The Most Important Tool in the Kit

With this entry we speak to tools, or at least the simplest and most important of tools in our kit, and the one which therefore allows for the accurate and proper use of all those that follow…

String is the most important tool in any box – It is a line running though time and history and most every building that ever was or ever will ever be. It is the very beginning, and is even now like a living truth and a real world Möbius Strip, a concept ever connected to an end that never comes…

String, in all likelihood developed from a simple tool used to bind items together for storage or transport, to then be used to build snares and traps and then towards its slightly more complex use in defining strait and true, none so long after our long ago ancestors first pounded and separated natural fibers apart and then twisted them back into cohesion and a potentially unending bit of cordage. This perhaps within generations of that first great leap forward.

All this development coming about long before recorded history. How much time had or has since passed before the first human mind noticed a taut line was strait and then went on to run a string through powdered charcoal with the intent of marking a strait line on something he wished to straiten and to then affix a line to Batters is something we can never know.

It is fitting that those beginnings are yet still just that, the beginnings of most any construction – It all begins with a taut line and Batter Boards, plumbs and the snapping of lines.

My focus on it as still being primary amongst the many tools we have since developed is in part to do with my traditional approach/es to timber layout, though in truth this goes back to my first week in my first carpentry job, in being taught the proper way to string a line and my asking my then mentor who it had been who had taught him the technique he had just demonstrated. His eyes acted almost as a line that day as they belayed the thoughtful recollections and truths spinning in his mind as he thought about it a moment, then he simply said “Well hell, I don’t know, that goes back to way on before the pyramids”


This image of a Merchet and its companion Plumb is seen here as a courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In part this focus goes to my primary chosen system of timber layout being Plumb-Line Scribe. Though no matter the chosen layout,  (Square Rule or Scribe) I am datum-dependent. I almost without exception snap lines on every stick, more often than not I do so on all four sides. These lines physically represent two perfectly perpendicular planes of reference.

In Square Rule these snapline planes of reference are used to accurately cancel out bow and wind and to overcome any lack of squareness not achieved in the milling of the timbers, as well as lending reliable accuracy to an organic and imperfect timber in the layout and shaping of timbers to chosen mathematical constants at each of their connections. In Scribe Rule these snaplines likewise are used to cancel out bow and wind as each timber is lined out and are then used to place each timber into scribe layups aligning the two planes of reference to Plumb and Level, this often over a lofting floor on which is drawn a full sized diagram, itself described with snaplines, pinged not with a line enveloped in charcoal or chalk but one dampened with ink. Upon such placement in these layups timbers and the inconsistencies (unlike the smaller pieces of wood found in benchwork, timbers cannot reliably be milled strait and true – Timberwork requires systems of layout which therefore deal with those expected and natural inconsistencies) found in their surfaces, are scribed to each other, often with the use of a Plumb-line used to gauge those inconsistencies.


Note the Level Mark adjacent to the 6″ Level – It is from that mark that the Datums are unwound – It is with both the Datums and the Level Mark that the timber is placed in the layup over the Lofting Floor – This allowing use of the Plumb Line to covey quantifiable information from each timber to the other

A snapped line, like a line on paper or a computer screen can also be used as a base line from which to develop the geometry to layout any required angles or an Arch or a desired radius or as a control line from which a trusses camber is re-conditioned in a bridge rehab/restoration or developed in a new build.

And in all forms of construction, lines then go onto be used all through the assembly and erection process as a constant reference to insure things are both strait and true and plumb and level.

Though recent advances and circumstance will sometimes demand a laser be the line of choice in the field, reels of string, be they Dry or Chalk Boxes or Ink Lines, will forever and always be, the most important of tools in our kit.


Commissions, consultancies and structural condition assessments always happily considered – Feel free to to reach out via the following “contact form”.

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Daps – Keeping Complexity Simple

More of joinery and joints, and the simplest of our intentional intertwinings of wood in the joining of the timber constructions which hold our roofs and roadways up. This being the less than little discussed and oh so under realized – Dap.

And part of that just might maybe be, that a Dap is a joint so simple that the term the uninitiated use, that term most “lay-people” use to describe timber joinery may fit it almost perfectly. A Dap is a but a “notch”, that and that alone, a strait forward and simple notch.

Though in most instances a Dap’s seeming simplicity is multiplied and compounded towards complexity and the solving of structural requirements in multiple ways, (often quite literally, imparting and conveying loads in multiple directions, or providing a load path to turn a corner, the Dap is often the change of direction load path) by being used in reciprocal fashion. Two Daps, each receiving an opposite other, in a sort of simpatico structural handshake.

Though not exclusive to Chord connections, the most common use of Daps in bridge framing is in Post to Chord connections, those very connections which convey loads from one truss panel to the next panel in the chain. In this circumstance they hold a secondary structural bonus in quite literally keeping the joint and all wood to wood contact to an absolute minimum, (typically the depth of reciprocal Daps are dictated by the square inches of interface needed to convey the loads asked of it while avoiding crush in the side grain surfaces within the joint) and simultaneously and to huge advantage maxing air flow around joined timber in the truss-work. This a particularly important advantage at the Bottom Chords where gravity typically draws the errant and occasional leak in a bridges cladding. Minimized contact and maxed airflow help insure a very minor leak, fails to compound into a problem requiring complex repair.

In process

In this in process Truss restoration image – Find in foreground left – Bottom Chord Lams at truss terminus – These joining the Posts with reciprocal Daps leaving space between the Chord Laminae for air flow and quick evaporation

Daps are likewise also occasionally used to convey tensile loads in Counter Braces, both in area variant Long Trusses, and most strikingly in Paddlefords, both examples have been explored and expounded on here on the Bridgewright Blog.

Paddleford intersections

Daps aplenty in this Paddleford Truss image

In more typical joined timber constructions simple Daps are and were, at least in my opinion, sadly underused.

Two notable exceptions to this rule are the striking polarities of historic English and French roof framing systems. To somewhat oversimplify and nutshell these, English roof systems often include Common Rafters over Butt Purlins joined to Principal Rafters – The French tradition (likewise only often) holds Purlins over Principal rafters. In both traditions the over-riding pieces join those that carry them with shallow Daps, or occasionally a two tiered variant Dap often known as a Cog & Clasp.


An illustration From The Practical Dictionary of Carpentry – Joinery & Framing by Justin J. Storck published in 1900

Strangely and almost regrettably, when mother country typologies influenced framing tradition here in New England, (see Overnight Turn on a Paradigm) neither Common Rafter nor Common Purlin roof systems override their support structure with shallow Daps. Both systems are found here in regional pockets, and in both instances, be it Rafters or Purlins both are framed co-planer with the Principal Rafters or Purlins which support them. And this is where the regrettably plays in, these framing traditions were explored in a number of books which have heavily influenced the timber framing revival, and these have in turn driven a predilection for co-planer framing in our revival.

This is almost paradoxical in that designing timberframe constructions with secondary systems overriding primary carriers, be they Rafters and Purlins or Tie Beams and Summer Beams, helps to avoid the three and four way connections many work to sidestep as we design. And it does so with architectural elegance. Beyond that framing with overriding, and thusly continuous Purlins and Joists always also makes for more robust and stable frames – And is this not what we all work to do as we join timber?

Model of Improvement

I had long heard of a model of Col. Long’s Truss in the collection of the The New Hampshire Antiquarian Society, and long had it in mind to arrange a visit as part of research in piecing together my multiple blog entries on the Colonel and his Truss. Though I did not work to do so until coming upon this curious passage in an article titled – An Hour in the Antiquarian Room in Vol XXXII No. 1 of The Granite Monthly, published in 1902.

That initial inquiry to the Antiquarian Society was spurred by some seeming confusion found in the passage, (none of the Childs brothers have or had C.B. as their initials, nor where any of them still living in 1902) and a curiosity as to if there was any possibility that the Society perhaps also had in their collection a model of a Childs truss.

As it turns out, it was a Childs (likely Horace – visit the search bar to the right for information on the man and his truss, or for greater information on the good Col. Long) who donated this Long Truss model to the society, this sometime in the 1870’s. This would stand to reason being that Horace was a cousin of the Colonel’s and his bridge building firm was counted as among the earliest of those named as agent and sanctioned to build Long Trusses, and such a model would have been a useful tool in selling bridges of this truss type.


Col. Long’s Bridge – The Model fits in its box like a hand in a glove

It was a rare thrill to examine the model, which is truly joined with well executed wood to wood joints and holds features I have not yet seen (such as the upper lateral bracing details, and the thrust blocks on the terminal ends of iron rod wind stays) on any still standing Long Truss bridge. It was also an honor and a privilege to examine this tiny construction, it being perhaps wrought by, and likely held by the hands of one or both of these storied bridge truss patent holders.


The Bridgewright Blog would like to thank the NHAS / Hopkinton Historical Society for their willingness and cooperation in providing access to this rare piece of both area and wooden bridge history.


Genuinely joined and richly detailed


Everything with Purpose

The somewhat unsaid case for slopes.

Just to clarify for those many among the readership who have never cut a timber joint – “Slope” is the going term for an angled cut into the backside of a mortise which receives an adjacent member which joins it at an angle, these typically being the common wind or “knee” braces typical to every timber framed structure.

This Wind Brace Mortise now sports a “Slope”

Most of those who cut timber joinery fall into either of two camps, those who cut them and those who don’t. The “don’t’s” have reason – A slope cut at an angle even a single degree too low, will simply not allow for full insertion. This added to there being in most instances, little, if any return on the time invested in (laying out – the cutting is simple) cutting them.

The other reason often held up, is historic precedent, and this is certainly there. Most Brace Mortises in North America lack any slope – Though I am going to qualify this somewhat slightly, by suggesting this, only most, and not all.

I have come upon historical examples, and of two types – Early Scribe Ruled frames do sometimes have slopes. This would be because both the exact placement of the spine of the brace is a known, (this is not true of Square Ruled frames) and the exact angle that the brace joins the mortised stick is also a recordable known, and with that information, it is easier to chop out a slope with a Corner Chisel than it is to bore out empty space with a Tee Auger.

The other instance in which I have seen this is in bridge joinery, and though such is most often scribed, the reasoning for the trouble taken to cut them was not about the information to cut them accurately being a known. It is about not unnecessarily removing “section” – It is for reason about not wasting out wood and unnecessarily weakening the mortised timber any more than need be.

Here we see a replicant Tie Beam with both Through Mortises for the Lateral Bracing visible on this face

Here we see a replicant Tie Beam with both Through Mortises for the Lateral Bracing visible on this face

Some of this is driven by that constantly considered aspect of wooden bridge design, this being “Dead Load” – Timber, particularly in later examples, is sized to the smallest section possible, to make the trusses as light as was possible to minimize “Dead Load”. (though then as now all is /was ticked up in size with a bit of a “failsafe”)

A knowing and careful Carpenter / Bridgewright, is and was cognizant of this, and did / does not let the joinery he is cutting unnecessarily weaken the stick he is joining.

Some of this thinking necessarily goes to the proximity of the joints being cut – Would two mortises in close proximity (should they even be in close proximity?) be better off were one or both cut with slopes?

This broken Tie is temporarily re-enforced for the rehab effort prior to its replacement

This broken Tie is temporarily re-enforced for the rehab effort prior to its replacement

As a bit of an aside, the lack of any slope leaves a void. Without exception, in every brace mortise I have ever opened up, something had moved in, and had brought with it, the stuff and sluff of life. The shredded whatnot for its bedding or its bathroom. This “stuff” often serves as an unintended sponge holding moisture, when that someday comes and an inconvenient leak points water at the spine of a brace, and funnels it into the mortise. This “Sponge” is not infrequently the secondary genesis of a huge problem…

I avoid this void in cutting new barns, (again, both mice and bats bring their stuff to these voids in every barn frame I’ve explored) and in frames subject to weather, like porches and pavilions, and of course – in Bridges

The Curiosities 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, in this case a full century and a half ago) I have come to believe this curiosity, that this bridge was indeed, 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 politically connected, and some kind of cronyism potentially played a part. 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. Was there potentially a war driven lack in ability?

With deeper wonder and exploration, as other entries here on the blog have touched on, 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 secondarily 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 terrible and costly war, a more survivable service than it may have been 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 later 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 with chops in this area, 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 - And a simple 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 – And a simple 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 enjoyed exceptional care and maintenance over the long term. It appears that part of this story is that the small mills, and the towns they supported on its either end, struggled, And as is common to other areas where circumstance and money left…

This Drop is shorter than is the typical standard, one of many clues which suggest a lack of familiarity with Bridgewrighting among those who framed the bridge – This lack of “end distance” was likely directly resultant in this shear failure

Without a booming economy driving “improvement” and change, time’s earlier stamp went untouched. (Though seemingly less than desirable, such circumstance has left us much which would have otherwise been lost) 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 also 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.

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.


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.


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