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Published: 07/28/2006    print this story   email this story  

West Newbury: Where elephants have passed


By Mary Hart
Correspondent

Historic Rocks Village Bridge connects West Newbury and Haverhill, and has an overall length of 812 feet. Built in 1795 originally with five supported piers and two abutments, this scenic bridge was utilized as a toll bridge "until 1868, when toll bridges were declared public highways and the tolls were removed," says Dot Cavanaugh, president of the West Newbury Historical Society. "Toll gates were located on the Haverhill side of the bridge, and the cost was half a penny for traveling on foot; three pence for a person with a horse; eight pence for a horse with a chaise; and two-thirds of a penny for swine or sheep."

Toll officials were once stumped by an elephant.

"A performance troupe from Barnum and Bailey Circus needed to cross the bridge," Cavanaugh says. "Part of their entourage was an elephant. Having never come across this before, the toll person didn't know what to charge for the elephant. As it turned out, he found out that they had no money anyway, so the toll person offered the group free passing for a performance the next morning, to which the group readily agreed."

A new corporation was founded in 1828 to rebuild the bridge, after it washed away in 1818. The rebuilt Rocks Village Bride was made entirely of plank and was built a few feet higher off the water than the original bridge. In 1894, the covered Haverhill section was fully removed and replaced by an iron structure. West Newbury's side was condemned in 1914 and was rebuilt with an entirely new structure in 1915.

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