hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

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March 20, 2013

Resurrecting a piece of history

Students build replica of mid-1800s bridge toll house

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Built in 1862, the toll house was used to collect tolls until 1868, when all highways in Essex County were declared free to travel. The little building remained in use for the drawbridge until 1911, when the drawbridge was torn down and the toll house was moved to a former bridge-tender’s yard.

Henry Ford bought the toll house in 1928 and brought it to his museum of American collectibles in Michigan, where it is on display today. Built in 1828, the quaint little building housed a toll keeper who assessed fees from the horse-drawn carriages and wagons that crossed the Merrimack River.

Traveling to and from Haverhill and West Newbury, carriages and wagons often had cows and pigs in tow and were charged according to a rate schedule posted on the toll house. Traffic was light in those days, so the toll keeper spent most of his hours inside the small building working as a cobbler repairing and making shoes. The toll house was also a known gathering spot for men who came to discuss the events of the day, including the famous poet Whittier, who lived just four miles away.

With the restoration of the Rocks Village Bridge now underway and set to be finished in August, the Rocks Village Memorial Association undertook recreating the original toll house. The neighborhood group was also responsible for the restoration of the old Hand Tub House nearby, which once served as a fire station.

When the replica of the toll house is brought to the site, it will be placed on granite piers as the original building was more than a century ago. Currently, there is a small, red shack located at the bridge. The shack is used for storage by the Public Works Department, and will be demolished.

Along with the labor donated by Whittier, the project is being done completely with donations of lumber and materials. More is needed to get the job done, said Kwitchoff. The Rocks Village association is offering individuals or companies the opportunity to purchase a “window to history.” The toll house has five windows, which cost $120 each. Those interested in donating materials or cash are asked to contact Kwitchoff at christinekwitchoff@comcast.net or send a check to her attention to 14 Colby’s Lane, Haverhill, MA 01830.

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