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Aldrich Towing-Path Change Bridge

Erie Canal, Bridge No. 35 (Sexton Bridge)
Aqueduct Park, Palmyra, Wayne County, New York

On September 18, 1855, the Canal Board awarded John Hutchinson of Troy a contract to fabricate and erect six iron superstructures on Canal sections 264, 266, and 275, including a two-span towing-path change bridge at the Rochester weighlock. The weighlock spans were to be 84'-6" and 53'-6" long, and each was to be supported by two trusses built on Whipple's "trapezoidal plan." This structure was to replace a two-span timber change bridge that had likely been built about 1850 when the new and enlarged weighlock at Rochester was opened. ...

By 1879, the canal's Western Division Engineer had become concerned about damage being caused to boats brushing against the center pier of the change bridge at the weighlock, and he recommended that the pier be removed and the bridge replaced. He also suggested that the longer south span be used without modification to replace one of the decaying timber farm bridges in the Division, and that the shorter span be lengthened for a similar purpose. Later that same year, both spans were removed and placed in storage at the State Yard in Rochester and the offending pier taken down. ...

At about this same time, engineers were beginning to note the deteriorating condition of a wooden change bridge, identified as Bridge No. 35, just west of the Village of Palmyra, about twenty miles east of the weighlock. The bridge had been erected at that location when the canal was enlarged so that the towpath could be moved from the south to the north embankment, thus avoiding commercial buildings just east of the site. ... In 1879, ... Bridge no. 35 had been condemned and a recommendation made that all six be replaced immediately by structures of wrought iron. Plans and specifications for a new wrought-iron bowstring truss to replace the wooden change bridge were prepared, but before a contract could be let, the old wooden bridge collapsed under the load of a team and driver.

Because the event, which occurred on September 6, 1880, threatened serious disruption of canal traffic, authorities were quick to respond. ... Earlier plans for replacing Bridge No. 35 with a new iron superstructure were now clearly untimely, so canal authorities opted for the expediency of adapting the longer of the now-stored spans from the Rochester weighlock to fit the crossing near Palmyra. Accordingly, its 84'-6" length was shortened by apparoximately 10' by removing one of its two center spans, and its timber floor beams were replaced by pairs of back-to-back, 12"-deep wrought-iron channels. ...

The change bridge west of Palmyra was referred to in canal documents of the Western Division as Bridge No. 35, its numerical order from the division's eastern boundary. But, as with most of the Canal's other bridges, it was also given a name. ... Thus, Bridge No. 35 was also called the Sexton Bridge after Pliny T. Sexton, an early businessman who owned land on both sides of the canal at the time of the enlargement. More recently, the bridge came to be known locally as the Aldrich Change Bridge after a nearby farmer who owned property immediately east of the bridge and whose farmhouse was at the site ... .

In 1905, two years after its authorization, construction began on the New York State Barge Canal .... In the process, new alignments were chosen for many segments of the old canal. In 1913, it was recommended that the spur passing through Palmyra, which by then had been bypassed, be closed. ... In 1915, the Aldrich Change Bridge was removed and sold for $100.00 to George B. Lent, who moved it to his farm between Macedon and Palmyra and placed it across Ganargua Creek to provide direct access from his barn to his north field. ... The bridge was, in effect, abandoned in the late 1960s or early 1970s when improvements to the county road that separates the barn from the bridge rendered access to the bridge by farm machinery unsafe. The town of Macedon obtained custodial ownership of the Aldrich Bridge in 1996 after it had been washed from its abutments by ice and high water. Citizen volunteers salvaged the superstructure, dismantled it, and moved it to storage at the Macedon Town Highway Department's equipment yard pending its restoration and re-erection on the Palmyra-Macedon Towpath Trail, part of the planned New York State Heritage Trail system that follows the route of the New York State Barge Canal."

"Documentation of the Aldrich Towing-Path Change Bridge was prepared under the guidance of the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, during the summer and fall of 1998, in cooperation with the Aldrich Change Bridge Restoration Comittee. Funding for this project came in the form of a 1997 Canal Corridor Initiative Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Extracted from: Aldrich Towing-Path Change Bridge, Erie Canal Bridge No. 35, Sexton Bridge, Spanning the New York State Heritage Trail, Aqueduct Park (Moved from Macedon, Wayne County, NY), Palmyra, Wayne County, New York -- Historic American Engineering Record, HAER, NY,59-PALM,1- (Survey number HAER NY-315) -- Documentation compiled after 1968.

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