Once They Made Nails Here

South Street Bridge

Spring buds are on the trees, and the air is finally warm, although the mosquitoes are as yet absent. Sunday was a fine day to get out for a walk, and I did, taking this photo on the way back to my car at the entrance to the Charles River Peninsula, another Trustee’s of Reservations grassland with walking trails. A number of other people had the same idea, and I passed several hikers, people fishing, one wildlife photographer and a woman walking her dogs while conducting an animated conversation on her cellphone. I don’t think she saw the scenery at all, but the dogs appeared to enjoy it.

This photo is looking at the South Street bridge, possibly also known as Fisher’s Bridge, and the Village Falls Park area beyond it from a location that was once a major industrial site in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. This area is now parkland and wildlife habitat in the middle of suburbia, the only traces of industry left are the millpond and dam, and the now-abandoned railroad tracks running nearby.

The bridge seen here looks to be of relatively recent construction, and is a “false” stone arch bridge (the arch is concrete on the underside). It’s likely the stones are just cosmetic. It crosses the Red Wing Bay portion of the Charles River, between Needham and Dover, just above the Cochrane Dam.

The millpond formed by the dam likely dates from 1795, although there are conflicting stories of a mill there as early as 1675, before the town was formally established. It’s a small mill pond, only 7′ of fall, but that was sufficient for Capt. Josiah Newell and his partners Jonathan Ellis and George Fisher (per one online genealogy anyway) to build a mill complex there that included a “slitting mill, nail mill, paper mill, barn, wood houses and trip hammer shop”. A slitting mill is a water-powered mill used to make iron bars into rods, used in the process of making nails. This would have been an important industry in early America, as nails were needed by an expanding country for both construction and attaching horseshoes. And horses were the principle means of inland transportation.

There were bridges here “long before” 1763, when an earlier one was repaired. And George Fisher played some role in a later repair c. 1813 (after he and his partners reportedly had sold the mill complex and after the death of Captain Newell) of a bridge “east of Central Avenue” and probably on this location (per the History of Needham, Massachusetts, 1711-1911, by George Kuhn Clarke, Harvard University Press, 1912). The bridge Fisher was involved with, which apparently ended up being called Fisher’s Bridge, was a three arch stone bridge, similar to Newell’s Bridge on Central Street (at least, the town’s Historical society currently attributes the names that way, a 2011 wildlife blog has the two reversed and also cites an Historical Society source, no longer accessible).

The millpond stretches for nearly a mile, and is a fine example of human influence on the landscape of even apparently wild areas in New England. Unless someone told you, you wouldn’t know there had been anything here but farmland, and you’d likely overlook the dam unless you glanced down from the far side of the bridge; I certainly missed it until I Googled the site later. But once this peaceful valley rang with the sounds of industry, and some of the nails made here are likely still holding houses in the region together, two centuries later (there are certainly plenty of houses from the early 1800s still standing in these towns). Not a bad legacy for Messrs. Newell, Ellis and Fisher, and something to think about while out enjoying the fresh air and scenery.

The photo falls short of what I’d like to have: the spring buds are only just coming in, and another week or two will make a better “early spring” image. The day wasn’t quite windless, so the ripples on the water make it a less than perfect mirror, although the reflected hillside still looks quite nice. But it’s not a bad photo, and it does capture the serenity of the place.

This image was made from a +/- 1 EV bracket of three photos taken at ISO 400, f/10, 1/200-second exposure, with the lens at its longest length of 105mm. A circular polarizing filter was used to bring out the sky and cut glare from the water. The image was cropped to center the waterline, make the bridge more prominent, and remove some unnecessary trees on the left side. While HDR was used, it almost wasn’t necessary, the only real benefit being some detail under the bridge and along he shadowed riverbank. I used the “balanced” preset in the HDR software, but moved the detail slider up one notch to “deep” and added a touch of saturation to improve the colors. Aside from the usual Edge Sharpening, no other adjustments were made.


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