Saturday, April 16, 2011


1. Archie’s Report.
2. Summary.

1. Archie’s Report.


By Archie Mazmanian


Q. Which bridge over the Charles River did Paul Revere cross on his historic Midnight Ride from Boston to Lexington/Concord?

A. There were no bridges over the Charles River to cross. Rather, Paul Revere took the ferry between Boston and Charlestown.

For some great maps illustrating the different routes taken by Paul Revere and William Dawes on their rides, Google “Paul Revere’s Route to Lexington” and their relations to the Charles River back then.

While there may have been bridges over some of the narrow parts of the Charles River well upstream, the first bridge between Boston and points north was built in 1786, between Boston and Charlestown, known as the Charles River Bridge, replacing the ferry operation used by Paul Revere in 1775 for his Midnight Ride. The ferry operation had been granted to Harvard College in 1650 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the tolls of which augmented Harvard’s coffers.

In 1785, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in granting a charter to the Charles River Bridge company in effect shut down Harvard’s ferry operation. To compensate for this, the Charles River Bridge company was authorized to charge tolls for a period of 40 years subject to paying an annuity to Harvard to replace its lost ferry toll charges.

In 1792, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts granted a charter for the West Boston Bridge (now the Longfellow Bridge, aka the Salt and Pepper Bridge). To offset the resulting toll losses to the Charles River Bridge downstream, the Commonwealth extended the latter’s charter to 70 years.

In 1828, the Commonwealth chartered the Warren Bridge to be constructed very close by the Charles River Bridge. The resulting competition benefited MA citizens with lower tolls, significantly reducing the revenues of the Charles Street Bridge. So the Charles River Bridge sued the Warren Bridge in a MA court. Charles River Bridge, represented by eminent counsel Daniel Webster and Lemuel Shaw, claimed that the charter granted to the Warren Bridge violated the U.S. Constitution’s Contract Clause (Article I, Section 10) on the basis that the earlier charter grant to Charles River Bridge provided, by implication, exclusive rights attributable to the yet earlier grant to Harvard for its ferry service.

In 1829, the MA Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of the Warren Bridge, that had argued no exclusive rights had existed for crossing the Charles River and technological - and thus economic – progress should prevail over the private interests of Charles River Bridge (as well as Harvard).

The Charles River Bridge appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeal was first argued in 1831. It is reported that Chief Justice John Marshall, Justice Joseph Story (who did not recuse despite his connections with Harvard and its law school) and Justice Smith Thompson seemed to accept the Contract Clause argument of Charles River Bridge. But the case continued on for years because of some disagreements among the Justices. Meantime, in 1836, Roger Taney had replaced Marshall as Chief Justice. In 1837, the Supreme Court ruled (5-2) in favor of Warren Bridge, the opinion of the Court being written by Chief Justice Taney, with Justices Story and John McLean dissenting.

Just imagine if Charles River Bridge had won. How might that have impacted upon the Charles River’s development as we know it today with its many bridges? Might the economic growth of Boston, Cambridge and environs have been stifled? And how much larger might Harvard’s endowment and real estate holdings along the Charles River have become with its annuity?

The decisions of the MA Supreme Judicial Court and the U.S. Supreme Court are quite lengthy and include a lot of history of interest for fans of the Charles River. To avoid extensive reading that may seem somewhat arcane, those interested may Google “Charles River Bridge vs. Warren Bridge” for short but informative narratives.

[Part VIII of this series will continue to discuss the bridges of the Charles River. For those interested in the Esplanade discussed briefly in Part VI, check via the Internet “Charles River Esplanade Study Report” by the Boston Landmarks Commission dated 5/4/2009; it runs 76 pages with quite extensive information, including environmental, about the Charles River. The role of Harvard vis-à-vis the Charles River has been referenced in earlier Parts of this Series and will be further addressed (along with other abutting institutions) in future Parts as the series progresses, somewhat in the mode of “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”]

2. Summary.

These historical structures are under attack by the Charles River Destroyers (they keep calling themselves a Conservancy) and their friends including, as usual really bad people in Cambridge.

A recent bad vote by the Cambridge City Council was unanimous.

Prior reports may be found at:

Part VI,4/11/11:

Intermission, 4/1/11:

Part V, 3/29/11:

Part IV, 3/7/11:

Part III, 2/19/11:

Part II, 2/5/11:

Part I, 1/29/11: