When the woods close in I jump in the car and head into Belfast where I go for a long walk. It pains me to drive somewhere to take a stroll, but some days the claustrophobia of snow laden fir trees and limited sky view drives me to it.
My usual walk begins at the Armistice Bridge, a marvelously restored river crossing over the Passagassawaukeag River (locally called the Passy). The footbridge was originally the vehicle crossing from Belfast, and was dedicated as Veterans Memorial Bridge in 1921, in honor of local men who died in World War I. You can see an old post card of the original bridge on the Maine Memory Network’s site.
The bridge was closed to traffic in 1963 when a much larger Veterans Memorial bridge was built just upriver. In the early 2000s the old bridge’s supporting pylons were found to be unstable, and it was finally closed to foot traffic and fishing which was a popular activity.
The footbridge was saved from destruction by a group effort of local people, Friends of the Bridge, who successfully organized a campaign to raise funds and preserve the pedestrian river crossing, and maintain access to the downtown from Belfast’s East Side. The city’s considerable contribution and grant money enabled a complete reconstruction and it reopened to foot traffic in 2006. It was rededicated as Armistice Bridge on October 8, 2010, and still serves as a war memorial to those local men who lost their lives in World War I. You can view an account of the rededication here on WABI online.
In spite of some naysayers who thought no no one would use it, the footbridge has become a wildly popular destination, and in 2014 was connected with a newly developed Harbor Walk that runs the length of the downtown Belfast waterfront, a distance of about a mile and a half.
In 2015, the footbridge and harbor walks will join with a rail trail that runs along the Passy for several miles, in the bed of the old Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad.
Our Town Belfast, a local organization describing itself as “vibrant and inclusive social, arts and cultural effort that initiates and supports community and creative sustainability in downtown Belfast following the National Trust Main Street Four-Point Approach®” is running a fund raising campaign that offers memorial bricks at the entrances to the Armistice Bridge. You can read more about Our Town Belfast and this fundraising effort here. Here is their pitch:
You may have noticed memorial bricks at the East and West entrances to the Armistice Bridge in downtown Belfast. These bricks ($100 each) are a fundraiser for Belfast’s downtown revitalization efforts and we take orders year-round for personalized bricks to commemorate loved ones and memories in Belfast.
Belfast calls itself a city, and I guess probably it was a small one up until the end of the Second World War, back in the twentieth century. Now it’s a town with a city government and a city like center reminiscent of every downtown in New England–two blocks of three story brick buildings with storefronts and a Main Street that runs right into Belfast Harbor. The 2013 population of Belfast was 6660 and it’s area is 38.7 sq miles.
Belfast Harbor is situated on the west shore of Penobscot Bay, which offers world class sailing in summer, and has a number of inhabited islands that can be reached by ferry. Penobscot Bay is home to a large fleet of windjammers, restored sailing ships that offer hands on experiences out of nearby Camden and Rockland.
There are three bookstores in the thriving downtown, and I’ll write about them in a different post, a food coop with a long successful history and numerous art galleries, The Colonial Theatre is a restored 1912 movie house with three screens, and still has the original balcony and stage in one of its mini-theaters. There is even a Poet Laureate who keeps hours at the Belfast Free Library.
I could go on and on, and will in later posts, but right now the sun is up and the footbridge is calling.