Woods and Water: View of a magnificent bridge from camp

  • Across the Millers River from Cabot Camp, the French King Bridge looms overhead as you take Erving's Dorsey Road north. The road follows the river into Northfield, providing a scenic alternative to Route 63. For The Recorder/David Rainville

  • Cabot Camp offers a rare view of the French King Bridge from below. For The Recorder/Davide Rainville

For The Recorder
Published: 2/5/2017 5:09:36 PM

Toward the end of our January thaw, I just had to get out of the house, but an aching knee was determined to keep me on a short lease.

Racking my brain for somewhere with a good view that didn’t require a long walk, it occurred to me that I’d never really explored Cabot Camp, situated where the Millers River dumps into the Connecticut in Montague, visible from the French King Bridge.

More importantly, however, the bridge is visible from the camp. That’s the view I come for. While many who know the bridge think of the stately columns at either end of the crossing, those who’ve seen it from below can appreciate the three-arch truss on which it rests. Cross the river into Erving and you can walk right under the bridge on Dorsey Road, which provides a scenic riverside route all the way to Northfield.

I knew I was off to a good start when I turned onto East Mineral Road. Most times, it sneaks up on me and I drive right past before I realize it. Not the case today. I drove past a few houses, an old cemetery and a tow-rope ski lift in someone’s backyard. Finally, I reached the end of the road, and my destination.

At first, it looked like nobody had been there all winter. As I left my car and approached the footbridge, I realized I was wrong. There was a lone set of footprints that crossed the bridge and came back, followed by a set of tracks from a large dog. My visit was quiet and serene. The only other sign of life was a lone car that pulled into the parking area, turned around and left.

There was a time, however, when the little point was a busier place.

I did some research and stumbled upon a historical resources survey put together for FirstLight, the owners of the property, as well as Northfield Mountain and the Turners Falls hydro plants. It contained a lengthy write-up from the state Historical Commission.

There was once a tollhouse there for a canal bypassing the French King Gorge, according to the Connecticut River Watershed Council. The camp, at the confluence of the Millers and Connecticut rivers, was a water-powered sawmill at the turn of the 19th century. Back then, without the French King Bridge over the Connecticut, East Mineral Road was much more heavily traveled, as people crossed the Millers River between Erving and Montague.

The single-lock canal’s days were numbered, however. By the mid-1800s, railroads had made canals obsolete. Freight no longer needed to be floated up the French King Gorge, or around the Great Falls downstream, which were once bypassed by what is now the Power Canal.

The Historical Commission report says Cabot Camp may have been home to the Dark Tavern, which served travelers, but no further mention was made. One has to imagine some nefarious dealings at a place with such a sinister name and so little record.

It became Cabot Camp around 1913, when Turners Falls Power and Electric Co. president Phillip Cabot decided to make it into the company’s rural retreat. It later became the family getaway for another company official, but for the last several decades it has lay dormant.

Now, it offers a getaway for those looking for a quiet place to walk by the river — and a good view of the French King Bridge. It would also make a nice lunch break for a down-river paddle from Northfield’s Pauchaug Brook to Barton Cove. But, that’s a story for a summer’s day.

Greenfield Recorder

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