Androscoggin Swinging Bridge – Franco-American mill workers history

BRUNSWICK, Maine –  A lovely pedestrian bridge spanning the Androscoggin River between Brunswick and Topsham is a place to visit at almost any time of year, but especially with Maine’s summer guests. It provides visitors with a scenic view of the river and the location is easy to find along Route 1, thru Brunswick. My husband and I enjoy showing the bridge and the adjacent small parks on both sides of the river to out of town guests. This blog is an opportunity to share some photographs.

Gusts visiting the Androscoggin River Swinging Bridge

Guests from Maryland visiting with us as we walked the Swinging Bridge between Brunswick and Topsham. From left- Juliana L’Heureux, Kathy Hughes, Lorrie Faircloth with Richard L’Heureux

In fact, the bridge spans more than the beautiful river. The construction of the bridge was intended to provide access for Franco-Americans living in Topsham to walk over the river and into Brunswick.

Although the formal name is the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge, for Franco-Americans who worked in mills, located along the river, the familiar name is “petit pont” (little bridge). It was their pedestrian connector to Brunswick. The bridge was built in 1892 and restored in 2006, with the help of community groups and grants.

In fact, the picturesque bridge has a connection to both engineering and Franco-American histories. The bridge was constructed by John A. Roebling’s Sons Company, the engineering firm that designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge, in New York and other bridges around the world. (Roebling:1806-1869, was a German born engineer).  Also, the bridge’s history is tied to the French Canadians who lived in Topsham and walked to Brunswick to work in the mills, to shop, attend parochial school and church.

Roebling ropes were used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

Roebling ropes are the engineering feature used in the construction of the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge.

French Canadian immigrants began to arrive in Brunswick during the height of Maine’s industrial boom, beginning in about 1857, before the Civil War and afterward. One of the primary mills where they provided labor was the Cabot Mill, where hydro energy supported the production of cotton textiles. In fact, many of the workers were recruited from Canada to provide labor for the mills. They were drawn to work because their large families in Canada were struggling on family farms. Moreover, jobs in the mills paid wages that many of them had never earned in Quebec. Sadly, the immigrants faced many hardships related to their status as being poor, French speaking, and Roman Catholic French-Canadian immigrants. Yet, as a group, they struggled and prevailed. A few families who lived on the Topsham properties are documented on the story board, located on the Town of Topsham’s side of le petit pont.

Brick path leading to the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge

The L’Heureux family name is on one brick, among the donors who helped to contribute to the restoration of the Androscoggin River Swinging Bridge.

Le petit pont linked the mill workers who lived in apartments and homes in Topsham to their jobs in the mills, to shops on Brunswick’s Maine Street, and to the Saint John the  Baptist Church and parochial school.

Donors brick walk to the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge in Brunswick Maine

Donors brick walk leading to the Androscoggin Swinging Bridge, in Brunswick Maine.

For many years, there appeared to be no need to maintain the bridge when the mills closed and moved someplace else. Nevertheless, there are efforts to bring about a cultural awakening with the Franco-Americans who are Maine’s largest ethnic minority. At least 25 percent of Maine’s population designate “Franco-American” as their ethnic identity on community census questionnaires. Therefore, annual fund raising events like Save Our Swinging Bridge.Org, supports continued restoration of the bridge and helps to bring awareness about the Franco-Americans who lived and worked in Topsham and Brunswick.

Moreover, the bridge is a tribute to the immigrant history in Brunswick and Topsham; plus, obviously, the location is a nice place to view the magnificent Androscoggin River.

Two of John A. Roebling’s great-great-great granddaughters attended a rededication ceremony for the bridge, held on September 8, 2007. The Swinging Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in January 2004. It was dedicated as a Maine Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in May 2011 by the Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The bridge is a part of the Androscoggin Riverwalk.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.