The Red Bridge and Statue on the Charles River in Natick
As you drive eastbound on Route 16 from Sherborn to South Natick, you are sure to see the beautiful Japanese-style red footbridge that crosses the Charles River. Not far from the bridge, on a small rock ledge on the south bank of the river, you also can see a statue of a woman praying.
If you have traveled past them in a kayak or canoe, you have a sense of how both the bridge and the statue serve as great visual milestones for your voyage along the Charles.
Daniel Sargent was a poet, author, and historian who lived in South Natick in his home along the Charles River. He was 97 years old when he died in 1987. Sargent attended Harvard University in 1913 and later taught both history and the history of English literature there. He wrote several books about Catholicism, including a biography of Sir Thomas More, and published several volumes of poetry. Sargent earned medals for bravery in action during World War I. He was the uncle of former Massachusetts Governor Francis Sargent.
Sargent and his wife, Louise Coolidge Sargent, initially purchased property in South Natick as a summer home. Eventually, the home was winterized and they purchased the land directly across the river from the original property. The bridge was bequeathed to him in the will of a literary friend and he used it to connect his properties on both banks of the Charles. The footbridge was built on the foundations of a dam that Thomas Sawin, also an important figure in our local history, had removed in 1723 due to the negative impacts it caused upstream in neighboring towns.
Just a short way from the bridge, on a rocky formation that extends to the riverbank, the statute of the Virgin Mary keeps watch over the Charles. Sargent placed the statue there in 1929. It symbolizes “the desire to overcome evil, with the snake beneath her feet.” The statue was carved in Indiana limestone by John H. Benson, whose other projects included many notable works in the early 1900s.
The words carved at the base of the statue are “Apparverunt in terra nostra flores.” This can be translated as “flowers shall appear on our earth.” Sargent planted several varieties of rhododendron along the river bank, just upstream from the footbridge. These bloom at different times in different colors, and the floral display continues throughout the late spring and early summer.
Over the years, there have been different explanations about the purpose of the statue, including the idea that it was put in place to honor a child who drowned in the river. This and other speculations were put to rest when Sargent was interviewed by Natick librarian/historian Carol Coverly. Sargent confirmed that his wife had wanted the statue and that they thought the large rock was the perfect place for it.
Selected sources and additional reading:
Natick Historical Society collections.