History of the Carlton Street Footbridge Controversey
the Relationship of the Footbridge to the Emerald Necklace Parks Master Plan
The Emerald Necklace Parks were designed by noted landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, in the late 19th century. The Park Necklace begins at Boston's Back Bay Fens, follows along the course of the Muddy River through The Riverway and Jamaica Pond to Olmsted Park (Arnold Arboretum), and on to Franklin Park (now Franklin Park Zoo) in West Roxbury.
The Carlton Street Footbridge is a steel truss pedestrian footbridge dating from the 1890's. When built, it spanned the Boston & Albany Highland Branch railroad tracks from Carlton Street in Brookline, to the Muddy River/Riverway section of the Emerald Necklace Park. In 1959 the Highland Branch was converted into the MBTA's Riverside trolley line.
The bridge was closed almost 40 years ago because of neglected maintenance, structural deterioration and because closure was deemed necessary for public safety.
The historical argument for restoration rests on the assertion that the Carlton Street Footbridge is an integral part of Olmsted's vision of Riverway Park. Research by Olmsted scholars reveals the opposite. Though we are told that Olmsted was by nature an obsessive organizer who committed all his plans to paper, it is noteworthy that:
- The bridge does not appear on the 1881 map of the project. The 1881 map shows the Chapel Station at the present location of the bridge. The Chapel Street Station was a flag stop for the Boston and Albany Railroad, where pedestrians crossed at grade. There was also a flag stop, slightly further down the line, at Longwood.
- The bridge also does not appear on an 1887 map of the project, which does show the Chapel Street Station, Carlton Street and Monmouth Court.
- On the 1889 map, we see TWO suggestions for a bridge - one at Carlton Street and one at Hawes Street.
- The bridge also does not appear on an 1892 map, which does show a path at Carlton Street to the Chapel Street Station flag stop. On this map, you can very clearly see a bridge at Hawes Street.
- Finally, an 1894 map of the project shows the bridge at HAWES Street and NOTHING at Carlton Street.
In his 1881 plan, the entry point at Carlton Street merely showed the existing well-worn path used to reach the flag stop to the Boston-Albany Railroad. Olmsted seemingly found it convenient to extend this path into his proposed park. The first indication of a footbridge appears 11 years later, presumably in response to a documented request from a citizen of the Town of Brookline, who considered a footbridge a safety measure at that location.
By 1893, Olmsted had completed his design plan for the Park and was travelling abroad. By the time the bridge design was chosen in 1894, Olmsted was no longer actively engaged in design or implementation of the Emerald Necklace (Riverway Park) project (Pressley Associates Report, p. 14). It is clear that the Carlton Street Footbridge was built as an expedient solution, designed by others, and was not an integral part of Olmsted's vision of the park.
Research indicates the Carlton Street Footbridge, a steel truss bridge, was designed by Alexis French, the Brookline Town Engineer and built in 1894, while the remaining bridges in the Emerald Necklace - 17 in all - were designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in close collaboration with Olmsted and constructed with granite or boulders. In fact, Olmsted rejected all efforts to build iron bridges as suggested to him by Boston's engineer - a Mr. Davis - who preferred iron bridges for economic reasons.
Olmsted preferred brick or even wood and made no secret of his dislike for the engineering mentality. Research indicates that his strong preference was to use boulders. In the end, he and Mr. Davis agreed to use boulders for smaller bridges and granite for larger ones. (It is interesting to note that Cynthia Zaitzevsky in her exhaustive study, "Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System" makes no mention of the Carlton Street Footbridge.)
Proponents of restoration point to Central Park's Bow Bridge as an example of Olmsted agreeing to the use of metal in bridges. This bridge was done in collaboration with Claude Veaux and is hardly a suitable comparison to the Carlton Street Footbridge.
Bow Bridge in NYC
The choice of Alexis French rather than Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge and the selection of steel (as opposed to even iron) as the material of choice for the Carlton Street Footbridge are further evidence of Olmsted's lack of involvement in this undertaking. Even for Alexis French, the Carlton Street Footbridge was not a noteworthy achievement. French's obituary, appearing in the Brookline Chronicle in 1915, which did list numerous other projects he had completed, fails to mention the Carlton Street Footbridge.
Compare Olmsted bridges in the Park (see below) with the Carlton Street Footbridge.
Do these bridges look anything like the Carlton Street Footbridge?
The Carlton Street Footbridge was given historical status not because of its form or function, but because it was built one year before the end of the arbitrarily designated time period of Olmsted's involvement in Riverway Park.