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Published: August 01, 2008 11:50 pm ShareThisPrintThis
Topsfield bridge closing forces lengthy detours
By Steve Landwehr
Staff writer

TOPSFIELD - Monday will end decades of iconic but sometimes dangerous summertime play for teens while creating months of lengthy detours for motorists.
The 85-year-old Asbury Street bridge over the Ipswich River is being replaced, forcing 4,600 cars per day into detours and shutting down a popular old swimming spot. The new bridge will have 12-foot fences along the edges, discouraging youths from plunging into waters popular with canoeists and kayakers, said Topsfield Highway Superintendent David Bond.
"I think it's kind of stupid," said Will Deroo, a 17-year-old from Peabody who was jumping into the river with three friends this week. "If people want to swim, why stop it?"
Deroo said a shortage of free swimming spots in the area means some teens would drive to a quarry in Rockport instead.
Topsfield fire Chief Ronald Giovannacci said youths are sometimes "a little overly rambunctious" when canoes or kayaks are coming by the swimming hole, and during the summer they can jump into water just a few feet deep.
"In the last year or so, we've been out there a few times. The police go there routinely because of the traffic complaints, kids in the street and that sort of thing," Giovannacci said.
The narrow bridge doesn't have sidewalks. Motorists sometimes slow down or veer into the center of the road to avoid hitting the youths.
Signs will be unveiled on Route 1 at Ipswich Road, as well as at other prominent locations, advising drivers to seek alternate routes. No specific detour is being recommended, but the only viable alternatives are continuing on Ipswich Road into downtown Ipswich and across the Choate Bridge to Routes 1A and 133, or south on Route 1 to Route 97 in Topsfield, following that into Beverly or to Cherry Street in Wenham.
Winthrop Street in Hamilton is a swifter detour, but it is unpaved and filled with deep potholes.
Patrons of Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton, Bradley Palmer State Park and Willowdale Estate within the grounds of the park will also be affected. Signs will be posted on Asbury Street in Hamilton advising people those three destinations can still be reached.
The farm and the estate have both alerted customers through their Web sites, while the Department of Conservation and Recreation is expected to post alternate routes to the park on its Web site by the end of the week, press secretary Wendy Fox said.
The popular wading pool at the park will still be accessible.
Youngsters, and even some folks a bit older, have used the bridge as a diving platform for years. Officials have said the diving sometimes takes a dangerous turn when foolhardy cannonballers try to splash water on passing canoeists, or even overturn the canoes.
This week, when Deroo was in between jumps, he and canoeists exchanged only friendly greetings. He remembers seeing families jumping from the bridge when he was younger and his parents were taking him to Bradley Palmer State Park. That sort of tradition continues, said Jeff Williams, a 17-year-old from Peabody.
"Parents come with their kids all the time," Williams said.
The Peabody youths noted that a popular rope swing within the state park had again been cut down.
The town will spend nearly $1.1 million to replace the bridge, with an engineering firm overseeing the work. The state will pay for about $590,000 of the work; a 2007 Town Meeting voted to pay most of the rest.
The work could finish before a 120-day deadline, Bond said.
Staff writer Mike Stucka contributed to this story.

Friends look on as Will Deroo, 17, plunges toward the Ipswich River from the Asbury Street bridge in Topsfield. A bridge replacement will include fencing intended to shut down a popular swimming hole.
Mike Stucka / Staff photo

Jeff Williams, 17, of Peabody leaps into the Ipswich River with a football clutched in his hands. A popular swimming hole off the Asbury Street Bridge will be closed down when the bridge is replaced and 12-foot fencing is added.
Mike Stucka / Staff photo

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