India Point Park Bridge open for business

By
Thursday, October 16, 2008

India Point Park is quickly reasserting itself as a major part of the Fox Point cityscape. On Wednesday morning, community members and local politicians officially ‘cut the ribbon’ on the India Point Park Bridge, a pedestrian walkway linking the Fox Point neighborhood to the park over Interstate-195.

An eight-foot-wide bridge was demolished in September 2005 in order to build the newer one. The walkway is now 48 feet wide, and features squeaky-clean concrete and built-in benches and will soon have small grass lawns. The bridge’s construction cost $9.5 million, according to a Rhode Island Department of Transportation press release, but RIDOT Deputy Chief Engineer Frank Corrao said the state has spent $26 million on the project since 2005.

The walkway was “designed to soften the visual appearance of a conventional concrete bridge,” Corrao told The Herald.

“We’re referring to it as a destination – as a linear park,” he said.

The original pedestrian bridge was built in 1971 to re-integrate the Narragansett Bay waterfront with the rest of the Fox Point neighborhood – located to the south of College Hill­ – after the construction of Interstate-195 split up the two areas.

Even though India Point was less green grass and more rusty train tracks, long-time Fox Pointers like David Senna and John Britto feel nostalgia for what India Point was like before the highway.

“We used to slide on cardboard boxes down the hill,” Senna said. “After they put in the highway, it divided the city.”

Britto told The Herald “the whole Fox Point has been improved,” but maintained, “we liked it better before the improvement ­- our memories are (of) how it was.”

According to “The Creation of India Point Park,” a 2002 essay by Francis Betancourt, India Point became a prominent Atlantic trading post in 1680 and gained its name in the late 18th century, when John and Francis Brown’s mercantile trade with the East Indies “produced a booming waterfront.”

The Great Hurricane of 1938, according to Betancourt, damaged India Point waterfront, and furthered its devolution into an industrial scrap-heap.

In the time between the Great Hurricane and the installation of I-195 in 1966, India Point piers were a means to certain commercial ends and an obstacle to city development, and certainly could not be considered a park of any kind, Betancourt wrote.

“There used to be a scrap iron yard right after the Second World War,” Senna said. “They used to lower (iron) onto ships and send it to Japan.”

Senna recalled times when he and his friends leaped off an “improvised diving board” from an old boat dock next to a clam processing plant.

Despite the nostalgia, Senna is happy with the progress of the Park and the new bridge, though he labeled it as “prime graffiti land now,” an easy target for “some fool” who would surely prey on the fresh concrete soon.

Britto said the park was now “something to come to,” but spoke fondly of India Point’s old identity: “unlowered” boats, railroad tracks and a patchy ballfield where pebble basepaths served as infield to an outfield of steel scraps and link-chain.

“That little park we claimed also,” Britto said. “We learned all the bad hops.”

But Britto, who called India Point Park “gentrified,” said there was work to be done before the old guard of Fox Point could really be united with the area again.

“We had a big Cape Verdean sector in Fox Point,” he said. After I-195 was built through Providence “they got displaced.”

Friends of India Point Park co-chair David Riley told The Herald that progress in building the bridge was possible because of an improved working relationship with the “600 Pound Gorilla,” the Department of Transportation.

For example, the RIDOT, compromised with activists to build around an old oak tree that was said to impede progress on the newly opened pedestrian bridge, Riley said.

Though the role of the park in Fox Point life has changed since the original bridge’s construction, long term residents and city officials agree that the new bridge will serve to better unite the city and the Bay waterfront.

“On the most basic level (the bridge) reconnects the park with the city,” said John Schenck, an India Point Park Steering Committee member.