Friday, July 27, 2018

Seeing Double? 2 Bridges at Cottage Farm

The BU Bridge over the Charles River (formerly the Cottage Farm Bridge) is closed to traffic until mid-August this summer while the replacement for the adjacent Commonwealth Avenue bridge over the Mass Pike is being completed. The aerial photo below shows the river crossing in 1925. But why are there two bridges crossing the Charles?

aerial view of Cottage Farm bridges, 1925
1925 view of the Charles River waterfront between today's Boston University and Cambridge.
(Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth. Click for zoomable view)
The closer of the two bridges is a temporary bridge opened in October 1923 to carry traffic over the river while a new Cottage Farm Bridge was built to replace an earlier wooden bridge built in 1896. Disputes over the location and design of the new bridge delayed demolition of the older bridge until 1926. It was still standing — and still carrying traffic — upriver from the temporary bridge at the time of this photo.

Cottage Farm Bridge 1923, Boston Globe
Boston Globe, October 10, 1923

The temporary bridge ran from St. Mary's Street in Brookline across Commonwealth Avenue and through what is now Marsh Plaza at Boston University. B.U. had already begun purchasing the land for its Charles River campus by this time but construction of the current buildings had not yet taken place. Billboards facing Comm Ave. stand at the edge of the mostly vacant land in the photo. (Click the images below for a closer view.)

Commonwealth Avenue billboard

The old Cottage Farm Bridge was finally closed to traffic in November 1926, three years after the temporary bridge was opened. Demolition of the old bridge and construction of the current bridge took another two years. The new bridge finally opened to traffic in August 1928.

The temporary bridge at St. Mary's continued to be used as a second crossing until 1929 when it was taken down.

A couple of side notes:
  1. The name "Cottage Farm" comes from the many English cottage-style homes, inspired by the writings of Andrew Jackson Downing, that were built in the neighborhood in the mid-19th century. One of these, built by Amos Lawrence in 1851, is now Sloane House, the home of Boston University's president.
  2. The riverfront property that is now the center of the B.U. Charles River campus was once part of Brookline not Boston. It was given to Boston by the Commonwealth in 1874 to connect the Brighton neighborhood to the rest of the city. The Town of Brighton voted that year to be annexed to Boston; Brookline voters on the same day rejected annexation in favor of remaining an independent town.
Charles River waterfront, 1855 map
This portion of an 1855 map of Brookline shows the Cottage Farm area including the 1896 bridge, the Amos Lawrence property, and Commonwealth Avenue (then called Brighton Avenue). The riverfront, which was given to Boston in 1874, was later expanded by filling in part of the Charles River.
(Map from the Norman B. Leventhal Collection, Boston Public Library)