BRIDGEWATER — If it weren’t for the North and Dry rivers, the town of Bridgewater probably would not exist.
The water brought life, jobs and, in some cases, death throughout the course of the town’s history.
Dry River becomes part of the North River, which joins with the South River at Port Republic to form the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Eventually, the Shenandoah flows into the Potomac River.
John Kline, a Bridgewater Historical Society board member, created a model of the Dry and North rivers on display at the Society’s museum.
About 10,000 years ago, there was a ridge separating the North River from the Dry River, Kline said. Over time, the two rivers cut through the ridge, and eventually the Dry River entered the North River to the north of Bridgewater, instead of south of the town.
The Dry River used to flow right through where the town is now, leaving behind fertile soil from its deposits, Kline added.
“Today, people talk about what wonderful gardens they can have,” he said.
The North River attracted the first Scots-Irish immigrants to the area before the Revolutionary War, turning the wilderness into settlements that set the stage for those who would follow. The town was founded in 1835, according to the 2010 book “Images of America: Bridgewater” by Bob Holton and Carleen Loveless.
“The river was ready-made transportation for flat boats carrying pig iron and lumber to the north and bringing necessary supplies on the return trip,” states the book.
On the west side of what is now Bridgewater, Kline explained, there was a natural waterfall in the North River, and that is where dams were built to create energy for at least five area mills.
Seven bridges have crossed the North River. Several early bridges had center supports, some of which were swept away by floods in 1870 and 1877. As a result, a more advanced bridge was built in 1878.
“It crosses at a single colossal leap of 240 feet or more, and is said to be the longest single-span wooden bridge in the world,” according to “History of Rockingham County” by John Wayland, printed in 1912.
Larry Smallwood, another member of the Bridgewater Historical Society board, made a model of the 1878 wooden bridge, which is also on display at the museum. An iron bridge replaced it in 1916.
The final bridge was constructed with concrete in 1955 and is still being used today.
According to “Images of America: Bridgewater,” the town has experienced seven major floods since 1870. A deluge of rain flooded both the North and Dry rivers in 1949, causing $1 million of damage and killing three women.
“Out of the disaster of the 1949 flood came the combined effort of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bridgewater Town Council to build a flood-control levee near the intersection of the North and Dry Rivers to prevent a repeat of this catastrophe,” states the book.
The levee withstood major floods in 1985 and 1996, minimizing damage.
“If water ever tops the dike, then we are in big trouble,” Kline said.
Contact Jonathon Shacat at 574-6286 or firstname.lastname@example.org