Sometimes, The House Waits

In honor of it now being Town Meeting season, a short piece on how practical our New England forebears could be with decisions made at these annual, democracy in its purest form, how do we best improve our community, and what do we spend our money on meetings.

I occasionally look up from whatever piece I am cutting during the course of a days work, glancing over at others similarly engaged, and explore a realization that the moment I stand in, could almost without change, be shared by and understood as experientially same same, as one enjoyed by another in my same shoes a century, or better in the past – One of the few other social situations in which I have had some similar sense of being part of some as it was is as it is continuum, is in Town Meeting.

I’ve found myself in recent months repeatedly referencing – Life and Times in Hopkinton, N.H. By Charles Chase Lord 1890, sifting through its pages in a search for information on those with Hopkinton connections, Long and Childs, and Snow and the Contoocook Academy. This past week I came across the statement “to build a new covered bridge, without roof.” “Whatever that might have meant.”

Though this is now a little realized tactic in a search for affordability, I find it interesting that this was lost to CC Lord, with his having penned his town history within living memory of the meeting he was citing.

This goes to the one time common tactic of letting the “House” wait. The house being the term often used to describe the cladding, the enclosure, the so recognizable face of these bridges, only there to long-term protect the bridge proper from the elements. And that of limiting the funding of the initial expenditure to the hiring of a bridgwright to frame, raise and place the bridge superstructure – The Through Truss – the two trusses, the ties and upper lateral bracing system, the floor beams and lower laterals, and the flooring. Then simply opening the bridge to traffic.

The rafters, purlins, (bridge-speak for skip sheathing) and roofing, and boarding and trim would sometimes wait for a future warrant in some future Town Meeting, five or six years hence when the towns coffers had recovered.

This same tactic also sometimes preceded the bridge. Occasionally abutments were let out to bid one at a time, to spread out their expense – Written record of this is sometimes lost, but the story told in the workmanship found in standing stonework, and the quality of the quarrying of the stones in them, is often there to tell the tale.

Well laid up quarried and cut Granite

Rubble, river rock & recent repair

From CC Lord’s Life and Times in Hopkinton – Which speaks to bridges lost to flooding, an experience our time shares with theirs, and Rowell’s Bridge – For a description and photographs of framing details of Rowell’s see – Crossing Childs Living Legacy – in the July ’11 Archives

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 “Sometimes, The House Waits

  • Dick

    Speaking of town meetings it must have been at a similar gathering in 1852 when Lemuel Chenoweth made his dramatic pitch for the contract to build the Philippi bridge in W. Va.. The story goes, “Bidders were present in large numbers with all kinds of models and plans. As far as appearances went, it is said that some of the New England Yankees had models of perfect form and beauty, painted and enameled in the highest art. Mr. Chenoweths’ plain wooden model attracted little attention until he placed it on two chairs, one end resting on each, and then stood on his little bridge, and called on the other architects to put theirs to the test by doing the same. This feat got him the job of building the bridge.” Amusing story but very interesting bridge design and history. Fire in 1989, rebuilding in 1991 which started the West Virginia Covered Bridge Restoration Project. What do you think of the truss design used by Chenoweth?


    • Wm. Truax

      I spent all (5 1/2 Hrs) of last Saturday at our annual TM here in the town of twos.

      The model story is a common one, (See Oddities unearthed – June) here Tasker the Bridgewright best known for the Cornish – Windsor is said to have used this strategy to win contracts.

      I have yet to visit the Philippi, will have to do a little reading to offer an opinion of his Truss.


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