With our last several entries on area Bridgewrights and the bridges they have left for us, we have alluded to a Concord New Hampshire Merrimack River crossing. I thought we would go on to expand on this running series of sorts – It seeming that the moment might be at hand to pay homage to what is about to be lost, and to again focus on the crossing at Sewell’s Falls.
Beyond mentions in recent entries alluding to how events here at the Fall’s may have influenced the work of Bridgewrights in the immediate area, several archived entries speak to this crossing – One includes a virtual reprinting of an 1875 report by the city appointed project building agent for the construction of a then new iteration of this crossing. A report which relayed in depth the odd bits of happenstance that demanded the Falls be bridged and re-bridged in quick succession, by some of the State’s still well known wooden bridge builders.
Another discussed the designer of the bridge which still spans the Merrimack at this location, and his connection to the world of wooden bridges, and the parallels his career path held to his contemporaries and fellow designers.
Our homage to what was and what will be lost at this crossing, should begin with its beginnings – The first bridge constructed at Sewell’s Falls was sanctioned by the State Legislature one hundred and eighty two years ago this winter, the petitioners would build their “Balance Beam & String Bridge” (some kind of simple cantilever stringer braced back to the wooden piers and abutments akin to Hale’s Walpole span?) the following summer. Their un-housed bridge would be swept away just shy of six years later by ice flows cut loose in a January thaw on 27 January of 1839. (Several other bridges were lost that same day on the river, two in nearby Boscowen) The corporation held by the original petitioners chose to rebuild the following summer. This second bridge would in turn be swept away by an uncontrolled log drive in the Spring of ’49. Despite a case against the owners of the log drive, the corporation, with never having turned a profit would this time around choose not to rebuild.
Three years would pass before a public demand was raised to again bridge the crossing. Circumstances and approach would on this occasion take a completely different tact – With preliminary input from county road commissioners beginning on 25 March 1852, on 14 August of the same year the “town” would vote to “put the bridge under contract, to be completed on or before September 1st of 1853” – Simpson Balch & Co. was contracted to complete stone piers and abutments, Philip H. “Henry” Paddleford (who had then recently completed construction of both the Free and Federal bridges for Concord) was contracted to build a “covered wooden truss bridge” The total contract price for both the stonework and the bridge came to $6339.86 – This bridge would somehow just eight years later, also be swept away, this time by “a gale of wind” on New Year’s Day 1862.
Later the same year John C. Briggs would rebuild both 170′ spans using his soon to be patented arch reinforced Triple Lattice. The contract price for the this un-housed through truss was $1758.19 – The record suggests the rafters and the cladding, the “house” was added three years later by a former mayor of the city for a sum just in excess of one thousand dollars – A single decade would pass and this bridge would, like its predecessors, also be swept away. In the spring of 1872 yet another log jam would take down the west span, the compromised eastern span was lost to heavy snow load the following January.
Hard lesson learned, the city would with this loss, choose to increase the freeboard, the distance between the river and the bridge, and would contract Lyman Fellows as stonemason to not only repair, but raise the height of the piers and abutments prior to engaging Dutton Woods to build a new “Double Lattice and Arch bridge” as replacement.
Dutton’s bridge unlike those that preceded it, would survive the forces of time and nature for fortytwo years. With some irony it would instead of being lost, be replaced, (undoubtedly with many years of viable service life remaining, and almost oddly with another single lane bridge) when as I explained in Storied Crossing in the Spring of 1914 several “auto trucks fell through city bridges” The City Engineer was ordered to inspect every bridge in town. His resulting report recommended that “five bridges be strengthened or replaced with suitable modern structures” Sewall’s Falls was among these.
As our Winter recedes and its snows and ice leave the River, and this years freshet ebbs away to the none so distant Atlantic, and this coming Spring brings yet another building season, the Storrs designed incarnation of The Sewell’s Falls will just as it hits the century mark, also be swept away.
It’s passing to intentional replacement will be lamented by many, for reasons great and small –
What might not be mentioned by others in such observations, will be the sweeping away of the still sound Stonework of Simpson Balch and Lyman Fellows and their crews of un-named masons, the newest of their cooperative tiers of stone laid up one hundred and forty one summers past. Stonework which has stood fast against the flow of time and an untold volume of water and all the flotsam that carried with it, and shouldered well both Woods’ Lattice Truss, and this sixth incarnation of the Sewell’s Falls into the present day.
Stonework, like as is already true of the bridge pinned to it, soon to carry no more…