The main waterways of Woolwich Township are the Grand River, one of Canada's Heritage Rivers; the Conestogo River, Canagagigue Creek, Cox Creek, and Hopewell Creek. The first people needing to cross these waters had to ford them with their horses, wagons and buggies. In the mid 1800s almost half of the business conducted by Woolwich Township Council concerned the construction and improvement of roads and bridges. Many of the bridges constructed were washed away during spring flooding and had to be replaced regularly. Protecting the wooden bridges from damage caused by the pounding of horses' hooves was of concern, and a by-law was passed stating anyone riding or driving a horse faster than a walk on bridges over thirty feet long would be subjected to a fine if convicted. Today we still have many bridges in Woolwich Township; some old, some new, some abandoned. Most of our bridges are of modern construction.
Winterbourne Bridge - Peel Street, Winterbourne
This beautiful bridge with its lacy riveted steel frame of side trusses, cross beams and sway braces stands majestically 14 feet high above the Grand River. Fishermen, canoeing enthusiasts, hikers and horse and buggy travelers enjoy this romantic and scenic bridge. It is a two span single lane structure supported by three concrete pier abutments, and it is 333 feet long with a 10 tonne load limit. The decking at one time was wood planking, sometimes dubbed a rumble bridge. Today the deck is made up of 2 x 4 spruce laminated on edge. Steel beams and wooden nailers hold the wood in place.
This bridge is a rural survivor built in 1913 and even though steel bridges are on their way out because of aging, load limits, etc. maybe this steel bridge will continue to serve this area. The roads in the Winterbourne Valley are surrounded by impeccably kept Old Order Mennonite farms and since the farms can be accessed from either side of the bridge it is not likely to be replaced.
The Mennonite Buggy Bridge - St. Jacobs
This seven span concrete low level bridge is located west of the village of St. Jacobs on Woolwich Township Road 21. The bridge is adjacent to the St. Jacobs Dam. The first dam on this site was built in the 1840s to provide power for a sawmill. The wooden dam was later replaced by a concrete structure. The one-lane road surface is only about two feet above the normal river level, and there are no railings since the river floods at this point each year.
The current bridge was built in 1962 by members of the Old Order Mennonite community for a cost of $2,500.00; all labour was provided by volunteers. The bridge was designed so water and ice would not do any damage in time of flooding. Other bridges constructed on this site had been washed away or damaged by high waters.
Today, if you go to visit this bridge and the orange gates are closed; water will be flowing over the bridge surface. The gates were installed after a dramatic rescue of a young Mennonite couple who had been swept off the bridge by fast flowing waters while crossing in a horse-drawn buggy.
St. Jacobs Viaduct (Railway Bridge) - St. Jacobs
The idea of a railway connecting Waterloo and Elmira was talked about for many years. Woolwich Township offered a $5,000.00 grant to a railway company to extend a branch line to Elmira; however, when completed in 1882 the line stopped in Waterloo. In 1889 another offer was made to the Waterloo Junction Railway Company to extend their rail line to Elmira. Woolwich Township offered a bonus of $28,000.00 and Elmira offered $10,000 on the condition this line would be completed by December 1, 1891 and one train would run each day.
Building the two span railway viaduct over the Conestogo River was the most expensive part of the railroad construction. The quarried limestone blocks used in the bridge abutments were hauled by team and wagon.
Today if you walk along the Mill Race in St. Jacobs you can get a good look at this bridge.