Preserving Echo Bridge

As part of our planning for the aqueducts in Newton, we cannot omit Echo Bridge. This distinctive viaduct carried water for decades across the Charles River in Newton Upper Falls from the Sudbury River to Boston. It is important to keep this granite and brick structure intact and accessible for the visual beauty it provides. From a distance, the graceful arches cross the river framed by hemlocks and other trees. From the walkway at the top of the bridge, you scan the beauty of Hemlock Gorge from the old mill buildings and falls upriver to the meandering water and the Route 9 overpass downstream. The Newton Conservators are strongly in agreement with the many other groups and individuals who want to preserve this historic structure now and far into the future.

After a brief closure by the MWRA, the bridge is open again for pedestrian traffic with the addition of snow fencing to shore up the deteriorating cast iron railings. The picture below shows the snow fence—fortunately, in place in time for the recent April snowstorm!

Temporary snow fence installed along the deteriorating iron railing atop Echo Bridge. (photo by Bill Hagar)

We hope that, with strong community support, there will be complete repairs to keep this important landmark walkway and observation platform open to the public in its historic state.

Echo Bridge has been a landmark for over a century. It was originally designed and built to support the Sudbury Aqueduct in 1877. The aqueduct is no longer in active use, but is being held in reserve as a backup for possible future needs. When the Metropolitan Parks Commission was formed in 1896, Echo Bridge and the surrounding Hemlock Gorge was one of the first parcels of land acquired by the board of the new Commission. In fact, a photograph of the bridge appears on the cover of the Commission’s first report in 1895. On page 72, the report states:

“As the Hemlock Gorge reservation was not acquired by the commission until September, its use by the public under the direction of the Board has been for so limited a period that little can be said as to the demands of the future, judging by experience. This, however, we know to have been a favorite picnic ground for large numbers of people in Newton, Wellesley and Needham. In fact, regular picnic grounds have been maintained within its limits, containing the beautiful bridge of the Boston water works, widely known as “ Echo Bridge,” an illustration of which appears as the frontispiece of this volume.

“That so charming a spot should have drawn to it large numbers of people is not be wondered at, and when we consider that the electric cars of Newton have their terminus within three minutes’ walk of the reservation, it will readily be seen that its use in the future must steadily increase. There are, however, no difficulties at present to be seen which cannot be easily surmounted. It is not of sufficient size to render necessary or desirable the construction of carriage roads. All that seems to be required is a general cleaning of the grounds of dead wood and debris, and suitable and efficient police surveillance.”

Much of the area has been modified over the intervening 100 years, but the essence of Hemlock Gorge Reservation remains the quiet flow of the Charles River between the hemlock trees that stand astride the bridge. The footpath on top of the bridge forms a gateway to the walking trails on either side of the river. It connects Newton with its neighbors to the west, many of whom have improved and marked trails that follow or intersect with the Sudbury Aqueduct. It is possible to walk or bike the aqueduct through Needham, Wellesley and Natick with very few detours or interruptions.

Echo Bridge received its name because of the striking echoes one hears when shouting under the main arch of the bridge. When completed in 1877, this arch was the second largest masonry span in the world. Its acoustical properties are so perfect that a mere whisper is answered several times over. This was never more apparent to me than when I took my son’s dog, a German Short Hair Pointer, to the newly built deck that is under the main span of the bridge. With a little prodding, Chloe let out a bark, which was repeatedly answered by the reflected sounds of her voice. I guess the echo was effective enough to convince Chloe that another dog on the other side of the river was not respecting her. For the next ten minutes, all of us had a wonderful time listening to the cacophony of angry barks and echoes that reverberated under Echo Bridge.

Like Chloe, we must make our voices heard to ensure the preservation of this inspirational site.

Bill Hagar

April 2006

Crumbling Echo Bridge Gets Quick Fix (Boston Globe article)