By Mike LaBella
---- — Rocks Village neighbors said their bridge being closed for an additional month for repairs will be a nuisance, but something they can deal with.
In fact, they plan to hold a celebration inside the village’s historic Hand Tub House shortly after the Rocks Village Bridge reopens. The group was planning to hold the celebration following the originally scheduled reopening of the bridge in late August.
Wimberley Burton, a resident of the historic Rocks Village and an officer in the Rocks Village Memorial Association, said the public will be invited to the celebration and to view the history of Rocks Village through displays of photographs of old houses and how the village looked in the late 1800s. Food and beverages will be served. Donations supporting repairs to the Hand Tub House will be accepted and there may be raffles as well.
Last week, state transportation officials said the discovery of very small cracks in a key component of the historic bridge linking Haverhill and West Newbury required more work than expected. Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said problems were found with the bridge’s “track chair,” which he said is a cast iron ring upon which sits a variety of equipment. He said the primary purpose of the track chair is to support the swing span, or the bridge’s movable center section.
When workers dismantled the machinery, they discovered that the track chair contained micro cracks that could not be readily identified during the initial visual inspections. Verseckes said it required designing, fabricating and installing a new track chair, which added time to the project.
Verseckes said the unexpected additional work resulted in the reopening of the bridge being delayed by about one month. The bridge is now expected to reopen in late September.
Burton said the delay will be an inconvenience, but it is an issue the village has been dealing with since last summer, when the state closed the bridge to traffic to begin a $13.1 million rehabilitation project.
The closing has forced drivers to find other routes to cross the river between Haverhill and West Newbury. Buses carrying students to nearby Whittier Regional High have been forced to take longer routes.
Burton said the contractor for the project, SPS New England of Salisbury, has been keeping residents of Rocks Village informed of their progress and has been a good neighbor.
”They’ve been very careful to protect the houses in the area, and particularly the Hand Tub House,” Burton said about the historic 1840 building that sits on the Haverhill side of the bridge and once served as a fire house.
The Rocks Village Memorial Association, a 105-year-old organization, was created for the purpose of preserving the history of the village. The association recently received notice that it has officially been designated a nonprofit organization.
”We’ve specifically targeted the 1840 fire house as being in danger of collapsing due to recent problems with its foundation,” Burton said. “We’ve spent $66,000 in grants and money raised to fix the foundation, and the next thing we’re doing is having the roof fixed this summer.”
Burton said the city received a $48,000 grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for repairs to the building’s foundation. Other grants totalling $13,000 were received from the Methuen Festival of Trees, which also helped pay for repairs to the foundation. Association members wrote the grants on behalf of the city, which owns the Hand Tub House, and the mayor signed off on the grant applications with the unanimous support of the City Council.
”We recently received notice of a $1,500 grant from Essex Heritage, which will go towards replacing the roof,” Burton said. “Other monies come from yard sales, bake sales, individual donations and other sources.”
Burton said additional funds are needed to replace the building’s obsolete knob and tube electrical wiring.
”With new wiring, we’ll be able to plug in a crock pot and have a slide show at the same time,” Burton said.
Last year, City Council approved a request by SPS to use city land behind the village’s historic Hand Tub House as a staging area to avoid having barges traveling up and down the Merrimack River while the work is taking place.
Burton said the advantages of using the land as a staging area included the removal of dead trees, poison ivy and invasive plants by the contractor.
”They intend to landscape the property upon completion of the work,” Burton said. “They also donated financially to the Hand Tub House, which they didn’t have to do.”