said bridge having been presented to this Court before the late law respecting bridges, this Court order that the said respective towns do forth with make sufficient repairs of the said defect of said bridge, upon pains and penalty of £5 fine, to their Majesties for their respective defaults of each of the said towns; and then to make return of their doings therein to the next General Sessions of the Peace for Middlesex; and that for the future it shall be left to the determination of the law.”
This decision was not palatable to the defendants. Medford's action in the premises is recorded as follows: Voted, in a “general town-meeting, January 11, 1694, that the persons above said are to attend the premises, from Court to Court, until there shall be a final determination and settlement of Mistick Bridge." This Committee performed their duty faithfully, and the result is recorded above; but, in 1698, Medford was again presented to the Court for defect in the bridge. On the 7th of March, the town came together, and voted “to empower a lawyer referring to answer a presentment for defect in Mistick Bridge.” March 28, 1698: “Voted to empower Mr. John Leverett for the further defending the town referring to Mistick Bridge, in case there be need; and said town to pay lawyer's charges and other necessary charges that may arise in defence of said bridge, as above said.” In connection with this case, the town resolve, that, if a man attended Court for sixty days, he should be paid £3; and for any less term, Is. 6d. per day. The bridge seemed to have a wonderful aptitude in getting out of repair ; and, as Medford was liable to be indicted for the fact, the bridge became the standing vexation of the town. April 3, 1702, the inhabitants appoint three of their number as a Committee to treat with Woburn, Reading, and Malden, on the repairing and maintaining said bridge. Nine years bring up again the same question ; and, May 24, 1711, the town voted “to desire the selectmen of the town to procure such records of Court or Courts as may give information of the division of Mistick Bridge to the several neighboring towns for the repair of the same.” This vote, while it shows us there had
been a legal division of the bridge liabilities, shows also that the contiguous towns had not done their duty in the premises. Sept. 21, 1714, a rate of £15 was assessed by the selectmen “for Mistick Bridge.” The bridge was now rebuilt ; but the adjoining towns refused to pay their shares, and Medford voted to carry the question before the “General Sessions of the Peace," sitting at Charlestown. The object of this appeal was to show from records that there was no valid reason for the refusal of the neighboring towns in bearing their share of the expense of rebuilding. The Committee chosen to prosecute the whole matter to its final settlement were Deacon Thomas Willis, Ensign John Bradshaw, and Mr. Ebenezer Brooks.
The appeal of Medford was just, and it was met by “the Court of General Sessions of the Peace," sitting at Charlestown, Feb. 16, 1715, thus : “ The Court apportion the charges of rebuilding Mistick Bridge as follows: Charlestown, £64. 14s. ; Woburn, Malden, Reading, and Medford, each £17. 12s. 3d. ; total, £135. 3s.” To this award Woburn, Malden, and Reading objected, and therefore appealed. The consequence was a legal trial of the case; and Medford, July 11, 1715, passed the following: “Voted to empower Deacon Thomas Willis, Ensign John Bradshaw, and Mr. Ebenezer Brooks, as a Committee to defend the town against any suits in law having reference to the rebuilding of Mistic Bridge.” The decision was in favor of Medford.
When the tract on the south of the river became annexed to Medford from Charlestown in 1754, the town says: “ April 30, 1754: The southerly half of Mistic Bridge, and the causey adjoining, by a resolve of the General Assembly, is now within the limits of Medford.” “May 8, 1754: Samuel Brooks, Esq., Lieut. Stephen Hall, jun., and Jos. Tufts, were chosen a Committee to manage the affairs relating to the southerly half of the Mistic Bridge, and the causey adjoining thereto."
The increase of travel over this bridge rendered it liable to frequent repairs, and Medford became sole owner of it. The annexation, in 1754, of that part of Charlestown which lies near the south bank of Mystic River, released that town from all obligations connected with the “Great Bridge," as it was called. Accordingly, July 25, 1757, we find the follow ing record: “Voted, that Samuel Brooks, Esq., Stephen Hall, Esq., and Capt. Caleb Brooks, be a Committee to agree
with suitable persons to rebuild the south side of Medford great bridge with wood or stone; and that said Committee empower persons to wharf out on each side of said bridge.”
May 13, 1761: “Voted to treat with Woburn, Reading, and Malden, concerning Medford Bridge, and acquit any of them that shall comply from all further charge; and also to treat with the General Court, if there be reason.”
Woburn, as we have seen, always contended most stoutly, but ineffectually, against paying for the support of the bridge, because, as she maintained, her people did not use it. They sometimes went to Boston through Charlestown (now Somerville). So troublesome grew this litigation, that Woburn paid to Medford a certain sum to be released from all further liabilities.
The next movement for this important passway, worthy of record, was in 1789, when it was proposed to widen the bridge and pave the market-place. The plan devised for paying the expenses was a common one in that day; it was by a lottery ; and, May 11, the town petitioned the General Court to grant them a lottery for these purposes. Our fathers did not think that such a lottery was doing evil that good may come. The petition was not granted.
April 2, 1804: On this day, the Committee, chosen at a previous meeting to inquire into the necessity and expediency of building a new bridge, report that it is expedient that a new bridge be built ; and they recommend that it be thirty feet wide, and also that it have a draw. They further say it should have “four piers of white oak timber of seven spoils each ; the two outside piers to be set twenty feet from each other. To have an arch in the centre of twenty-six feet in the clear, and a draw the width of the arch.” There were two hundred and eighty dollars afterwards subscribed by private persons, as a donation, to help forward the work. The estimated expense, without a draw, was one thousand dollars. This proposition was received with favor; and the increasing business on the river required this width, and also a draw; but it was not immediately adopted. Various plans for meeting the expenses of the draw were proposed, but without much success, till a resolution was taken by the town, in 1808, to do the whole thoroughly. It was done; and a toll of twelve and a half cents was charged upon every vessel that passed the draw. The next year, May 20, 1809, we find the following vote: “Mr. Timothy Dexter to demand of
every lighter, passing through the draw, ten cents each time, and twenty cents for larger vessels.”
This bridge answered all its intended purposes till 1829, when the question of building a new draw came up. The matter was referred to a Committee, who report, May 4, as follows: “That the town is under no legal obligation to make or maintain a drawbridge, but may build without a draw, as heretofore." Nevertheless, the final result was a vote to build a new bridge, with a draw. It was so built, accordingly; but the draw was so narrow that, in 1834, the town voted to widen the draw, whenever the selectmen shall judge proper. This was done. The idea that ships could be built above the bridge became common; and, as ships of the largest size became fashionable, it was found that the draw was not sufficiently wide to allow the transit of one then on the stocks. The petition for widening was granted; and, in 1852, it assumed the form it now wears. This bridge, among the earliest in the country, and among the most important in the Colony, has had an eventful history. Seldom, if ever, has there been so much legislation in the General Court about seventy-five feet of bridge ; and, certainly, no town has talked and voted and petitioned and litigated so much about such a matter. It was part of a great thoroughfare, and was second to none in importance to all travellers, from the east and north, who were going to Boston. For one hundred and fifty years, it was on the nearest land-route for all the travel of Maine and New Hampshire; and, within the memory of some now living, the farmers of New Hampshire, who brought large loads of pork and grain in pungs to Boston, passed over that bridge in companies of five, ten, fifteen, and twenty within the months of January and February. Perhaps the strangest fact connected with it is, that it is still the only bridge for common highway travel now (1855) across the Mystic River in Medford! That another bridge, for free public travel, is imperiously demanded by the growing wants of the town, is generally acceded; and probably such a bridge will soon be built.
The other bridges of the town were of minor moment; though that at the Wear cost the town much money, and some trouble. March 6, 1699: “Put to vote, whether the town of Medford will give Mr. John Johnson three pounds towards the building a sufficient horse-bridge over the Wears ; said bridge being railed on each side, and the said bridge
raised so high as there may be a fit passage under said bridge for boats and rafts up and down said river. This was voted in the affirmative.” This is the first mention of a bridge of this kind at the Wear. The dwellers in the western parts of Charlestown and Cambridge came so often to Medford that they petitioned for the erection of a bridge at the Wears." As Medford would be obliged to pay for half of it, a protest by the town was made against the proceeding, and the two arguments used were, first, that the ford was sufficiently easy and convenient; and, second, that Medford people never, or seldom, travelled that way. The building was deferred; but, in 1722, the grand jury present the town of Medford for not maintaining a bridge across the Wears. Aug. 17, the town “put to vote whether the town will choose a Committee to answer a presentment by the grand jury of the want of a bridge over the Wear; said answer to be made at Concord Court next. Voted in the affirmative.”
The next important action of the town was May 29, 1746. They petition Gov. Shirley and the General Court to order a bridge built over the Wears, and then apportion the expense upon the towns that would most use it; or on Middlesex County. The just decision of the Court was, that Medford and Charlestown should build a bridge, and each pay half the expenses and keep it in repair. August, 1747: The General Court “order that Samuel Danforth, William Brattle, and Edmund Trowbridge, Esquires, be a Committee of said Court, empowered and directed to cause a good and sufficient bridge to be erected over the place called the Wears, between Charlestown and Medford; one-half of the charge to be paid by the town of Charlestown, and the other half by the town of Medford.” Nov. 4, 1747: Andrew Hall, Ebenezer Brooks, and Francis Whitmore, jun., were appointed a Committee to build one-half of the bridge. £200 (old tenor) was raised to pay for it. May 12, 1760, the selectmen were chosen to divide this bridge with the town of Charlestown. Ever since that time, the two towns have kept it in good repair ; and, recently, it has been rebuilt, and is now wide and strong
Its support devolves on Medford and West Cambridge.
“Gravelly Bridge,” so called, was first built by Mr. Cradock's men probably, and was the usual route for all the travel between the east and west parts of the town. It was very low, narrow, and slender at first, and received frequent