A history of Auburn's bridges
When Auburn celebrated its 150th anniversary of the founding in 2004, the year also coincided with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the handsome Patterson Bridge on County Rd. 25 over the Maitland River.
That bridge, was named for T. Roy Patterson, who served as Huron County engineer from 1919 until his death in 1951.
The bridge was dedicated by his wife on Dec. 30, 1954 when she unveiled a plaque and cut the ribbon declaring the bridge officially open. The bridge was designed by the Pattersons’ son Peter, who served as county engineer from 1952-1956 and was constructed by the county’s bridge-building team under John Snell.
It was quite a feat of engineering at the time. It was built nearly 1,000 feet upstream from the old bridge and cost what was an astounding price at the time: $225,500. The bridge itself is 360 feet long in four spans of continuous concrete. To smooth the route through Auburn, part of the hill to the west, known as Lawlor’s Hill, had to be cut down while at the other end, the route of Maitland Crescent was changed to avoid a steep winding grade into the village.
Throughout history, the mighty Maitland had caused plenty of problems for bridge builders and even this modern bridge had its brush with the river’s power. It was partly built when rains came and the river rose to a level where it was feared the bridge would be ruined. Luckily, while some plywood forms and supports were washed away, no harm was done to the new bridge itself.
The Maitland had been a challenge from the days of first settlement. In a 1955 story in The Blyth Standard, Charles Asquith of Auburn told how Eneas Elkin, after taking up the farm on the northwest corner of Hullett Twp., had set up a ferry service across the Maitland to be run by his wife during the day when the men were busy in the field. Although it was unknown exactly where the ferry crossed the river, Asquith speculated it was probably a little north of where the dam was built.
The first bridge across the river was built in 1859. Belden’s Atlas of 1879 describes the bridge: “The Maitland River is spanned at Auburn by a fine wood truss bridge which rests on substantial stone piers; the cost of this bridge was $10,500, it being the most expensive in the county with one exception.”
Substantial as it was, Asquith recalled that one spring day in 1884, five years after the Belden account, two young Auburn men, Joseph Lawson and William Sturdy, were on the bridge watching the ice flows pass under it when they realized the bridge was being carried downstream. They raced to the eastern end of the bridge and managed to jump a gap of four or five feet to the safety of the shore.
While the bridge was out of commission, a ferry service was again set up, operated by George Dawson and Gerry McBrien.
Later that year a new steel bridge was erected without a central pier which was in more danger when the river was in flood. The abutments at the shore and the supporting pier in the stream were built by German craftsman Joseph Naegle with the stone quarried just south of Ball’s Bridge, according to Mr. Asquith. The eastern abutment can still be seen, well to the south of the new bridge.
In 1898 the western span of the bridge was replaced by a longer one and by a longer one again in 1912.
It was a bridge that was built in the days of the horse and buggy but the arrival, first of cars, then larger trucks, meant that by the early 1950s, the bridge was inadequate for modern traffic demands. Looking at the changes in transportation since 1954, it’s perhaps remarkable that the bridge still seems modern today.