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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 4, May 1970

Three Bridges Drive

page 22

Three Bridges Drive

A popular outing for both Nelsonians and visitors is the trip through the pleasant farmlands of the Waimea Plains by way of the Three Bridges Drive. Richmond, Waimea West, Brightwater and Hope were some of the earliest settled country districts in the province, but possibly there are few people who realise that the Three Bridges Drive has been regarded as a sight-seeing tour for the past century. Certainly in the horse days it would have been regarded as a day long trip while in this motorised age the distance can be travelled in a fraction of the time. Also in earlier days people did not have so much leisure time and an outing of this nature would be a memorable occasion. People did not normally travel long distances and, as an indication of this, there was a time when Gaukrodger's Hotel at Foxhill, a little over twenty miles from Nelson, was known as the "Honeymoon Hotel".

Originally the land round Stoke, Richmond and Appleby was very swampy and the roads, or tracks such as they were, simply kept to the drier patches of ground. One report of a trip from Nelson to the Moutere in July 1843 mentioned that to reach Richmond they had to pass "three more creeks and a big swamp of flax and rushes". Ditches had been made on both sides of the road but the bullocks had difficulty in getting a cart through, in Richmond there was an hotel and a few houses with mud walls thatched with rushes. Ditches were being made through the swamp which lay to the south of Blind Bay and stretched from Richmond to the Wairoa River (Appleby district). Beyond Richmond swamps lay on both sides of the track and the driver simply got through somehow by driving to left or right wherever he could find the best going. People travelled in a south westerly direction and crossed the Wairoa and Wai-iti Rivers separately. Concerning the Waimea Plain a simple comment was that "This plain is covered with shingle and is overgrown with fern and tutu".

Development of the Waimea Plains for farming purposes must have been carried on at an encouraging rate as in August 1852 a report stated that "Before another year elapses we believe that the line of road from Nelson to the Wairoa River (Brightwater) will be fenced throughout on both sides". However, the chief obstacle to communication remained. The rivers were still unbridged and valuable merchandise and several lives had been lost at the river crossings, It was usual practice for many years to cross the rivers separately at Spring Grove (Brightwater). The swamps around Appleby were a definite bar to any early attempt to form and use page 23the line of road which is now part of the Motueka highway. In fact some parts of the area were so wet that would-be settlers refused to take up the land saying that it would never be farmed as there was no fall and therefore the flax swamps could not be drained. It is not now clear when this line of road was first used but when applications for hotel licenses were considered in 1855 Charles Harley applied for a license for the Travellers' Rest (Appleby), then occupied by Thomas William White. This would appear to indicate that some travellers to she Moutere and Motueka were by then using the Appleby road although vehicular traffic appears to have been still using the river crossings further south.

In September 1855 several residents of Wakefield wrote to the Provincial Superintendent requesting an hotel Bush License for Henry Martin on the Wairnea East side of the river. In further letters his house was referred to as being at "Birk's Hill", this no doubt referring to what is now known as Burke's Bank. Martin was granted a license and managed the Waimea East Hotel for some years before going out of business.

Hotel licenses were being granted to persons willing to supply accommodation and ferries at the river crossings and the Holly Bush Inn, on the Brightwater side of the Wairoa River, was licensed under that heading. When Thomas Kinzett applied for a license for this hotel it was stated that he had already held a license for some years.

The first of the three bridges to be built was the one at Bright-water, simply known then as "Wairoa". This was on the line of road to Waimea South, the Wairau, and the Amuri, and as such was an important link in communications. A news report in February 1862 stated that "We hear that the timber for the bridge which is to cross the Wairoa River by the Allington fence will be in the process of cutting this week, and that, consequently, the building of this very necessary work will now be speedily commenced. The span will be between four and five hundred feet by a width of 24 feet, and it is expected to cost considerably within the price of an iron one, sixteen feet wide, and not so long, that had been offered for consideration. We have not yet heard the probable time that will be required to complete the work, but we are glad to find that a great boon to the numerous settlers, and considerable advantage to the traffic south of the river will, before very long, be supplied." Possibly the timber cutting was not commenced quite as soon as expected as in June the bridge contractors, Morley, Freeman and Monion, were advertising "To Sawyers and Others: Tenders in small quantities, are invited by the undersigned for 100,000 superficial feet measurements Sawn and Balk Black Birch and other timber…"

page 24

The building of this bridge lent urgency to the solving of other river crossing difficulties and a news report at the time said "A bridge over the Wairoa near Mr Saunders' mill is now in course of erection. It is well. Let us hope the public of Waimea West, of the Moutere, and Motueka…, will not be unrepresented in Council as to the urgent expediency of at least a ferry near Dr Monro's (Waimea West). The lives already lost in that immediate neighbourhood, and the increasing land communication with Motueka,…Imperatively call for the establishment of a ferry for at least horsemen and foot passengers."

A year later, in June 1863, the completion of the bridge was announced, it being "finished within six months of the contract time". The designer was Mr Blackett, the Provincial Engineer, and the report continues, "Some idea of the proportion of this excellent structure may be gathered from the following figures: Length of approaches, 200 feet; length of side spans, 25 feet; length of centre span (an arch suspending a level roadway), in the clear 150 feet; top of each main pier, 6 feet; total length, 568 feet; extreme width of bridge, 24 feet; height of spring of arch, 25 feet; height of roadway above the ordinary level of the river, 18 feet. The bridge is of massive construction, and built principally of black birch. The construction has consumed 200,000 feet superior timber, and 11 tons of Ironwork. The centre span is built on the concave suspension principle, and is calculated to carry a weight of over 200 tons on any part of it.

A smaller bridge Is to be built over the second branch of the same river, in conjunction with the large one, thus forming a straight line of roadway from the rising township of Richmond to the pretty village of Spring Grove."

It must be remembered that the present road from the bridge to the Brightwater Hotel corner was not in existence at that time. Therefore Mr Harman, the owner of Section Two, was approached and asked to sell sufficient land to make this stretch of road. He agreed on the understanding that he would be granted a license for a new Holly Bush Inn which he proposed to build on the site of the present Brightwater Hotel. The chief objector to his application was Simon Silcock, licensee of the Bridge Hotel, situated on the northern side of the river, who had been in business during the erection of the bridge. (This license lapsed many years ago but the Brightwater Hotel is still going strong.)

Only a few months after the bridge came into use the biggest flood which the settlers had seen caused some worries. The river was about a mile wide extending from Burke's Hill to the Waimea East Hotel, and from thence to Mr Saunders' (flour) mill. "The page 25Wairoa Bridge, fears for the safety of which were for some time apprehended, has withstood the ordeal bravely, and the superstructure is not in the least affected."

It was several years before any further developments were reported but by 1867 plans were under way for the building of a bridge across the Waimea River at Appleby. A news report in October of that year said "The arrival of the Cissy has enabled the Government to proceed with two important public works, one of which at least was much required and the execution of which has been long delayed. We allude to the iron bridge to be erected over the Waimea River on the line of the Appleby Road, the materials of which as far as the ironwork is concerned will be landed from the Cissy this week." In June 1868 it was reported that "We understand that the last pile of the Waimea Bridge will be driven today; six piers are already completed, and the three which still remain unfinished will probably be completed in about six weeks' time. The span of the bridge is 554 feet, and on the completion of the Wai-iti bridge, at Spring Grove, which is to be commenced immediately by the same contractors, a large quantity of the timber required for the purpose being already on the ground, a pleasant drive will be practicable at all seasons from Nelson through Waimea West to Waimea South, home by the Wairoa Bridge." The announcement of an official opening in September 1868 stated that the residents of the district intended to mark the occasion by a public festivity. "The bridge consists of ten piers, making nine spans, of 60 feet each, the approaches are of considerable length, the whole forming by far the most important of this kind of structure which has yet been erected in this province." Actually the official opening took place on September 24 1868 and, "The official party were entertained at Mr Palmer's Hotel."

With the opening of the bridge across the Wai-iti between Waimea West and Brightwater shortly afterwards the Three Bridges Drive became possible and was soon one of the most popular outings in the nearby countryside. At the turn of the century the cab-drivers in Nelson often took parties on this day's outing, the charge for the 32 mile trip being thirty shillings. For this purpose the horses would probably be trotting at the rate of six to eight miles per hour. (Actually horses were required to do at least six miles per hour unless the hirer wished it otherwise.)

Over the years the early bridges have been replaced, from time to time and now concrete structures grace our river crossings while improved tar-sealed roads have taken the place of the earlier gravelled ones. Not many homes of a century ago still stand, and tractors have replaced horses, but this pleasant countryside still retains page 26something of its charm. Richmond is becoming a modern town but still has its church on the hill—and its Star and Garter Hotel, a link with Richmond-on-the-Thames in England. Appleby, Waimea West, and Brightwater all have churches which date back to earlier times and their churchyards all have headstones which tell even a casual visitor just a little of our local history.