How the General Pierce Bridge got its name


  • The General Pierce Bridge between Greenfield and Montague. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

For the Recorder
Published: 3/17/2023 3:58:03 PM

With the recent reopening of the General Pierce Bridge, it feels both timely and relevant to share who the bridge was named for, and how the naming came to be. Many thanks to the Greenfield Public Library and their newspaper archives for much of this information.

Frederick Everett Pierce was born in Glenwood, Iowa on May 5, 1862, the youngest of three children to William Pierce and Ellen Anna (Coates) Pierce. He was 5 years old when the family moved back to Greenfield, where three generations of Pierces had been living since the 1790s. Their first home was on Olive Street, which had been named for his grandmother, Olive (Wilson) Pierce.

After graduating high school in 1881, Pierce held many positions in town, including as postmaster, registrar of voters and clerk for the Board of Assessors. He also served as president of the Connecticut Valley Street Railway, and superintendent of the Federal Street Cemetery Association.

Pierce’s military career began as an organizer of Company L, 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in 1887, and he fought as a captain in the Spanish-American War in 1898. After several subsequent promotions in rank, he retired in 1913 as a major general.

In 1916, Pierce entered politics as a Republican representative from the 2nd Franklin District. After a massive flood of the Connecticut River in March 1936 washed away both the covered and trolley bridges between Cheapside in Greenfield and Montague City, Pierce became a dedicated advocate for a new bridge in the same location. It took more than 10 years of hearings and meetings with the state officials, before the construction finally began in the summer of 1947.

A bill to name the bridge for Pierce was filed in October 1947 by Sen. Edward Staves of Southbridge, chair of the Committee on Highways and Motor Vehicles. Staves didn’t know, however, that veterans’ groups from Greenfield and Montague had already been talking with Sen. Ralph Mahar of Orange and Rep. George Martin of Montague about naming the bridge for soldiers from their towns who’d been killed in World War II. The veterans’ plan was to collect all of the eligible names, and one each from Greenfield and Montague would be drawn at random. Local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts oversaw the process that resulted in Charles DeWolf from Turners Falls and Rene Gariepy from Greenfield being selected for the honor.

In January 1948, at a special hearing of the Committee on Highways and Motor Vehicles, Mahar and Martin submitted their bill for the new DeWolf-Gariepy Bridge. Veterans in attendance praised Pierce for what he’d done to get the state to build the new bridge, but they firmly believed it should be named for local men who’d given their lives for their country, rather than for a man who was still living. It was all very passionate testimony, and gave the Legislature a lot to consider when it would be time for them to return and cast their votes.

It was a month later, after hearing the two competing bills read aloud before them, that House members decided to support one of their own and voted to name the bridge for Pierce. But they also added a compromise, to name the road from Turners Falls, through Montague City, and over the new bridge into Greenfield, the DeWolf-Gariepy Memorial Highway. When the Senate got the bill they quickly approved it, and then sent it to Gov. Robert Bradford for his signature. As it happened, Bradford already had plans for a two-week vacation in Florida, and left Massachusetts without having signed the bill into law. It got done anyway, though, when Lt. Gov. Arthur Coolidge chose to sign the bill in the governor’s stead. It wasn’t the complete end of it, however, because in May, the mothers of DeWolf and Gariepy felt disappointed enough at what had transpired that they convinced Rep. Martin to file one more bill, to repeal the naming of the road for their deceased sons.

So, while Pierce got a bridge named for him in the spring of 1948, he lost his bid for reelection in the fall to Joseph Cullen from Greenfield, and the 2nd Franklin District got its first Democrat as representative in more than 40 years. After a year and a half of construction, the General Pierce Bridge fully opened to vehicular traffic just before Christmas, 1948. And on Sept. 14, 1953, a retired Frederick Everett Pierce died in Greenfield at the age of 91.

Russ Pirkot lives in Greenfield and is a member of the Historical Society.


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