Goodbye Old Village Bridge

Small bridge covers a lot of history.

Small bridge covers a lot of history.

This week they start tearing down the little bridge over the creek at Demorestville. They say it has developed a crack underneath. After many decades of service it no longer likes carrying the heavy trucks that roar across. So down it comes. For the next two months we’ll have to find a different way to get to town.

At a glance, the bridge is small and unremarkable but it holds a vital history. It sits at the very spot where Guillaume Demorest, in 1783, found the waterfall foaming over the escarpment.  He decided he would he build his home beside the water power so needed by those first settlers into the virgin wilderness.

Dem Mill

Grand mill once occupied bridge site.

Guillaume’s family, of French Huguenot (Protestant) stock, had been driven from Europe by violent Catholic purges and settled in the Duchess colony of New York. After bravely serving Britain during the American rebellion of 1776, Guillaume had to uproot himself and seek a home in the new lands offered to such Loyalists by the British government. He founded Demorestville and his mill was the first to occupy the spot. Others followed. At the end of the 19th century, one of the largest mills in the country sat where the bridge is now. Five storeys above ground, one below. It burned spectacularly in 1905 and is successor has long crumbled. Now there is only a patch of weeds where the great mill once stood and an unremarkable road bridge over the source of Demorestville’s early power.

Bride Winter

Foaming creek once powered village mills.

As a child on the way to school, I hung over the rusty railings, ever fascinated by swollen waters roaring down the limestone ledges in the spring or tossing up ice palaces in winter. Like every other child, I longed to clamber down to edge of the torrent, despite grave warnings to stay away, and play where the mill wheel used to turn. I never managed it.

Now from the looks of the large metal pipes unloaded nearby, the new bridge is going to be only another section of pavement laid over culverts. Tidy, modern, efficient with no allowance for a mill. Guillaume won’t mind. The waters he chose to power a village will demand their passage long after the new bridge is washed into the stream of history.

Gail Hamilton’s books.

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