Scarfs Exemplifying Long Term Cooperation & Friendship

Back to Jonathan Parker Snow –

Born in Concord New Hampshire, and said to have attended private academy at ”Contoocookville” The Contoocook Academy formerly stood in the Contoocook village section of Hopkinton, none so far from the Contoocook Railroad bridge (the Child’s Truss bridge which was there when he attended Academy, and the current Double Town he replaced it with – see June entry “Railroading, Adverts and Lists of What Was”) and Col. Long’s childhood home.

My initial interest in the mans work was sparked by two things, his being a lifelong proponent of wooden bridges, that and his being openly appreciative, even praiseful of the bridgewrights he worked with, and the knowledge and abilities they possessed. Particularly those of New Hampshire and B&M Bridgewright David Haselton.

The more I come to know about the man, the more I come to understand where it was that seeming sense of admiration might have come from. It is also in a growing sense of who he was that I come to find another reason for my own appreciation. With a deepening understanding of a lifelong shared interest and friendship he held with his engineering professor at Dartmouth’s Thayer School.

The Thayer School of Civil Engineering opened in 1871, the Schools namesake and benefactor, and 1807 Dartmouth alumnus Brevet Brigidier General Sylvanus Thayer, would handpick twenty four year old West Point mathematics instructor Robert Howe Fletcher to create and run the program. He would carry on as Dean for forty seven years until he reached the mandatory retirement age, and would continue to serve as lecturer and on the School’s Board of Overseers for years thereafter.

Snow would attend Dartmouth at an age slightly older than what was or is the norm, graduating in 1875, as a member of a Thayer School class of two. Fletcher would hire Snow, only a year his junior as “instructor” for the School, he would stay on for an additional two years. The 1877 Catalogue lists him as a member of the faculty and “Instructor of Surveying.” Dean Fletcher seems to have leaned heavily on Jonathan to help in the creation of instructional materials, during this period Snow wrote several treatises on Carpentry and Timber Frame Construction for this purpose. Though I am yet to corroborate this, his ability to produce these materials is suggestive of his already having deep knowledge in this subject. I spent a day recently at Dartmouth’s Rauner Special Collections Library photographing one of Snow’s handwritten books created for the Thayer School Program.

Closeup Pg 77 – Fig’s 24 & 25

Snow would leave Dartmouth in 1878 and enter the employ of the Boston Bridge Works. Interestingly, beginning not in their engineering office, but in the shop cutting Timber joinery.

Snow and Fletcher would go onto work cooperatively on many papers over the course of their long careers, this ending with their hundred page masterwork prepared for the American Society of Civil Engineers, Paper No. 1864 – A History Of The Development Of Wooden Bridges, published when both men were in their 80’s

Students of Scarf Joints (Timber Splices) might have interest in the following paper, written by Mr Fletcher in 1909 – Reproduced here in its entirety though unfortunately in type too small to read. Clicking on the article will bring you to the Digital library where you will be able to expand it in size for readability.


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

4 responses to “Scarfs Exemplifying Long Term Cooperation & Friendship

  • Dick

    Will – Intrigued by your reference to Fletcher and Snow. I found and checked out AMERICAN WOODEN BRIDGES by the ASCE that contains their Paper No. 1864. Very interesting read and has lead me to dig deeper. Looking for a tool called a “ship-auger”, more discussion on the “Brace in Panel Problem” calculations and reprints of the three letters published in Engineering News talking about “Bridge Curiosities and Atrocities – effect of ignorance and carelessness.” July 20, 1893 p60. Sept. 14, 1893 p219 and Nov. 9, 1893 p376.


  • Jay C. White Cloud

    Good Day Will,

    I would love to have your email or other contact information. The different companies that broker my services routinely have jobs that may interest you.

    For example, the town of Orford, NH may consider building a new covered bridge North of town if they can get financing and the last “Water Powered Sash Sawmill” in Rhode Island may be restored and moved to Texas. These are just two of interest.

    I also sent you a note on your other site: Historic Bridges of the United States.




    • Will Truax

      Jay –

      I frequently partner up with folks on a temp basis for interesting work which fits my niche/s and skill-sets, and am always looking for potential collaborators.

      The Orford bridge would of course hold some appeal, and though I have little recollection of living there, (I think my pick-up was then a tricycle) RI is my birthplace and all the cousins and such are there, so a project there likewise has appeal. And I helped replicate an Up & Down Mill a few back and have visited others so that fits also…

      I’m merely a sometimes contributor at Bridgehunter, and I somehow missed your note.

      I’ll drop you a line in the morning, and we’ll talk more –

      — Will


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