Monday December 02, 2013 | 10:56 AM
Among Brunswick, Maine’s scenic points of interest along Route 1, is a lovely structural expanse called the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge. It’s architecturally handsome, functional and historic for Franco-Americans.
As a matter of fact, le pont (the bridge) has been in continuous use for over 120 years. It’s a peaceful place to stroll and enjoy nature. As time goes by, people who visit the bridge are likely to forget why it was built. In fact, the bridge is part of Mid Coast Maine’s Franco-American immigration history.
The Androscoggin Swinging Bridge spans a particularly scenic section of the Androscoggin River, where it flows between two Maine towns in separate counties. This historic pedestrian bridge connects Brunswick, in Cumberland County, with Topsham, in Sagadahoc County. It was built to assist French-Canadians, and Franco-Americans who lived on the Topsham Island side of the river to commute to shopping, and attending schools and church in Brunswick. Now the bridge is a beautiful relic of Brunswick’s past industrial era, when the Cabot Mill employed many people who lived in the Mid Coast communities. Most mill workers were French-Canadians and Franco-Americans.
Today the bridge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. An engraved plaque donated by the Rotary Club of Brunswick is visible in the small park landscaped on the Route 1 side of the bridge. It reads: “Originally designed and built in 1892, by John A. Roebling’s Sons Co. for mill workers to cross the river from new housing in Topsham to the Cabot Mill in Brunswick. The bridge has served generations of citizens of all ages between Brunswick and Topsham.”
Historic Plaque Presented by the Rotary Club of Brunswick Maine
Franco-Americans who relied on the bridge to walk to Brunswick may have called it by French nicknames. Rather than use the proper name, they might have described it as le petit pont de marche (the little walking bridge), because it’s purposefully narrow to prohibit vehicle traffic.
Le petit pont de marche was an incentive for French-Canadians to live close to where the Cabot Mill was the employer. By the 1930's Cabot Mill employed over 1,100 workers in the textile manufacturing industry*.
If the bridge could talk, it would tell two stories. First, it’s an engineering story about its special John A. Roebling Sons Company structure. This is the same company that also built the beautiful BrooklynBridge, in New York City, designed by John Augustus Roebling, who was a German immigrant.
Le pont also tells visitors about Franco-Americans. A Topsham native and Franco-American Jean Caron, 80, of Lewiston, said the bridge was her family’s walking lifeline to Brunswick, before they had access to automobiles.
After the industrial era faded away, following World War II, the Franco-Americans in Mid Coast Maine joined in the post war cultural assimilation into America’s melting pot. Even in the shadow of the still standing and impressive Cabot Mill brick building, the Franco-American heritage is often hard to find these days. Once in awhile, French is heard spoken on Brunswick’s Maine Street or by a few parishioners who faithfully attend St. John the BaptistChurch, on Pleasant Street. Nevertheless, Franco-Americans in the Mid Coast area have melted into the economic landscape. Although French surnames are common, the Franco-American language and culture, brought to the area by the immigrants who settled on Topsham Island, are buried under the surface of the Brunswick and Topsham communities.
The Androscoggin Swinging Bridge is a lovely tribute to their history.
More information about The Androscoggin Swinging Bridge is at these sites:
Voyages: A Maine Franco-American Reader, “A Bridge and Its History”, Madore, Nelson and Rodrigue, Ed., Tilbury Press, Gardiner, 2007. http://www.tilburyhouse.com/maine-and-new-england/voyages.htm
Androscoggin Swinging Bridge http://www.saveourbridge.org/
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