Jamaicaway Bridge over Route 9

A stretch of road rose on a mighty arch.
Some bind stones together and weave
the work with cement.
— Statius, Silvae IV.iii

Our area was prominent with its many hills but had few bridges, since roads here ran over hills or beside them with the exception of the Stonybrook area.  There bridges sprang up in colonial days and were multiplied when the former railroad embankment was built in the 1890s and rebuilt nearly a century later.  Yet if Rome can be famous for its bridges, our area is infamous for the bridge not built in the Stonybrook valley.  This is the overpass that carries the Jamaicaway, turning into Riverway, over Rte. 9 at the Boston/Brookline border.

The overpass is a handsome bridge, built with concrete and steel and faced with a rare red granite (especially quarried in Braintree) to match the earlier bridges in Olmsted Park on either side of Rte. 9.  Inspection of the structure at the present time reveals two sets of weathered bronze plaques that reveal the overpass was built with federal funds in the mid-1930s as a public works project during the depression (see picture).  The bridge had really been made necessary when Rte. 9 was completed to the other end of the Commonwealth in the early ’30s and it greatly increased the volume of traffic at this junction of Rtes. 1 and 9.

Work duly began on the overpass in September, 1935 and was constantly impeded by unforeseen difficulties.  Gravel from the back of Parker Hill at Heath and So. Huntington got muddy and snow covered.  Steel arrived late due to other priorities, and then came the greatest problem.  When the approach ramps were done, the one facing JP started to sink, while in the middle of Leverett Pond an isle of peat began to rise from the pond’s surface.  The difficulty was that the approach was resting on an unstable peat bog 60 feet beneath it.

Local authorities had alerted the Federal Bureau of Public Roads, but the Bureau had decided to complete the approaches and to take a chance on their not settling rather than to remove the earth grading already in place to build a concrete base and install piles.  With the chance taken and lost, JP’s most colorful political, James Michael Curley, being governor (see picture), was dragged into the mess by a Democratic opponent also seeking the nomination for Senator in 1937.  Certainly the mess did nothing to help Curley’s relationship with the other prominent American on the plaque, President F. D. Roosevelt.

Did the overpass bungle nix Curley’s senatorial career?  He indeed did become the candidate against Henry Cabot Lodge.  Yet fate denied the man of the house of the shamrock shutters an entrance to Washington in the Senate, though he had served the house early in his cursus honorum.  Fate never tells why she does things, but one wonders what thoughts went through Mr. Curley’s mind whenever he drove over or under this overpass that we know so well, after it finally opened at the end of August 1936.

By Walter H. Marx  |  November 15, 1990

(Editor’s Note:  Inspiration for this column comes from many sources.  In this case a reference in a neighborly conversation to a Jamaica Plain bridge which fell prompted a bit of research.  By pure chance the only volume of the former Roxbury Citizen at our office yielded the information on its September 1936 pages.)