120-year-old mason marks create satisfying adventure
There is so much history on the James River, and so many ways to appreciate it. There are the large and obvious treasures – like bridges, canals and other structures — and then there are the tiny, minute details that can tell stories. I recently paddled down the James with Tyler Potterfield, a long-time planner with […]
There is so much history on the James River, and so many ways to appreciate it. There are the large and obvious treasures – like bridges, canals and other structures — and then there are the tiny, minute details that can tell stories.
I recently paddled down the James with Tyler Potterfield, a long-time planner with the City of Richmond Department of Community Development. He’s also the author of Nonesuch Place: A History of the Richmond Landscape and has a tremendous respect for the history of the James River. We dedicated part of our paddle trip to discovering Richmond’s history and we were looking for the tiny, minute details.
One of the James River treasures we looked for were the marks made by the men that helped shape the granite piers of the old Belt Line Bridge (see the above photo) in the area of the river between the Powhite Parkway Bridge and the Boulevard Bridge — just east of the Atlantic Coast Line Bridge.
Potterfield and I both love the huge, magnificent, high-arching ACL Bridge, which is visible from many vantage points in that area of the river. He’d never seen it up close and was blown away by the details that became more obvious up close.
We were just as satisfied studying the stone piers of the old bridge, especially the mason marks. According to the fantastically informative book, the Falls of the James Atlas by Bill Trout:
One of the best places to find mason marks is on the piers of the old 1891 Belt Line Bridge, just downstream of the graceful concrete arches of the bridge which replaced it in 1919. Mason marks are the personal symbols or initials which stonemasons inscribed on the stones they shaped. Some stone structures have many of them; some few or none. The 1891 bridge is covered with them, and it’s trying to tell us something.
At last count, 313 of the 2,727 visible stones were marked with 53 different marks, plus three mysterious inscriptions. This means that at least 53 stonemasons cut and shaped the stones and left their personal marks on them.
There are certainly more marks to be discovered because it is very difficult to see them all. It depends on the lighting, and some must be hidden or scoured away. We don’t know the names of any of these masons, only their marks. Their works, signed by them, are their memorials.
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