It has finally happened. The old-fashioned bridge over the Mill River Ford in North Tisbury is no longer an old-fashioned bridge. Until three weeks ago, it was as close in character as the Island ever has had to a covered bridge. It’s not covered of course, but through the years it has retained wooden railings to keep cars crossing from falling into the brook below.
Now fat metal guardrails have replaced the old-fashioned rails on one side and presumably — and sadly — will replace them on the other side as well. The Massachusetts highway department, without notifying the town, put the metal rails (slightly darkened, not shiny) in place after an accident where a pickup truck got hung up on the old railing.
The state has been trying to alter the bridge since 1931, when the state highway commission wanted to eliminate the bridge’s picturesque curve. But after an outcry from the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club and the Vineyard Gazette, state highway officials thought better of their plan and left the bridge alone.
Twenty years later, the state sought to add nine and a half feet in width to the approach to the ford for the benefit of impatient drivers. Once again, the garden club protested. Its president pointed out that “if the assets of the Island are lost and the reasons why people come here from the four corners of the earth to visit, everyone will lose out.” Seasonal visitors from as far away as Cincinnati complained about the “mainland standardization of the rural Vineyard.” Protesters urged the state to go somewhere else in the commonwealth to spend its money. Again, the state gave in and the bridge was saved.
This time, not even the West Tisbury selectmen were informed of what the state was doing at the bridge. Some years ago, when the state had once again attempted to alter the bridge by widening it, the selectmen were informed and the alteration was placed on hold. But this time, no one was notified; the wooden railing on one side was simply replaced with a metal one.
It seems that the rural quality of the Vineyard matters less these days — the drivers of big buses, large trucks and SUVs and an inflexible highway department are running our show.