I started writing this article back in July. Perhaps that is a sign of being busy or perhaps a sign of procrastination. With the recent green paint vandalism of the Martin Luther King memorial, Lincoln memorial, and the National Cathedral, I am again pondering the topic of Stone Arch Bridge in Westford.
Stone Arch Bridge is a stone bridge that was built in 1872 and used for the railway way back when. An interesting feature of this bridge is actually a lack of a feature: mortar. The stones are laid one by one and fit to build the bridge without any mortar, cement, or other bonding materials used in construction. I would consider it a historic structure.
Stone Arch Bridge is located on one of the many lands owned by Westford that are open to the public for hiking, biking, walking dogs, and bird watching. You may even find a geo-cache there if you enjoy such adventures. A trail off of Cold Spring Road wanders around a hill that was once a pile of garbage that has been converted into a hill sporting bird feeders. The path continues through the woods along what was once a railway and you will soon find yourself at the bridge.
For over a hundred years the bridge stood as it did when first built. I remember coming to Westford and joining one of the Westford Conservation Trust Walks to learn about the bridge. I imagined the workers building the bridge and thought about how their hands touched the same stones that I could touch today. For me, it was a connection with the past, and a respect for the people behind the hard labor that made the bridge.
About 5 years ago, I went down to the bridge and something had changed. Many different colors of spray paint had shown up to cover the stones at the lower levels. The style and colors matched the paint that showed up along Nutting Road about the same time. In the back of my head I wanted to find a way to remove the paint without harming the water and wildlife around it. Again, perhaps my procrastination gets the best of me.
We walked down to the bridge over Independence Day weekend. I did not even recognize it. The front is mainly covered from top to bottom with spray paint over spray paint over spray paint. Around the other side, the trend continues. Trees were also the palette for spray paint. It broke my heart.
I have thought about this many times since. Some will say it is free speech. Indeed, we do have the right under the First Amendment to speak out against the government without repression or repercussion from the government. The recent removal of some media outlets by the government in Turkey highlights the value of our right as Americans to free speech and the freedom of the press. Where is the line drawn between free speech and vandalism? With all of the outlets like twitter, facebook, blogs, and the next new social media outlet down the road, I had this naïve belief that defacing historic sites and community lands might subside. Where is the line drawn between expressing ourselves artistically and respecting the protected lands and structures of our community?
I went to the Stone Arch Bridge last month to take photos of the conservation land surrounding it with the hopes of my pictures being printed in the Westford Eagle. When I left, I was disheartened by what I saw, but reminded at the end of my walk as I passed Bluebird Hill that even a pile of garbage could evolve into a grassy viewpoint for bird watchers and sanctuary for birds.
For more information on the trail, please visit: http://www.westfordconservationtrust.org/wct/trails/StoneArch/trail.html