Video: The Holton D. Robinson Memorial Bridge Mini-Doc

The following video is a mini-documentary on the Massena Center Suspension Bridge or as well are calling it, the Holton D. Robinson (Memorial) Bridge.  The bridge lies in the heart of the hamlet of Massena Center and was built in 1910 by Holton Robinson, a Center native born and raised here, Grandson of one of Massena’s first settlers, and a graduate of Saint Lawrence University who went on to become a world renowned bridge builder who specialized in suspension bridge cables, holding several US patents on cable techniques and machinery.

Our goal here at the Massena Center Historical Society is the preservation and restoration of this unique, one of a kind, historic structure.

Beyond Holton’s fame as a bridge builder, he executed several different unique techniques in the construction of this bridge.  To save on cost he did not ‘wrap’ the main support cables.  The main cables which are multiple smaller cables bound together are typically wrapped in a wire sheathing, making it appear as one giant cable.  To save on both construction costs and time, Holton used a special twisting and stretching technique to bind the main cables together, making them impervious to the elements.  He also used special binders to connect the down cables to the main cables.  Again on a typical suspension bridge these down cables are usually braided into the main cable and then wrapped.  Instead the bridge uses the binders to make a connection with the main cables, and like the main cables the down cables are also not wrapped.

The bridge is also considered a ‘miniature’ in terms of Suspension Bridges.  Its 400 foot length (tower to tower) is short for a suspension bridge and its roadway is only 12 feet wide.  Such bridges were uncommonly rare and as quoted by the Saint Lawrence Historic Association, “It is doubtful if there is another one quite like this one any where in the world.”.

Several attempts over the years have been made to preserve and restore this bridge, with little to no movement.  A resolution was voted on and passed by the Town of Massena in 1989 to make restoration efforts towards the bridge.  They were going to have engineers inspect and stress test the bridge, and hoped to have it listed with the National Registry of Historic Places, but nothing was done.  Since the 1950s there has also been several attempts to have a Historic Marker placed at the bridge, honoring Holton Robinson.  Thankfully the most recent effort started in 2017 by local Centerite Cindy Bradford who is currently working with Town Councilman Sam Carbone and Town Historian Mary Ellen Casteleman.  This effort is unrelated to the efforts of the MCH Society.

At the time of this video the MCH Society has only begun and we have yet to lay the groundwork towards the bridge’s restoration.  In the near future we will be contacting the Saint Lawrence Superintendent of Highways to see what can be done about the bridge.  We do not except neither the County or the Town of Massena to help financially, as our local governments have been strapped for funds for years now, which is why we are looking to form a 501(3) Non-Profit Organization and begin collecting donations.

While the video produced by John Michaud eight years ago claims that the bridge is ‘falling into the river’, looking at these aerial shots we would like to argue that point.  The decking and roadbed are in bad shape, but both are “un-original” to the bridge.  The bridge originally featured a planked wooden deck across its entire length.  But beyond the rotting decking and without the aid of a professional engineer, there are very few signs that the bridge is actually falling apart.  In fact knowing how Holton Robinson built bridges, we’d go as far to guess that this bridge is still standing strong, like a rock.

Unfortunately while that may be true, the clock is ticking on saving this structure.  Over the past decade trees and shrubs have been left to grow up around the approaches and foundations, and if left any longer might threaten the integrity of the concrete.  Having these approaches cleared is one of our very first goals.  Our second goal is to hire a professional engineer to come inspect the entire bridge, point out issues and recommend what restoration work is needed immediately.  Afterwards the work is pretty simple.  Removal of the rotting decking and replacing it with a wooden deck as per its original construction, and of course sanding all the rust off.  Thankfully since the bridge has very little paint left on it, the lead factor or other ‘harsh’ chemical factor will probably be a minimum.  But we won’t know anything until the bridge is inspected.

Please enjoy the video, and watch us for further news and updates on the restoration efforts.

D. W. Kallison

Thanks to ABK Imaging for coming out and taking the drone footage.

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