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Would You Like to Cross the Stoney Lonesome Page Wire Bridge?

February 24, 2023

Steamer at the Page Wire Bridge across Burnt River at Somerville 3rd Concession, near the Stoney Lonesome School

The Stoney Lonesome School (SS # 13 Somerville) was memorable—it had such a poetic and interesting name—being located on a stoney farm, in an isolated neighbourhood, where farming was not easy. It was also home to a unique engineering marvel.

The school stood roughly where Highway 121 meets III Concession Somerville (Log Chateau), just at the top of a hill overlooking the Burnt River. In those days, children walked to school, and it was a lot to expect elementary students to travel more than a mile or two. For students on the other side of the river, before the Baddow school was built, the nearest school would have been Glendown, three miles away. One local farmer, William Wilson, wanted things to be a little easier for his son, Lloyd.

Around 1902, William received a $25 grant from Somerville Township to build a foot bridge spanning the Burnt River. Farm families got by from making do with what they had, and William figured that he could make a 100-foot suspension bridge using page wire fencing—which was then a revolutionary new product, saving farmers from the toil of splitting cedar trees to make fence rails.

At each end William securely planted two tall posts about four feet apart with a pole between them. Four other posts were used as braces for the uprights. He wrapped page wire around the cross member, and tensioned it on the far side. He secured boards to make a floor for this suspension bridge, then ran another piece of page wire on each side to act as a railing. At each end, there was a ladder to reach the starting platform which was approximately ten feet from the ground.

Crossing the Stoney Lonesome Bridge was not for the faint of heart. A pedestrian’s weight would cause it to sag six or seven feet in the centre, and it swayed from side to side. Being about twenty feet above the river, many people did not want to look down as they crossed. Having two people cross the bridge at the same time was tricky, unless they kept in step. However, for school children, this could be a source of amusement, starting to cross just as their friend reached the centre, or even dancing on the bridge to make it really sway.

The Stoney Lonesome Bridge became a unique sight in the Kawarthas. From a distance, the page wire was invisible and it looked almost like the pedestrians were walking on air. Lloyd traversed it every day to attend public school. The bridge held up for a generation, though the prudent youth of the 1950s might think twice about crossing it. As far as we know, everyone lived to tell the tale.

 Just think what today’s safety inspectors would say!

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