The Curiosity of Miscreation & Happenstance

This piece will be about the multiple curiosities of the current project, and how these say much about Bridgewrighting, though in a way which for some might seem unexpected, or to others even somewhat harsh. Those who click in regularly, will however recognize my frequent allusions to the quality in execution that is common to framed wooden bridges, and why precise fit and full bearing are necessary, and drive that commonality…

Reaching completion in December of 1865, the contract to build The Jericho was to awarded to one Thomas Forsyth of Baltimore, the trade he practiced is said have been that of a machinist. This would seem to be an odd choice in someone to design and frame a bridge. Particularly in the day, this the common era of wooden bridge construction, (there are perhaps more such bridges standing which date to this same decade than any other) a time when the chosen Bridgewright was responsible for design as well as execution, and this Trade was in common practice.

Getting to know this bridge intimately during the rehabilitation process, (a process which avails to those doing it views of joinery last seen by those who assembled it, now a full century and a half ago) I have come to believe this curiosity, that this bridge indeed, was designed and built by a practitioner of another trade.

Why would be the wonder, particularly in an area which held much Bridgewrighing knowledge. The nearby Susquehanna hosted large efforts in numbers, and such knowledge would have been shared and without question would have left this Trade in this area the better for it. The first thought that came to mind, was that perhaps Thomas was perhaps politically connected. The second went to the year of construction – This country, with hostilities ending only in the Spring of this same year in the killingest war this nation has ever suffered, had just lost much in the fallen and sadly no longer flowering knowledge of what was quite literally, a lost generation. Though as other entries here on the blog have explored, this trade was in happenstance and terrible irony, bettered by the exchange of ideas and the networking availed to those building and rebuilding bridges during The War. It seems more than probable that coming into the war effort with bridewrighting skills and being assigned to such a company, may well have made that war a more survivable service than it was for the common infantryman.

Though it is left to supposition I have come to believe it may well not have been the certain uncertainties of those tumultuous times which left the call for proposals unanswered by any capable crew. Circumstance suggests that this curiosity was potentially driven by one of these nearby large efforts on the Susquehanna.

But twenty three miles away at the river which defines the northern border of Harford County, just as the Jericho bridges the Little Gunpowder, the waterway which forms part of it’s southern border, there was at that time an ongoing effort we have spoken to here on the weblog, an effort said to have fifty hand picked crew leaders chosen by Nichols Powers, and working under them, some three to four hundred known quantity Bridgewrights.

The B&O Susquehanna River Bridge - Though a different image, here we see the same two gentleman... This image is seen here as a courtesy of Wikemedia Commons

Two of the fourteen spans of the B&O Susquehanna River Bridge – Though a different image, here we see the same two gentleman discussed in the Evermore entry… This image is seen here as a courtesy of Wikemedia Commons

This particular effort is shortlisted on my – Where and when would I visit, if I had an opportunity for time travel. (The other effort I would choose, would be that of joining the crews raising the Lintels to complete the Trilithons at Stonehenge) – I’m thinking the Bridgewrights in this area with chops, were both fully distracted and gainfully employed…

Mr. Forsyth did quite clearly subcontact in some Framers, (though of a caliber common to low quality barns and clearly unfamiliar with the demands of Bridge Framing) and he did somehow find someone capable of determining the radius of and the laying out the Arches, though even these are not up to normal snuff.

Not only is there a Lap Joint at every Post on both the inner and outer Ring - This type of atypical tear-out and over penetration is found commonly

Not only is there a Lap Joint at every Post on both the inner and outer Ring – This type of atypical tear-out and over penetration is found commonly

His chosen twists in design are beyond odd, and beg the questions – “Did the man not go give a hard look at standing examples?” & “How is this still here?”

Two issues here - Chord Lams are for reason typically spaced apart - A Bolted Half Lap is no kind of Tension Splice - All of those found here show this kind of failure and loss of geometry

Two issues here – Chord Lams are for reason typically spaced apart – A Bolted Half Lap is no kind of Tension Splice – All of those found here show this kind of failure and loss of geometry

That itself is a mystery of sorts. It is certainly not that it has ejoyed exceptional care and maintenance over the long term. It appears that part of the story is that the small mills, and the towns they supported on its either end, struggled, And as is common to other areas where money left and was in short supply…

This Drop is shorter than is the the typical standard - This lack of end distance was likely directly resultant in this failure

This Drop is shorter than is the typical standard – This lack of end distance was likely directly resultant in this failure

Without means, time’s earlier stamp went untouched. Some of times most well preserved towns, pockets and places, as well as houses and barns, ironically stand as they do today for the lack of any money to update them. Thankfully here, the traffic count and the need, somehow failed to demand replacement.

This short grain issue was caused by a Mortise cut too short - This section removed to compensate held an easily predictable outcome

This short grain issue was caused by a Mortise cut too short – This V-like section removed to compensate held an easily predictable outcome

When the need to be able to carry fire apparatus and school buses did demand a change, an usually high clearance height for its time saw it rejiggered to increase load capacity, and again, The Jericho was not replaced.

Those of us who both build, and work to preserve the work of those we follow, often see this as a promise shown to us in the workmanship in the structures we work to sustain and maintain. It being understood that the better something is built the longer it is likely to last.

And sometimes (though only sometimes) we find proof positive that what time has carried for us into our time, is as much about happenstance as it might be about anything else.

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Over the Fence

I missed my last time touchstone, my volitional calendar driven deadline – June 30th was for me a travel day, a return from an all too brief trip home, back to the current project bridge. It began as such days always do, then it somehow went beyond sideways. My phone went missing, and the airline employee who made it gone, looked me in the eye and told me she’d not seen it. In the ten minutes that passed before I realized just what had unfolded, that someone without the typical faceless anonymity of an average random thief of opportunity, had willingly thrown my life into upheaval and turmoil. She and it were ten minutes away, and forever gone.

And though my June entry was fully planned and outlined, it was not yet put to paper – My distraction, hugely fueled by anger, meant one more thing went missing that day. Without any ability to know what they had taken, this thief had also stolen my muse…

So, my thought now, is to counter this thing of how horrible human beings can be to one another, with a story of just how wonderfully it is we can, almost without knowing it, touch the lives of those around us.

I would not be involved in the project I am right now, nor would I be writing about the subject of Bridgewrighting but for a simple act of kindness extended my way some twenty plus years ago now. I was newly returned to my home state after two years riding out that last recession in a Timber Shop in the Sunbelt, this followed by a nine month stint as a Journeyman Timberframer working on two historic replications in two far flung states. With a return to our homeplace, the family and I settled into our new home, I went back to work with an old friend. Weeks later the news of the day suggested I attend the launching a newly replicated Town Truss bridge which had been lost to arson just the year prior.

Thousands were in attendance, there to watch the out of the ordinary unfold – A nearly fully assembled traditionally built wooden through truss bridge being slowly rolled into place by multi-part Block & Tackle drawn up by rotating teams (this a double meaning) of Oxen being twitched around a capstan.

I was awash in a small sea of humanity, yet somehow. an acquaintance I knew from attending trade group presentations he had given, and with his having served as design engineer for a replication project I had been tied to in his adopted state of North Carolina some five months before, recognized me in that sea of faces. David Fischetti (< Click the underlined text for a deeper sense of the the man) called me over to the fence separating the crowd from the work area and suggested I needed to meet the Bridgewright heading up the efforts, he also suggested I hop the fence and follow him. David introduced me to Arnold, saying we ought to know one another, after very brief “Good to meet ‘cha“ pleasantries, I was asked if my tools were in my truck, and it was suggested if I had a mind to help “There’s a fella down under the bridge that could use a hand with some Timbah frame’n” – I spent the next two days working cooperatively, scribing, cutting and emplacing Lower Lateral Braces into a slowly rolling bridge. The fella I was tasked with working with that day is someone I have been working with on and off ever since. It so happens I’m helping Tim on the current project…

Years later, though we had crossed paths in the ensuing years, I took a few moments after attending another of David’s talks on Preservation engineering given to the Timber community, when I had the presence of mind to bring up his introductions that day, and to thank him for unintentionally changing my life, and to drive home to him, how his simple wave over, had for me, done so much.

Though this his choice had done, and that day sits so high in my mind as life altering, for Dave it held barely a glimmer of recollection.

With stories swapped with others who knew him well, and far better than I, I am convinced it was not just that busy weekends activities and the years that had passed, that shaped our differing recollections of the day. It was just that such a wave over and a hand up, were everyday for David. This was simply his nature.

Though such displays of gratitude are not entirely like me, I am forever glad I did reach out in return, as David was prematurely taken from us just a short few years later.

Photo credit for this image of the Corbin, the bridge where this story came to pass - Doug Kerr - Some rights reserved

Photo credit for this image of the Corbin, the bridge where this story came to pass – Doug Kerr – Some rights reserved

So, I ask this of you in remembrance – If you ever look over the fence, (be it physical, or implied and analogous) and recognize in someone on that other side, an earnest and deep interest in what it is you are doing…

Extend a hand, reach out, and invite them up and over, and be there.
Be there like David.


We Seemingly Need a Glossary

Distractions, and in my self imposed deadline week – Travel, and a new temp home wrapped around a new project…

Beyond the multitudes of expected newness’s, lay of the land, where is it I find what my everyday needs, and that ever present requisite that a real nights rest, for most of us, requires at least some small familiarity.

I somehow find myself again challenged by – Nomenclature, or rather the failure to use it, and the willy-nilly substitution of unfounded nonsense terminology. Despite having seen this time and time again, I will never get used to it.

As always, the drawings for the specified repairs are ripe with misnomers, guesses, and well, a little creativity?

I am a student of language, and accept creativity as part of our ongoing process in our ever evolving tongue. I do however refuse to accept “creativity” borne either of laziness, or far worse – Simple ignorance, this compounded in a needless refusal to open a book, click a mouse, or flick a finger at a touch screen.

So, though I did not see it coming – This entry will be an ongoing work in-process – A Glossary of Terms, specific to wooden through trusses / covered bridges. A quick click and a glance at the almost bottomless interwebs, suggests there is somehow no such fully fleshed out beast to be bridled?

Every last slice of the layers that are our over-lapping sub-cultures in our very human existence are rightfully ripe with geek-speak. This sub-culture, though nearly lost, has a history and an accepted sense of what word, means what.

If you hold an interest in any of that, do click back, or in the future do a simple web-search for “wooden bridge truss / covered bridge glossary”

This entry will in the coming weeks and months, morph into that, a comprehensive glossary of wooden bridge specific jargon and bridgewrighting terminology.

The current project - And the naked wooden through truss, laid bare for the effort  - What parts is pieces and what names do they go by?

The current project – And the naked wooden through truss, temporarily laid bare (Un-Housed) for the effort – What parts is pieces and what names do they go by?


A Bend in the River

With most all of the home state wooden bridge connections in some measure explored, I thought it time we round a bend –

This subject is a wide and long river, with many tributaries. There are other State’s with other stories, and at times we have let the current find for us a far flung stream to explore. It is time to again toss a pebble into the waters and see where the concentric ripples might take us.

McCullam's Patent Timber Bridge 1852 - Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

McCullam’s Patent Timber Bridge 1852 – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

And while history is one of the deeper channels, it is not all there is to churn up in the waters, and not all I hope to find with the exploration that is this weblog. Contrarily, though forever tied to their common era of construction, I do not see such constructions as solely a part of the past, my intent is also to explore their future.

So with this entry I thought we might examine why so many see their time as as having passed into the past. The natural assumption of many seems to be that old technology is best left to that past, that this technology was superseded with reason.

I would contend that the time proven superior service lives of this technology proves otherwise, and should earn Joined Timber Wooden Through Truss Bridges a second look. Likewise, the load carrying capacities of common era railroad examples, should also derail another common misconception, as do the 20th century examples built in Oregon and British Columbia. These built to carry log trucks. Big Timber carrying big timber into the present day.

So I ask that you ponder what influences drove this change, is it a matter of superior methods and materials, or could it in part be that it is an almost natural inclination in human nature which has most of us (particularly those now tasked with designing the bridges that will carry us into the future) seeing new/er technology as necessarily better.

Just as a Plumb will always be one of the finest methods in describing the out of square relationships between two pieces of timber being joined - Joined Timber Wooden Bridges new & old, will always be a time proven way to the other side

Just as a Plumb will always be the finest in methods for describing the out of square relationships between two pieces of timber being joined – Joined Timber Wooden Bridges new & old, will always be a time proven way to the other side

So just around the bend these pages will explore both more of method, more of the practice of this nearly abandoned trade of wooden bridgewrighting, and why the trade is seen as a lost art. And why proven method, and a fine eminently available highly workable and renewable resource material is for this purpose now all but abandoned.


To Revisit our Riddle

Addendum 9 AprilIn the Bridgewright Blog as I push a chisel through history’s often deeply patina’ed grain to find what lies beneath, and in striving both for accuracy and to work to patch some of the holes in the record, I ran in this entry with finding long looked for images of wooden bridges in the Amoskeag Millyard, and published upon my self-imposed deadline prior to being able to confirm which / was / where of the pictured bridge/s in the following found images. I never want to find myself guilty of the kind of revisionism sometimes born of a desire to find what one is looking for, so the hard look at what was what continued – And further exploration has now determined that the Four Span Lattice and Arch bridge seen in the first image below is a “Mill” bridge which did not serve city streets, it is not the Bridge which shared the name Amoskeag, though as it turns out the pictured bridge is sometimes known as The Amoskeag Mills.

The Quest and our Riddle continues, and we will work to corroborate just what spans are recorded in these other found images, and a full revision will await that determination.

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Longstanding readers may recall our short series of entries exploring the history of an 18th Century first in a span to bridge the Merrimack at Derryfield New Hampshire, this the crossing now known as the Bridge Street Bridge. In these entries we explored how choices made by that spans builder through that first bridge and its succession of replacement spans continue to this day to shape the city we now know as Manchester, and in how this crossing would drive an interplay of commerce as the power of the river was harnessed to build the Nineteenth Century Worlds single largest industrial complex, and how this in turn has framed for us the city we have inherited.

Recently in working to turn up an unrelated image, I chanced upon one of the missing links in the quest to solve the Riddle. Though we have yet to discover a rendering of McGregor’s 1792 span known as Amoskeag, this recent find prompted some deeper scratching and reaching out, and we have found multiple images of the Amoskeag’s namesake 1825 replacement – The bridge which was built by Wm. Riddle’s bridge building concern (In 19th Century histories he is often misidentified as the builder of the 1792 first) The Granite Bridge Co. of the Piscataquog borough of Bedford. Here he and his firm are cited as being prolific area bridge builders with many local examples to their credit.

The Amoskeag is seen in the foreground - The Granite Street Bridge also a product of Riddle's Granite Bridge Company can be seen downstream -   Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS HAER Reproduction number  HABS NH,6-MANCH,2--91

In this image The Amoskeag “Mills”Bridge is seen in the foreground – The Granite Street Bridge, a product of Riddle’s Granite Bridge Company can be seen downstream – This photo is courtesy of The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division HABS HAER Reproduction number HABS NH,6-MANCH,2–91

William’s many and varied building and business concerns seems to have begun in following his father Issac into the carpentry trade, (Issac is attributed with having “built the first canal boat to have floated on the Merrimack”) and with Bridgewrighting as the record suggests he was contracted to build a bridge over the Piscataquog in his hometown of Bedford shortly after returning from his schooling at Atkinson Academy.

From an 1850 History of Bedford compiled and published on the occasion of the towns centennial celebration.

The following excerpt, compiled by a local historian just decades after the loss of our subject bridge is rife with errors, (the most glaring of these being that the bridge he built was not the one at the Falls, nor was the Falls Bridge the crossing the Amoskeag Corporation purchased and in time would rebuild after Riddle’s span was lost to a freshet in 1851) but does give an overview of the timeline for this the second Amoskeag Bridge.

The Amoskeag as seen froma a nearby rooftop on the east bank - It is interesting to note that with this bridge being built just five years after Town patented his Truss that the NH variant of Lattice Plank radiating towards plumb at the terminal ends had already developed - This photo is seen here as a courtesy of and thanks to the Todd Clark Archives

The Amoskeag (?) as seen from a a nearby rooftop on the east bank – The Amoskeag Falls Bridge can be seen in the distance – It is interesting to note that with this bridge being built just five years after Town patented his Truss that the NH variant of Lattice Plank radiating towards plumb at the terminal ends had already developed – This photo is seen here as a courtesy of and thanks to The Todd Clark Archives

View of Manchester

Those interested in the history of the crossing, the first Amoskeag Bridge or the chain of replacement spans time and circumstance has demanded, and of how the second Amoskeag and its replacement The McGregor were the property of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company and not the city, (This relationship would end with the companies Depression Era bankruptcy and the loss of the McGregor Bridge to the Great Flood of 1936) can click on the underlined text to open the first two entries in the series.

Van Slyek & G 1878

Newsreel footage covering the Amoskeag Mfg Co’s bankruptcy and initial efforts at recovery in a consortium formed to rescue the Mill property from the receivership auction – To borrow the phrase of the newsreel’s narrator – Time marches on


A Lament for Mary

In prior entries, I have mentioned my lifelong relationships with place, and with those streams & rivers that divide our landscape and my having come up within sight of Watts Brook and the but a ten minute walk from its confluence with the Merrimack. I now live better than an hours drive north and no longer within earshot of moving water. For twenty plus years I have lived without the lullaby of water, but none so far from it, and almost equidistantly between two branches of the same river, a tributary of that selfsame Merrimack, and none so far from its headwaters at the big lake known as Winnipesaukee – My waters still join the Merrimack, it is still who I am, even with it now being the Suncook which is the river I call home.

With this kinship, I have of course looked into the history it drove, and wondered after the bridges its people built to carry themselves to and fro, as the demands of their days drove their need to cross over the waters which barred their way.

Among the local river stories which might merit a share, is a story of fog and misfortune and loss. This is the story of Mary and her Bridge.

This postcard image is shot from a downstream perspective and over the widening Millpond - Image courtesy of the Pittsfield Historical Society

This postcard image appears here as a courtesy of the Pittsfield Historical Society

On Thursday the 8th of January 1874, twenty six year old Mary Bodge was nearing the end of her long walk to work from Barnstead to one of the many mills in neighboring Pittsfield, and she crossed the Suncook on what sounds like some sort of low slung simple rope and board bridge. Several clues in descriptions of the days events suggest the day was part of a January thaw. At some point during the day rising water and ice flow saw two concerned town residents disconnect the bridge and draw it over to the west bank for fear that it would become entangled in the ice flows. Nightfall would descend without the bridge being returned to position.

Colorized postcard image courtesy of both The National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges – Richard Sanders Allen collection & The Covered Spans of Yesteryear – Lost Bridges Database

Colorized postcard image courtesy of both The National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges – Richard Sanders Allen collection & The Covered Spans of Yesteryear – Lost Bridges Database

Mary would leave the mill for the return trip home under cover of darkness, the light of a waning moon greatly diminished by a heavy fog. As she worked to retrace and reverse her mornings footfalls, she stepped off the rivers bank unaware the bridge was no longer in place. Her cries for help quickly brought people to the rivers edge, though not before she had slipped below the ice filled waters surface.

With the light of day the river was repeatedly dragged with grapples launched across the widening millpond with cannon-fire, (The river begins its transition from stream to millpond just below this point) these efforts proved to be unsuccessful. A sum of money was raised to bring a diver up from Boston, that call for help was reversed when on Saturday Mary’s body was discovered below the dam.

The view has changed little in the 110 years which have passed since this 1905 postcard was issued

The view from this dam-side perspective has changed little in the 110 years which have passed since this now public domain 1905 postcard was issued

The funeral was held the next day at The Free Will Baptist Church, (The Randall line of the FWBC – A denomination begun in the town north of Mary’s birthplace and unique to the greater Lakes Region) a huge crowd of fellow workers in attendance. A local grand hotel donated use of eighteen carriages to bring attendants to the graveside service in Center Barnstead.

Two months later at Town Meeting the town voted to raise $1200 to build a Covered Bridge in the location where Mary met her end. Additional monies were placed in capitol reserve the following three years. A bridgewright was contracted in 1879 to build a 130′ Town Lattice Bridge for a sum just in excess of $3000. As a memorial and in rememberance the span would be known as Mary’s Bridge.

In the Historical Marker's background which stands adjacent to the current concrete deck bridge we see the frozen Suncook

In the Historical Marker’s background which stands adjacent to the current concrete deck bridge we see the frozen Suncook

There are records of repairs on several occasions, and a need to raise the bridge several feet, the floor would be replanked in 1907. The hard look this availed perhaps exposed issues with the Bottom Chords, as talk of poor condition seems to have begun at this time. Soon thereafter Mary’s Bridge was “deemed unsafe”

This image is courtesy of the archives of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges - Richard E. Roy Collection

This image is courtesy of the Archives of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges – Richard E. Roy Collection

A service life of such a short duration is beyond uncharacteristic of covered spans. In no surviving image is either balustrade of either sidewalk seen as boarded in, and as can be seen in the image to the left, the overhangs and their drip-lines do not appear to have cleared the sidewalks. Though there were dissenting voices at the deciding Town Meeting, voters would opt for replacement. At but thirty short years, Mary’s Bridge would outlive Mary by only four years.

It was removed in 1909 with a charge of dynamite. In a report in the Valley Times, the blast for demolition was described with a sense of seeming admiration – “The work was most skillfully done”

As was common of towns a Truss Type is often seen as preferable - H.W. Osgood was a local Pittsfield photographer in practice during the 1880's - The Barnstead Road Bridge had a single sidewalk and was later boarded in - It was removed in 1934 as part of a WPA makework project

Pittsfield’s other covered span, The Barnstead Road Bridge – As was common of towns a Truss Type is often seen as preferable – Pittsfield’s preference was Town Trusses – H.W. Osgood publisher of this postcard image was a local Pittsfield photographer in practice during the 1880’s – This bridge had a single sidewalk and later images show The Barnstead Road as fully boarded in – It would be removed in 1934 as part of a WPA makework project – One of many such depression era faux stone arch concrete rigid frame replacement bridges built in the state

The Bridgewright Blog would like to thank The Pittsfield Historical Society for inspiration and assistance in the preparation of this Lament for Mary and her lost Memorial Bridge.


Swept Away

With our last several entries on area Bridgewrights and the bridges they have left for us, we have alluded to a Concord New Hampshire Merrimack River crossing. I thought we would go on to expand on this running series of sorts – It seeming that the moment might be at hand to pay homage to what is about to be lost, and to again focus on the crossing at Sewell’s Falls.

Beyond mentions in recent entries alluding to how events here at the Fall’s may have influenced the work of Bridgewrights in the immediate area, several archived entries speak to this crossing – One includes a virtual reprinting of an 1875 report by the city appointed project building agent for the construction of a then new iteration of this crossing. A report which relayed in depth the odd bits of happenstance that demanded the Fall’s be bridged and re-bridged in quick succession, by some of the State’s still well known wooden bridge builders.

Another discussed the designer of the bridge which still spans the Merrimack at this location, and his connection to the world of wooden bridges, and the parallels his career path held to his contemporaries and fellow designers.

Our homage to what was and what will be lost at this crossing, should begin with its beginnings – The first bridge constructed at Sewell’s Falls was sanctioned by the State Legislature one hundred and eighty two years ago this winter, the petitioners would build their “Balance Beam & String Bridge” (some kind of simple cantilever stringer braced back to the wooden piers and abutments akin to Hale’s Walpole span?) the following summer. Their un-housed bridge would be swept away just shy of six years later by ice flows cut loose in a January thaw on 27 January of 1839. (Several other bridges were lost that same day on the river, two in nearby Boscowen) The corporation held by the original petitioners chose to rebuild the following summer. This second bridge would in turn be swept away by an uncontrolled log drive in the Spring of ’49. Despite a case against the owners of the log drive, the corporation, with never having turned a profit would this time around choose not to rebuild.

Three years would pass before a public demand was raised to again bridge the crossing. Circumstances and approach would on this occasion take a completely different tact – With preliminary input from county road commissioners beginning on 25 March 1852, on 14 August of the same year the “town” would vote to “put the bridge under contract, to be completed on or before September 1st of 1853” – Simpson Balch & Co. was contracted to complete stone piers and abutments, Philip H. “Henry” Paddleford (who had then recently completed construction of both the Free and Federal bridges for Concord) was contracted to build a “covered wooden truss bridge” The total contract price for both the stonework and the bridge came to $6339.86 – This bridge would somehow just eight years later, also be swept away, this time by “a gale of wind” on New Year’s Day 1862.

Later the same year John C. Briggs would rebuild both 170′ spans using his soon to be patented arch reinforced Triple Lattice. The contract price for the this un-housed through truss was $1758.19 – The record suggests the rafters and the cladding, the “house” was added three years later by a former mayor of the city for a sum just in excess of one thousand dollars – A single decade would pass and this bridge would, like its predecessors, also be swept away. In the spring of 1872 yet another log jam would take down the west span, the compromised eastern span was lost to heavy snow load the following January.

Hard lesson learned, the city would with this loss, choose to increase the freeboard, the distance between the river and the bridge, and would contract Lyman Fellows as stonemason to not only repair, but raise the height of the piers and abutments prior to engaging Dutton Woods to build a new “Double Lattice and Arch bridge” as replacement.

The 1873 Dutton Woods built  Double Lattice Truss with Encased Arch Bridge - Note the shift in coloration in the newly Fellows raised Stonework - Photo courtesy of both The National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges - Richard Sanders Allen collection & The Covered Spans of Yesteryear - Lost Bridges Database

The 1873 Dutton Woods built Double Lattice Truss with Encased Arch Bridge – Note the shift in coloration in the newly Fellows raised Stonework – Photo courtesy of both The National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges – Richard Sanders Allen collection & The Covered Spans of Yesteryear – Lost Bridges Database

Dutton’s bridge unlike those that preceded it, would survive the forces of time and nature for fortytwo years. With some irony it would instead of being lost, be replaced, (undoubtedly with many years of viable service life remaining, and almost oddly with another single lane bridge) when as I explained in Storied Crossing in the Spring of 1914 several “auto trucks fell through city bridges” The City Engineer was ordered to inspect every bridge in town. His resulting report recommended that “five bridges be strengthened or replaced with suitable modern structures” Sewall’s Falls was among these.

The 1915 John Williams Storrs designed Riveted Pratt Truss seen from near the same perspective as the Covered Span which preceded it - Photo credit UmaNHamU http://fav.me/d77c9v6

The 1915 John Williams Storrs designed Riveted Pratt Truss seen from near the same perspective as the Covered Span which preceded it – Photo credit UmaNHamU – http://fav.me/d77c9v6

As our Winter recedes and its snows and ice leave the River, and this years freshet ebbs away to the none so distant Atlantic, and this coming Spring brings yet another building season, the Storrs designed incarnation of The Sewell’s Falls will just as it hits the century mark, also be swept away.

A photo capture by the author shortly before the Sewell's Falls was closed to vehicular traffic December 1st 2014

A photo capture by the author shortly before the Sewell’s Falls was closed to vehicular traffic December 1st 2014

It’s passing to intentional replacement will be lamented by many, for reasons great and small –

What might not be mentioned by others in such observations, will be the sweeping away of the still sound Stonework of Simpson Balch and Lyman Fellows and their crews of un-named masons, the newest of their cooperative tiers of stone laid up one hundred and forty one summers past. Stonework which has stood fast against the flow of time and an untold volume of water and all the flotsam that carried with it, and shouldered well both Woods’ Lattice Truss, and this sixth incarnation of the Sewell’s Falls into the present day.

The west span seen in the rivers reflection with Fellows' mid-river pier in the background - Photo courtesy of Scott Wagner

The west span of the Storrs designed Pratt seen in the rivers reflection with Fellows’ mid-river pier in the background – Note the compound slope of the icebreaking Cutwater on the upstream side – Photo courtesy of Scott Wagner

Stonework, like as is already true of the bridge pinned to it, soon to carry no more…


Briggs – the Man – the Truss – the Enigma

Delays in obligation, delays in meeting self imposed deadlines – Holidays, power failures, and the resulting loss of hard-drives and research materials, and even passwords.

Time again to pick up the pen…

As I’ve worked here on the weblog to document all the various personalities with roots here in New Hampshire, whose lives works included the design of still recognized truss types, and/or the advocacy of wood as a building material in their construction (the spark for me in this adventure was in part the sheer number of individuals with this shared connection, numbers seemingly disproportionate for a state of this size, and not being simply that they chose to design in wood) – In research for this series, I have returned a time or three to the same name, only to hit the same dead ends, time and again.

This is both puzzling, and more than regrettable, a bit sad really. As the legacy of what can only be seen as a successful life’s work, should not end up like this, somehow, through the fog of time, shrouded in mystery.

Our subject in this look back, John C Briggs, was not only the builder of many short and long span bridges, and at some of the most famed crossings in the state. (Over The Merrimack at both Sewell’s Falls and Hooksett Village) He is the holder of two bridge patents.

The first of these dating to 1858, No. 22,106 though titled as a “Truss Bridge” and picturing Truss panels of several mongrel varieties, (and also a Strong-Arc type “Truss Beam”) is a patent for what he describes as his “having invented a new and Improved Mode of Giving Elasticity to the Compressed Joints of Truss-Frames” essentially this the idea that the addition of rubber shock washers to Angle Blocks and Cast Washers would somehow extend the life of these truss framing connections. We can’t know with certainty with what is left to us, but it does seem probable that the idea put forward in 22,106 was put to little use, seemingly even in bridges he himself went on to build.

Just five years later, in 1863 John was awarded patent No. 38,653 for a distinct Lattice Truss variant he describes in his Letters Patent as a “Triple Lattice” now known as the Briggs Truss. He successfully sold his truss locally (He advertised and began building this variation of his “Patent Bridges” well before the second patent was awarded – I will edit and add his advertisement to this entry after visiting a special collections library and upon securing a public domain copy) and built examples in numbers as both highway bridges and for area Railroads.

– Sadly, somehow none survive.

Henniker Road Bridge - Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress and the Historic American Building Survey - Photographed in May 1936 by L.C. Durette

Henniker Road Bridge – Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress and the Historic American Buildings Survey – Photographed in May 1936 by L.C. Durette

Happily, perhaps the last of these was documented by a HABS team (Historic American Buildings Survey) just months prior to its removal in 1936, and both photographs and a full set of as-built drawings were archived as part of their survey. (Click underlined text here and above to link to associated records)

A glimpse Through Time - Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress and the Historic American Building Survey - Photographed in May 1936 by L.C. Durette

A glimpse through time – The Henniker Road is a Briggs Truss example built the year before the patent was awarded – Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress and the Historic American Buildings Survey – Photographed in May 1936 by L.C. Durette

The almost greater irony in this story of patent holder and his truss, is how little is known of either his bridge building concern “John C. Briggs Civil Engineer – Builder of his own Patent Bridges” and likewise time has seemingly lost for us any real sense of just who John was. There seems to be no image of the man, no bio-piece in one of the who’s who of industry so common to the era, no obituary yet found. We do know through the unusual Lateral Bracing system seen on the Henniker Road Bridge, and the funky roof boarding detail described in his patent, that he was a man who thought outside the box.

The decade of the ’60’s was hugely successful for John, his truss, and his Concord based company, and then like physical examples of his Triple Lattice, he too, is somehow, almost lost to time.


The Kinship & Influences to be Found in the Journey

In our last entry we explored the possibility that the design of an area Long variant was perhaps influenced by other nearby Longs, or as a particular detail suggested, a Paddleford, constructed just the year prior – Others have pointed out how the Bement and its Counters share a commonality in detail with the none so far off Rowell’s, itself a variant, one which however sees its Counter Braces placed atypically as they are, with purpose, in that they are displaced in the configuration of truss-work as demanded by the placement of an Encased Arch sandwiched between the double Posts & Braces. (an Encased Arch variant detail we have discussed as perhaps having influenced another famed Bridgewright in a previous entry) And though yes, it is not impossible that this bridge did influence the Bement’s designer, it is perhaps too easy to put too much into what is in truth only chance and happenstance.

The Counter Braces in The Rowell's are in this case displaced by the Encased Arch which runs between the typ Double Posts

The Counter Braces in The Rowell’s are in this case displaced by the Encased Arch which runs between the typ Double Posts

Nearby bridges with a shared detail still standing in our time – In their time the area was peppered with Long’s, both in Hopkinton and the bridgwrighting hotbed of Henniker. A number there built in the decade prior and one rebuilt just the in the previous year as demanded in loss driven by a high-water event. The 1853 Long was built by Henniker Bridgewright Frederick Whitney, who is also credited with a Paddleford right there in Henniker, this in the very capitol of Long and Childs Land.

I may have over emphasized the what in the influences over design in last months wonderings. More appropriately, whomever was the designer of this span was influenced as much or more by those he had worked with, as he might have been by any bridge he may have helped build.

I know this in the kinship I find with our unnamed friend. He lived and worked in what was then arguably a center in bridgewrighting knowledge, yet traveled as the work demanded. This bridgewrights abilities were found in things shared by the core of capable others in both the local framing yard, and in traveling for on site assemblies of yard-cut examples, and in rigging, layout, and joint cutting skills and knowledge shared in the mixed crew site builds a Journeyman Bridgewright might have then found himself signing onto.

Today this area is still arguably a hotbed of Bridgewrighting skill and knowledge, and I have likewise traveled. There is much to be found in the Journey, the demands of the road and projects found on it reveal much. Some who share experience on that road willingly share all they know, others little. Irregardless, every destination, every project, every coworker, be they capable equal or up and coming apprentice can and will daily reveal insights.

In their time I can understand a reluctance to share, though even with competition being what it was in that time, the common era of wooden bridge building, I expect this was the exception and not the rule. Today there is far less work in this discipline, though no shortage of competition. I for one, would rather see the work go to a cast of highly capable equals, rather than the all too common and more than vexing alternative.

I also believe it is an obligation we hold as Journeyman, to pass on that hard won wisdom garnered as what was almost lost was somehow pieced back together. Knowledge, is that most important of tools of our trade in the journey of a life’s work. It also should be handed down, and continue to see daily use.

This, a hope I cherish, that someone after me will likewise do what feels right in their heart and hands. It is part of that same hope we all hold, that someone might pick up a tool we once held, and see it as we did, and do with it, what needs to be done…

But for his time at heart, hearth & home, for the Journeyman, the Journey is the destination.


A Theme and its Variations

Several years back I became highly familiar with The Bement Bridge in Bradford New Hampshire, this in a series of surveys while preparing a Structural Condition Assessment. That hard look was the genesis of a deep exploration of its named Truss Type, and a bit of a bio-exploration of its engineer patent holder, (and tangentially a running theme of an on-going wonder in how someone with no bridge building background might have come to design the complex joined timber truss that he did ) that exploration in large measure unfolded here on the pages of The Bridgewright Blog.

The Bement has recently recaptured my attention with my again working just a skip down the road from it, and with an area historical society recently making available several photographs which predate alterations made in recent decades. Changes structural and aesthetic.

The Bement with its original far more elegant Portal Trim - Image courtesy Hillsborough Historical Society - MPM Collection

The Bement with its original far more elegant Portal Trim – Image courtesy Hillsborough Historical Society – MPM Collection

In again skipping this stone of interest into the waters under this bridge, two ripples surface once more. Who was it who built it, and just what Truss Type is it? Individual Panel components typical to the named type are all there, and I am going to continue calling it a Long, while acknowledging it is a Variant. Many truss types are found in an array of variations, this perhaps driven by a desire to avoid the cost of patent royalties, or as explorations of capable minds guiding capable hands in looking for a better way.

The Bement while fitting the typ Panel component configuration of the type, varies markedly from Long’s patent, both in the number of these components – Single as opposed to double Posts, and not three, but four Chord Lams. Additionally the components vary completely in how they are joined to one another. The Braces and the Counters are reversed in their configuration and their number. And perhaps the most striking variation / departure from the patent are the absence of the pre-stressing wedges at the Counter Braces, a key feature of the type and the Colonel’s patent itself.

Double Daps and a reversal in number and purpose

Double Daps and a reversal in number and purpose

The Counters in the Bement fully join and pass through the Chord Lams in reciprocal double Daps, (simple notches) and do not simply abut the Chords & Posts with one wedged end as is typical to the typology – As if intended to act in tension as opposed to the norm of compression.

I point these features out for a number of reasons, foremost among these being that of a form of kudos for the bridge itself. There are other Long Truss bridges and Long variants still existing, and I have a deep appreciation for their detailing in how they are joined, yet find the simplicity of this little bridge intriguing, and worthy of admiration.

Secondly the historian in me thinks it just may be time to put to bed the oft repeated notion, that The Colonel himself built this bridge. The record does not seem to suggest where this bit of mis-information was first floated, but it is simply that. For Long’s whereabouts for the whole of the year, are well recorded in his work for and travels demanded by his position on the Board of Engineers for Lakes and Harbors and Western Rivers – He was nowhere nearby. And had he been in any way involved in its construction, I think it reasonable to suggest it would not have been a variant, but a textbook (Series of Directions to Bridge Builders) example.

So who did build the Bement? I think it safe to assume it was someone from the immediate area if not a local. There is not a ten mile distance from the Childs Brothers framing yard in Henniker to where the bridge stands, and there had by this time been a multitude of covered spans built all up and down the Warner River for both Railroad and highway use. There were those in numbers in the area with the necessary skills and knowledge to have designed and built it.

The Tie has been modified to carry a Flying Plate, the Rafter Seats now sits abandoned

The Tie has been modified to carry a Flying Plate and the altered Steplap Rafter Seats now sits abandoned

An interesting aside is the sometimes mention to the Bement’s Counter Braces and their joined relationship to the Chords as having similarities to Paddleford’s – The Bement shares (or did share) another even more uncommon feature, one found almost exclusivly in Paddleford’s, that of the Rafters joining the Ties in Steplapped Rafter Seats – Philip “Henry” bridged the Merrimack at Sewell’s Falls (but thirty miles to the east) in Concord just the year prior. (1853) Could our Bridgewright have maybe served on his crew and borrowed a detail worthy of repeating. I find it not improbable, and a smile rising with the realization and the on its head irony, that perhaps a Long variant was modified with influences driven by a Paddleford.

Here can be seen the Steplap Rafter Seats still serving their original purpose - Image courtesy Hillsborough Historical Society - MPM Collection

Here can be seen the Steplap Rafter Seats (Click to enlarge) still serving their original purpose – Image courtesy Hillsborough Historical Society – MPM Collection

Should you need a short span bridge, why should we not build a variation of The Bement, over another waterway, and set yet one more story in motion?


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