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Natural Descent of the Merrimack River

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Iron Taylor’s Falls Bridge in Moonlight

Hudson’s western boundary is marked by a delightful section of the Merrimack River; stretching from Litchfield on the north, some 6.5 miles south to the state line with Ma. River crossings to Nashua occur at the Sagamore Bridge at the south near Walmart and at the Taylor’s Falls Bridge and Veterans Memorial Bridge near the Nashua River. There has been a Taylor’s Falls Bridge in this area since 1811. Initially a wooden toll bridge, then an iron bridge, a concrete bridge, and now the southern bridge of the twin span which dates to the 1970’s. So, the question is: Where were the Taylor Falls and what became of them?

The Pawtucket Falls in the Merrimack River at Lowell, MA was an important fishing ground for the Pennacook Indians during the pre-colonial times. “Pawtucket” is an Algonkian word meaning “at the falls in the river”. These falls were a barrier to commercial travel along the river to the early settlers, leading to the construction of the canal in the late 1700’s. In order to maximize the hydro-power and control the flow to the canal, a dam was built at the top of the falls in 1820 and expanded in 1840. The final structure exists in much to same form today, consisting of a stone dam topped with five foot wooded flash boards, This dam had the effect of raising the level of the river some 8 feet near the dam to 4 feet as far north as Cromwell Falls in Merrimack; eliminating any falls or rapids in the river from Lowell to Litchfield/Merrimack.

Besides the Pawtucket Falls there were three sets of rapids or waterfalls of significance to the early settlers; The Wicasuck Falls in Tyngsboro, the Taylor’s Falls in Hudson, and Cromwell’s Falls in Merrimack. The building of the Pawtucket Dam displaced each of these falls.

The Wicasuck Falls were about 4 miles north of Pawtucket where the river swept around a considerable island of the same name. This offered good fishing for the Indians and early settlers. The island played a significant part during King Philip’s War when Captain Jonathan Tyng “overlooked” a party of praying Indians that lived on this island for some 10 years thus keeping them out of the strife. In consideration of this the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony granted this island to him in December 1693, It became known as Tyng’s Inland.

A series of rapids known as Taylor’s Falls were located some 8 miles north of Tyng’s Island and one mile south of the junction of the Nashua and the Merrimack Rivers which is located just north of the Taylor’s Falls Bridge; placing them a little over 1/2 mile below the bridge. John Taylor built a garrison on that part of the Joseph Hills grant that was deeded to Gershom Hills and later the Charles W. Spalding farm. This garrison was built behind the house toward the river. The Spalding farm house is now the site of Continental Academie on Derry Road. Little is known of this John Taylor except that the Taylor’s falls were most likely named for him and clearly the Taylor’s Falls Bridge was name for the falls.

Joseph Cromwell was an early fur trader in Old Dunstable on the Merrimack side of the river. The site of his trading post is identified by a marker between the Anheuser-Bush brewery and the Clydesdale Hamblet in Merrimack. Cromwell Falls was visited by Henry David Thorreau and his brother John in September 1839 and this visit chronicled in his book “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers”. In this book he stated that the Cromwell Falls were the first falls they met while traveling on the Merrimack; thus indicating that the river level had been raised by that date.

Today the smooth surface of the Merrimack gives no indication of the underlaying rapids and falls were eliminated between Pawtuck and Cromwell Falls. Most of the information in this brief article is from Webster’s History of Hudson. The photo of the Taylor’s Falls bridge in moonlight is from a post card within the collection of the Hudson Historical Society. Researched and written by Ruth Parker.


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