A Riddle Unsolved

I have, in prior entries, (See April ’12 archived entry Sticks and Stones and Service Life) alluded to how my coming up within seasonal sight of, and always within earshot of Watt’s Brook, and none so far from its confluence with the Merrimack River did much to form my understanding of how our world works. My relationship with this River goes back even farther, with one of my earliest memories going back to a time when I was still toddling, still pre-school, when my parents influences and those of my surrounding world provided my education. This just after our moving north from Rhode Island, when repeated new neighborhood unavoidable bridge crossings provided a growing awareness of my Mother’s almost quietly kept to herself, thinly veiled terror of bridges. A why is she acting differently realization which grew with each and and every time we needed cross “The Triple Bridges” at Hooksett Village. A realization which saw me looking at the river scenery flicking by the cars window with a sense of wonder just in some small way, different, than what was found in our woodlands and farm fields and city-scapes.

The Merrimack, long an aspect of my daily life, with an abundance of empty bridge piers would go on to provide much of the wonder which would in time grow into a fascination with both history, and the bridges mankind has provided for itself to help navigate our world.

Photo courtesy of C. Hanchey - The piers for both the Village Bridge and the neighboring RR triple span were formerly home to a series of covered wooden examples of various truss types - This Riveted Pratt was designed by John Williams Storrs (paste to search box for more info) was built in 1909 and bypassed in 1976

Photo courtesy of C. Hanchey – The piers for both the Hooksett Village Bridge and the neighboring RR triple span were formerly home to a series of covered wooden examples of various truss types including those of Briggs and Childs – This Riveted Pratt was designed by John Williams Storrs (Copy & paste to the blog search box for more info) It was built in 1909 and bypassed in 1976

In researching last months piece on Timothy Palmer, a Bridgewright who had spanned The Merrimack not once but twice, I again came across mention of another 18th century long multiple span example on my home River, this one once having stood in the twenty five mile stretch of the river I know best. It served at a point on that stretch of The Merrimack known now and then better than any other to the areas inhabitants. This being the Falls known as Amoskeag. This bridge then connected two villages, on the west bank a former part of Goffstown, on the east bank a second village then known as Derryfield – Both banks are now encompassed by the City of Manchester.

In both local histories, and in some of those many describing the history of bridge building, this 1792 example is often described like other contemporaneous examples built the same decade within the States borders, Hale’s at Walpole and Palmer’s Great Arch. This Merrimack example described as another first, as in this following excerpt from Wm. Hubert Burr’s Ancient and Modern Engineering – “The first long span timber bridge, where genuine bridge trussing or framing was used”

I have in coming across such description in the past, of a bridge on a part of the river well known to me, one still bridged at this location, with this hint at such a first, and one within sight of some of those empty sets of piers which have given me so much wonder…

Worked and searched in a quest of sorts to find deeper information, on both this bridge and its builder.

As it turns out, though information on the often named builder showed itself when I recently scratched again for more. It more than appears that neither he nor his firm built the 1792 span. Though record suggests one of his numerous companies was engaged in bridge building, and did span the Merrimack at Manchester – In 1792 Wm. was but three years old, and his bridge building concern was years away from formation.

So somehow, long ago in the chain of record, Col. Riddle was named as builder of this bridge in error. And as all too often happens, an error is repeated and then somehow repeated time and again.

Here this chain breaks. And with the seemingly strange irony, that a realized understanding raises a greater question. This mystery, like The Merrimack in our coming Springtime – deepens.

Who was it that did build this bridge? And was it as described, a first in true timber truss bridges, is now the Riddle which needs solving.

So road gig wrapped, and now home again – For me a trip to The City, its Historical Society, and The Falls is just over the coming horizon.


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

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