Whatever happened to Nashua’s Main Street Memorial Bridge?
The men behind the proposal to build not only an attractive, modern auto and pedestrian bridge across the Nashua River, but to make it a grandiose, sweeping structure loaded with amenities, touted it as a giant step in Nashuans’ quest to become “the City Beautiful.”
Designed by noted architect Everett J. Thompson, who either worked for or was contracted out by Nashua’s prominent Osgood Construction Company, the new bridge would accomplish the city’s premiere goal of “commemorating the brave deeds of our soldiers, our sailors, our aviators and our nurses,” who were still in the process of returning home from “over there” – the foreign battlefields where The Great War was fought.
The folks over at the Nashua Historical Society recently came across a large document, filed away who knows how long ago with items and artifacts related to military topics, and thought I might be interested.
They thought correctly.
Turns out, this long, wordy proposal, complete with fascinating architectural sketches, was put forth to Nashuans 99 years ago next month in the form of a poster-size handbill, copies of which were put on display in the front window of the Goodnow-Hunt-Pearson clothing store, which was on the ground floor of the Odd Fellows Building at the time.
It also appeared in its entirety in The Nashua Telegraph, our predecessor-in-name, early in 1919. It covered an entire page (remember, newspaper pages were quite a bit bigger back then), and reads like an ad – because it was one, signed and dated by the Osgood Construction Company.
While I found a few news stories on the proposal over the course of 1919, the last one i could find is dated Nov. 17 – then my searches go dry.
So what happened?
A highly-touted project that seems to have caught the fancy of a bunch of city officials and progressive-thinking citizens simply drops off the map?
At least one Telegraph scribe even let on his or her excitement over the proposal, writing, in that Nov. 17 story, “The magnitude and beauty of the plan, as well as its utility, grows upon one the more it is studied.”
By then, the proposed project had been divided into two phases – the bridge and its immediate surroundings, and a so-called “memorial municipal building,” which, according to the Osgood folks and The Telegraph, included far more than one building.
Reading about all the really cool amenities that were part of the municipal-building proposal really got me lamenting the fact nothing materialized.
One of my favorites were the proposals to erect identical buildings on the northeast (women’s) and northwest (men’s) corners of the bridge, which would each house a “comfort station” and baths, connected by an underground (and underwater) tunnel, each with space for stores, rooms for municipal or civic use, a large auditorium – to the tune of about 3,000 seats – for events or concerts; a ladies’ parlor, men’s smoking room, perhaps all topped by twin roof gardens.
Another was the plan for a “naval monument and band pavilion,” which would have been an “island” built in the river maybe 100 feet from shore, connected to land by a walkway. It would have been roughly between the bridge and Front Street, about in the middle of a long boat landing that would have stretched along the shore from the bridge past Front Street.
There would also have been a boat landing along the south shoreline of the river, roughly where the parking lot leading to le Parc de Notre Renaissance Francaise is today.
As for the bridge itself, the sidewalks on both sides would have been extra-wide to allow for promenades. One would have been able to access the east side via a walkway off Pearson Avenue, while on the west side, one could have used an approach from Water Street.
Back to that Nov. 17 story and the enthusiastic Telegraph writer, who, while admitting that “time and study are required” before the go-ahead was to be given, went on to praise the project’s “communal conveniences and beauty … set like a huge Cullinan diamond surrounded by the emerald green of a park on the southern bank of the river” near Park Street.
He or she then notes that “the whole design, if carried out, would easily eclipse anything of the kind in New Hampshire, perhaps in New England.” The key words, of course, being “if carried out.”
The Osgood folks, meanwhile, questioned rhetorically the readers of that giant full-page proposal: “We all know what the boys have done, the question is, how shall we show our appreciation?” referring to war veterans.
In something of a challenge, they ask, “Shall we build a memorial now, or shall we simply talk about it and then leave it for the children of our soldiers and sailors and aviators and nurses … to build after their fathers and mothers are dead … ?”
They next implore “every man, woman and child old enough to understand” to “at once begin to ask of their neighbors, friends, every person they meet, ‘what is your idea of a memorial? What shall we build?'”
Then, almost certainly the most ironic sentence in the entire message: “The matter, once suggested, should not be allowed to drop.”
Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Sundays in The
Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup