As Mysteries Unfold the Compass Swings

Digging deep on the the local wooden bridge influencer front, though a trip to Concord and the Special Collections Library at the New Hampshire Historical Society or down to the Boston & Maine RR Historical Society in Lowell Mass, just might be what it takes to fill in some blanks.

I’m looking hard at B&M in house engineer Jonathan Parker Snow, he was a longtime wooden bridge proponent and the primary influence which saw the B&M continue with wood frame bridges through the second decade of the 20th Century, longer than any other major railroad. Mr. Snow wrote prolifically, so there’s no shortage of the material on the technical side of things. It is the stuff of life, the biographical side of the story, which find me furrowing the fields of unexplored history, working to plow up, the whys as to the preferences he chose.

The other side of things which drives my curiosity is that I know of no other engineer from the heyday of wooden bridge building who spoke to the high esteem in which he held their builders, both those nationally known, and the B&M crews and crew leaders (literally pairing names with his praise) he both worked with directly and with regularity.

In one of many such a paragraphs of homage for his fellow wooden bridge builders Snow suggested he’d like to join a “Mr. Storrs in honoring these early builders” with “The historians of America have generally ignored them, perhaps because they were regarded as mere carpenters. They are more deserving of large mention in history, and inscriptions on memorial tablets, than many who have achieved less for their country.”

I knew of a local Storrs to have been a contemporary and an associate of Snow, but hadn’t known him to have a deep connection to wooden bridges nor had I seen such similar rare praise for their builders as that offered by Mr. Snow. So finding a fork, we take the divergent and tangential, yet parallel path, before a return to the long road home.

It is a remarkably parallel path, I was somewhat shocked how much was shared in the life of John Williams Storrs with those of others we have already described here. A man of modest beginnings, he worked as a grocer for some years, eventually running his own grocery. Then started on at an engineering firm which did work both for the city and area railroads. Initially working as a rodman on surveying teams, he worked his way up the firm ladder, before then accepting a position with the Concord & Montreal Railroad as assistant civil engineer. In time he would work as a team member and direct associate of Mr. Snow, and for two different railroads both of which built and maintained many wooden bridges. He would go onto be named and serve as New Hampshire’s first State Engineer.

The mentioned “Handbook” co-authored by his son Edward, who would also go on to work in the B&M civil engineering department, seems to be exceedingly rare, and is somehow not listed in any library collection anywhere. It is a window I think we somehow need to look through.

Mr. Storrs interest in wooden bridges spanned the length of his career. In 1932 he described then recent work to a now lost Burr, which spanned the Contoocook in Boscowen, a bridge built in 1850 – “Repairs have been completed recently, and it will do service for a long term of years to come”

This “years to come” bridge has since left us, the whens and whys of how it fell out of service and out of existence, are seemingly also lost to us. I’m sure there are some granite leavings, maybe long fallen and scattered, random corners still standing proud out of some leaf covered ground. Or perhaps still recognizable abutments and wingwalls sit moss covered and ignored. There is maybe that off chance, that just possibly, they yet carry a successor bridge, and people travel over them still, though unaware, of all those who have tramped that same crossing, for reasons much the same, though years before.

But this now almost forgotten Burr bridge, like the good people who built and maintained it, continues to slowly slip, almost unnoticed, into time.


About Will Truax

I'm a timberframer and preservation carpenter, and regularly work on Covered Bridge restoration projects. Bridgewrighting can be a tough row to hoe, for a myriad of reasons. From scheduling issues to differing opinions and philosophies on what is appropriate in methods and materials, to multiple jurisdictions still not sufficiently vetting bidders resumes - Which is to say, just because a company is on that state approved list and capable of building that seven figure overpass, this does not mean they are capable of restoring a wooden bridge... So, I have much to say about all this and more - And despite my tough row observation, I promise not to whine. View all posts by Will Truax

2 responses to “As Mysteries Unfold the Compass Swings

  • Dick

    Hello Will, See that you have been busy. In looking at your latest post I happened to catch one of the related listings in the sidebar. A news article from Bucks County that pieces of the Pine Valley Covered Bridge are being turned into shaker style tables! Retired carpentry teacher, John Cressman was mentioned. Neat idea and nice looking tables. Also I happened across a 2009 Town bridge project at Millbrook Village in eastern Pennsylvania. A guy by the name of John Tauke did the design. Do you know this guy? My latest project is recycling some barn timbers into a dovetailed 12′ x 14′ log cabin.


  • Wm. Truax

    Hey Dick –

    Glad you stopped by again.

    That is an interesting way of raising money for the High School and the Bridge Society, repurposing the flooring into tables. Gotta be hard on the tooling though, with years of traffic and the grit it drives into the woodgrain.

    I don’t know Mr. Tauke, I do remember the project though, caught my attention because they had obviously done their homework, the trusses were traditionally built and they raised in true bridgewright fashion, with unstayed Gins much like we did in Chester.

    I’ll have to follow along on your cabin progress, I’ve done some dovetail type logcrafting, preservation work in Virginia


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