SOUTH BLUE HILL — Falls Bridge, the gateway to South Blue Hill and Brooklin, is scheduled for demolition this year. Its replacement? A modern expanse of pale concrete in lieu of the 1926 historic tied-arch bridge.
Falls Bridge looms large in local memories and issues a siren’s call to whitewater kayakers and bridge jumpers. The latter climb up the span’s arches to plunge into the waters of Salt Pond below. Leading up to the bridge from Blue Hill is Mill Island, the spit of land between the causeway and the bridge, where artist Francis “Frank” Hamabe spent decades of summers visually chronicling and contributing to peninsula life.
The two local icons are intertwined in a 1963 Hamabe print of the bridge he mailed as a Christmas card to friends and neighbors, including Annette Candage’s mother-in-law Jeanette Candage.
“They were friends and what not,” said Candage said of Hamabe and his wife Sydney. “They lived just up the neck a little bit before they bought their house on Mills Island. And every year they would send a Christmas card.”
Jeanette Candage framed and hung the card and years later, when she moved into Parker Ridge, gave it to her daughter-in-law. With the bridge coming down later this year, Candage had prints of Hamabe’s card silkscreened onto T-shirts to honor a piece of Blue Hill history.
“The bridge is iconic, everyone has memories of it,” she said, picking up a T-shirt from the neatly folded piles in the center aisle of her Sleigh Bell Shoppe in South Blue Hill, which features locally made crafts and ice cream plus lobsters. She pointed to Hamabe’s house sketched to the left of the bridge: “And look, he drew a little easel right in the back yard.” Like all of Hamabe’s work, the print is signed with just a capital H.
Locally, Hamabe’s art lives on in the Mitchell-Nevin Fine Art Gallery on Falls Bridge Road, where Jennifer Mitchell represents his work and knew him when she was small. “Frank was a magnet,” she said. “Everyone loved him. He was part angel.”
Whether staging a puppet show for local children, drawing mini cartoons for The New Yorker and posters, or as art director of Down East magazine, Hamabe brought his unique artistic vision to all. His mother was Swedish and a milliner. His Japanese father ran a toy store in New Jersey, where he kept a framed print of Frank in uniform during World War II, “so when government officials came around, they couldn’t take him away and put in the [internment] camps,” Mitchell said.
Hamabe’s print of Falls Bridge is whimsical in its pen strokes and mesmerizing in the way it draws the eye in and then up the river where a flotilla of sailboats and kayaks play.
“I think it’s a beautiful rendition of the bridge and the kayakers and the water,” Mitchell said, who has copies of the print in her gallery.
Candage secured permission from Mitchell to print the image onto T-shirts, and said they are going fast. “I wanted to salute our bridge and give everyone a last glimpse of it. So many people relate to the bridge. It’s personal for everybody.”