Category Archives: Merrimack River

Light for the Bridge & Roofs for the Girls

A return to history this go…

And an exploration of a funky bridge now almost one hundred and thirty-five years gone.

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This image from the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views is seen here as a courtesy of The New York City Public Library and the Digital Public Library of America

The roofed sidewalks on this ornate example “Village Bridge” would have at least twice daily protected some of Lowell’s Mill Girls from the elements on their way to and from their long demanding shifts.

The following video photo gallery, primarily showcasing images taken by child labor activist Louis Hine is seen here as a courtesy of Selena Marie Perez.

Do bear with me for the few coming days in that the current gig has me tripping through Lowell Mass with regularity, though with this last month being the depths of Winter, stops in the shop are either side of Sun’s up and don’t allow for my taking the few additional photographs I’d like to include in the entry.

Do click back in the coming days, as I’ll add those, and what is known of this one of a kind crossing, and conjecturalize a bit about the funk in its unique details.

Meanwhile, wonder after those details and this through-truss uncovered allowing us to see if we might arrive at like conclusions.


To Revisit our Riddle

Addendum 9 AprilIn the Bridgewright Blog as I push a chisel through history’s often deeply patina’ed grain to find what lies beneath, and in striving both for accuracy and to work to patch some of the holes in the record, I ran in this entry with finding long looked for images of wooden bridges in the Amoskeag Millyard, and published upon my self-imposed deadline prior to being able to confirm which / was / where of the pictured bridge/s in the following found images. I never want to find myself guilty of the kind of revisionism sometimes born of a desire to find what one is looking for, so the hard look at what was what continued – And further exploration has now determined that the Four Span Lattice and Arch bridge seen in the first image below is a “Mill” bridge which did not serve city streets, it is not the Bridge which shared the name Amoskeag, though as it turns out the pictured bridge is sometimes known as The Amoskeag Mills.

The Quest and our Riddle continues, and we will work to corroborate just what spans are recorded in these other found images, and a full revision will await that determination.

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Longstanding readers may recall our short series of entries exploring the history of an 18th Century first in a span to bridge the Merrimack at Derryfield New Hampshire, this the crossing now known as the Bridge Street Bridge. In these entries we explored how choices made by that spans builder through that first bridge and its succession of replacement spans continue to this day to shape the city we now know as Manchester, and in how this crossing would drive an interplay of commerce as the power of the river was harnessed to build the Nineteenth Century Worlds single largest industrial complex, and how this in turn has framed for us the city we have inherited.

Recently in working to turn up an unrelated image, I chanced upon one of the missing links in the quest to solve the Riddle. Though we have yet to discover a rendering of McGregor’s 1792 span known as Amoskeag, this recent find prompted some deeper scratching and reaching out, and we have found multiple images of the Amoskeag’s namesake 1825 replacement – The bridge which was built by Wm. Riddle’s bridge building concern (In 19th Century histories he is often misidentified as the builder of the 1792 first) The Granite Bridge Co. of the Piscataquog borough of Bedford. Here he and his firm are cited as being prolific area bridge builders with many local examples to their credit.

The Amoskeag is seen in the foreground - The Granite Street Bridge also a product of Riddle's Granite Bridge Company can be seen downstream -   Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS HAER Reproduction number  HABS NH,6-MANCH,2--91

In this image The Amoskeag “Mills”Bridge is seen in the foreground – The Granite Street Bridge, a product of Riddle’s Granite Bridge Company can be seen downstream – This photo is courtesy of The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division HABS HAER Reproduction number HABS NH,6-MANCH,2–91

William’s many and varied building and business concerns seems to have begun in following his father Issac into the carpentry trade, (Issac is attributed with having “built the first canal boat to have floated on the Merrimack”) and with Bridgewrighting as the record suggests he was contracted to build a bridge over the Piscataquog in his hometown of Bedford shortly after returning from his schooling at Atkinson Academy.

From an 1850 History of Bedford compiled and published on the occasion of the towns centennial celebration.

The following excerpt, compiled by a local historian just decades after the loss of our subject bridge is rife with errors, (the most glaring of these being that the bridge he built was not the one at the Falls, nor was the Falls Bridge the crossing the Amoskeag Corporation purchased and in time would rebuild after Riddle’s span was lost to a freshet in 1851) but does give an overview of the timeline for this the second Amoskeag Bridge.

The Amoskeag as seen froma a nearby rooftop on the east bank - It is interesting to note that with this bridge being built just five years after Town patented his Truss that the NH variant of Lattice Plank radiating towards plumb at the terminal ends had already developed - This photo is seen here as a courtesy of and thanks to the Todd Clark Archives

The Amoskeag (?) as seen from a a nearby rooftop on the east bank – The Amoskeag Falls Bridge can be seen in the distance – It is interesting to note that with this bridge being built just five years after Town patented his Truss that the NH variant of Lattice Plank radiating towards plumb at the terminal ends had already developed – This photo is seen here as a courtesy of and thanks to The Todd Clark Archives

View of Manchester

Those interested in the history of the crossing, the first Amoskeag Bridge or the chain of replacement spans time and circumstance has demanded, and of how the second Amoskeag and its replacement The McGregor were the property of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company and not the city, (This relationship would end with the companies Depression Era bankruptcy and the loss of the McGregor Bridge to the Great Flood of 1936) can click on the underlined text to open the first two entries in the series.

Van Slyek & G 1878

Newsreel footage covering the Amoskeag Mfg Co’s bankruptcy and initial efforts at recovery in a consortium formed to rescue the Mill property from the receivership auction – To borrow the phrase of the newsreel’s narrator – Time marches on


Swept Away

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.

The 1873 Dutton Woods built  Double Lattice Truss with Encased Arch Bridge - Note the shift in coloration in the newly Fellows raised Stonework - Photo courtesy of both The National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges - Richard Sanders Allen collection & The Covered Spans of Yesteryear - Lost Bridges Database

The 1873 Dutton Woods built Double Lattice Truss with Encased Arch Bridge – Note the shift in coloration in the newly Fellows raised Stonework – Photo courtesy of both The National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges – Richard Sanders Allen collection & The Covered Spans of Yesteryear – Lost Bridges Database

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.

The 1915 John Williams Storrs designed Riveted Pratt Truss seen from near the same perspective as the Covered Span which preceded it - Photo credit UmaNHamU http://fav.me/d77c9v6

The 1915 John Williams Storrs designed Riveted Pratt Truss seen from near the same perspective as the Covered Span which preceded it – Photo credit UmaNHamU – http://fav.me/d77c9v6

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.

A photo capture by the author shortly before the Sewell's Falls was closed to vehicular traffic December 1st 2014

A photo capture by the author shortly before the Sewell’s Falls was closed to vehicular traffic December 1st 2014

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.

The west span seen in the rivers reflection with Fellows' mid-river pier in the background - Photo courtesy of Scott Wagner

The west span of the Storrs designed Pratt seen in the rivers reflection with Fellows’ mid-river pier in the background – Note the compound slope of the icebreaking Cutwater on the upstream side – Photo courtesy of Scott Wagner

Stonework, like as is already true of the bridge pinned to it, soon to carry no more…


Briggs – the Man – the Truss – the Enigma

Delays in obligation, delays in meeting self imposed deadlines – Holidays, power failures, and the resulting loss of hard-drives and research materials, and even passwords.

Time again to pick up the pen…

As I’ve worked here on the weblog to document all the various personalities with roots here in New Hampshire, whose lives works included the design of still recognized truss types, and/or the advocacy of wood as a building material in their construction (the spark for me in this adventure was in part the sheer number of individuals with this shared connection, numbers seemingly disproportionate for a state of this size, and not being simply that they chose to design in wood) – In research for this series, I have returned a time or three to the same name, only to hit the same dead ends, time and again.

This is both puzzling, and more than regrettable, a bit sad really. As the legacy of what can only be seen as a successful life’s work, should not end up like this, somehow, through the fog of time, shrouded in mystery.

Our subject in this look back, John C Briggs, was not only the builder of many short and long span bridges, and at some of the most famed crossings in the state. (Over The Merrimack at both Sewell’s Falls and Hooksett Village) He is the holder of two bridge patents.

The first of these dating to 1858, No. 22,106 though titled as a “Truss Bridge” and picturing Truss panels of several mongrel varieties, (and also a Strong-Arc type “Truss Beam”) is a patent for what he describes as his “having invented a new and Improved Mode of Giving Elasticity to the Compressed Joints of Truss-Frames” essentially this the idea that the addition of rubber shock washers to Angle Blocks and Cast Washers would somehow extend the life of these truss framing connections. We can’t know with certainty with what is left to us, but it does seem probable that the idea put forward in 22,106 was put to little use, seemingly even in bridges he himself went on to build.

Just five years later, in 1863 John was awarded patent No. 38,653 for a distinct Lattice Truss variant he describes in his Letters Patent as a “Triple Lattice” now known as the Briggs Truss. He successfully sold his truss locally (He advertised and began building this variation of his “Patent Bridges” well before the second patent was awarded – I will edit and add his advertisement to this entry after visiting a special collections library and upon securing a public domain copy) and built examples in numbers as both highway bridges and for area Railroads.

– Sadly, somehow none survive.

Henniker Road Bridge - Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress and the Historic American Building Survey - Photographed in May 1936 by L.C. Durette

Henniker Road Bridge – Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress and the Historic American Buildings Survey – Photographed in May 1936 by L.C. Durette

Happily, perhaps the last of these was documented by a HABS team (Historic American Buildings Survey) just months prior to its removal in 1936, and both photographs and a full set of as-built drawings were archived as part of their survey. (Click underlined text here and above to link to associated records)

A glimpse Through Time - Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress and the Historic American Building Survey - Photographed in May 1936 by L.C. Durette

A glimpse through time – The Henniker Road is a Briggs Truss example built the year before the patent was awarded – Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress and the Historic American Buildings Survey – Photographed in May 1936 by L.C. Durette

The almost greater irony in this story of patent holder and his truss, is how little is known of either his bridge building concern “John C. Briggs Civil Engineer – Builder of his own Patent Bridges” and likewise time has seemingly lost for us any real sense of just who John was. There seems to be no image of the man, no bio-piece in one of the who’s who of industry so common to the era, no obituary yet found. We do know through the unusual Lateral Bracing system seen on the Henniker Road Bridge, and the funky roof boarding detail described in his patent, that he was a man who thought outside the box.

The decade of the ’60’s was hugely successful for John, his truss, and his Concord based company, and then like physical examples of his Triple Lattice, he too, is somehow, almost lost to time.


Hometown Sons & Timber across Oceans & Rivers & Time

With this entry a Bio piece on a self-made Timber trader. And though he was only tangentially connected to the world of wooden bridges, I mean to complete the circle and paradoxically reconnect his world with ours. In the doing I mean to make comment on how the endless onslaught of time and change needn’t and shouldn’t mean every last aspect of yesterdays technologies be left to those days that have already slipped by.

The hub of the wheel we’ll spin is George B. McQuesten. I became intrigued by the mans story a few years back while working on the earliest still surviving Wooden bridge to have been built for Railroad use, built by the Boston & Maine in 1889, (see Gleanings from the Grit) and finding his firms merchant stamp on one of the Bolster Beams we were there to replace. Being familiar with the surname, curiosity had me look for a possible connection and sure enough he and I share the same hometown and the same home river. He was born in Litchfield New Hampshire in June of 1817. His family is still there, still farming their patch of the finest bottom land in the State.

George’s self-made success story began at just twelve years of age when he left Litchfield for nearby and then newly industrializing Nashua to tend lock gates on the then recently constructed canal there. He would spend the next nine years tending to and watching the canal boats and the floating commerce and trade of others, before he would himself enter the lumber trade at the still tender age of twenty one. He would for many years do business in both Nashua and Concord, both towns like his birthplace, stand on the banks of the Merrimack River. He would then in 1872 relocate the business to Boston and initially partner with another timber trader as specialist importers of Longleaf Yellow Pine. After Geo. Fogg’s passing, McQuesten & Fogg would be renamed George McQuesten & Co.

The company would for many years specialize in the in the importation of Longleaf, a species important to the boatbuilding trade, which dovetailed nicely with McQuesten importing a non-native species. The Company and in time his namesake son would regularly commission Schooners to be built by a number of area boatyards from Boston to Gloucester to Rockport Maine. They would also trade in Knees and Trunnels, items common to the Boatbuilding Trade. In the McQuesten employ were buyers in the deep south, and their sizable fleet would regularly trip down the coast to ports in Georgia, Floridia and Texas. They would in time add Doug Fir and other West Coast species to their offerings. McQuesten Lumber long held three piers in Boston diagonally across from the Charlestown Navy Yard, and a large yard and headquarters on Border Street. It survives to this day, until this past year at a facility in Billerica Mass, a property it acquired from the Boston & Maine RR in 1955. The McQuesten Company was in 1998 acquired by a Lumber conglomerate, and George’s surname happily will continue to see recognition as a division of this company in their continuing lumber-trading story.

I find the circle made complete, of a life of commerce beginning with canal boats in an emerging mill town to that of a fleet of Schooners plying Bluewater, and shipments amounting to millions of board feet annually flowing through one of the nations best known seaports to be an amazing story worth the telling.

George and his wife Theoline chose to continue to reside in their Nashua home. He lived two days into his seventy fifth year, and together with Theoline is buried at Edgewood Cemetery there in the city.

The once common sight of a wharfside Schooner unloading Timber & Lumber - Photo courtesy of San Francisco National Maritime Museum (Image A12,727nl)

The once common sight of a wharfside Schooner unloading Timber & Lumber – Photo courtesy of San Francisco National Maritime Museum (Image A12,727nl)

Such Schooner borne forest products were commonly crossing the worlds waters well into the 1920’s, moving desirable timber species from their native regions to distant points and seaports. Eastern White Pine was shipped from ports here in Northern New England, It likewise saw shipboard travel in large quantities on The Great Lakes and The St. Lawrence Seaway and points beyond from both Michigan and Wisconsin. Western Species rounded the Cape and are found here in eastern Mill Buildings far earlier than most might expect. And as we see here in the McQuesten story, Longleaf Yellow Pine was being unloaded in ports at distance in quantities almost unfathomable.

And this brings us back to wooden bridges – Some of this timber transversing the continent was for use in the building of bridges. Species specific traits and design values demanded their use in such important constructions even when they were not indigenous to a given area. Northern grown dense ring count Eastern White Pine being the most appropriate species for bridge truss framing, saw it shipped widely for that purpose. Many if not most of hardwood dominated Ohio’s’ bridges were built using Michigan Pine, as were those built built elsewhere in the Midwest. Spruce was likewise, strength to weight ratio similarly favored and traded. Indiana Bridgewright JJ Daniels spent much of the decade of the 1880’s setting up Longleaf Plantations in Mississippi for shipment upriver to his home state.

McQuesten & Co. seemingly had a long relationship with the bridge building division of the B&M. – Their chief of Engineering and lifelong wooden bridge advocate, JP Snow (see Scarfs) specified Longleaf for the Floorbeams and the Bolsters in The Contoocook and many bridges to follow. In later years as native species became unavailable in the then largely deforested North East, McQuesten supplied timber began to appear in the Truss-work itself.

The McQuesten Merchant Stamp seen on a Counter Brace in the Snyder Brook Bridge - A B&M built Boxed Pony dating to 1918

The McQuesten Merchant Stamp seen on a Doug Fir Counter Brace in the Snyder Brook Bridge – A B&M built Boxed Pony Howe dating to 1918

As this story unfolded, and the years flipped by with the change wrought by time and circumstance in just the modes of travel and shipping in this the McQuesten story, from canal Boats to Schooners to a foothold in the world of Wooden Bridges and railroading, and then how the Railroads time has since slipped by – I could not help but reflect on which and what change brought the better, and what was perhaps lost in the often assumed notion that a change in technology is always necessarily for the better, and for how this failure sometimes leads to the better and best being left behind.

That turned to thoughts on Bridgewrighting and change and the struggle to rediscover the unwritten secrets of this almost lost trade. Of how even advocates of wooden bridges see little if any difference between a traditionally joined bridge and one with simple butt cuts and parts coupled by steel fish plates. And of how few understand that camber is in many ways better formed by knowledge and proven method applied by highly trained individuals, than it is in a curved glulam form by people who will likely never see the parts their semi-skilled labor helps create, become part of a completed structure.

Trusses are designed and constructed in such ways not because that system is superior to that of traditionally joined bridges. These methods and materials are chosen by those who either do not realize there is still a group of people capable of such joined timber constructions, or because wood, and wood to wood joints (most structural engineers simply are not trained in the use of wood as a building material) are not seen as viable method, or a building material worthy of trust. This shortsightedness is something I see as rather silly, with existing examples pushing the one hundred eighty year mark still carrying traffic daily, and being that we happen to reside on a planet blessed with Trees.

Joined Timber Bridge Trusses are the time proven methodology. To my mind their superior service life, (Literally multiples in service lives over those of steel or reenforced concrete – Only exceeded by those of the also now largely abandoned Stone Arch) should have wooden truss bridges seeing a resurgence in their construction for spans between seventy and one sixty or so. My hope is that such work might again become reasonably common so that this, my Trade, might prosper and the knowledge base might continue to roll forward with time.

The Boston & Maine's finest still standing example - The Wright's Ca. 1906 features Encased Laminated Arches and Shear Block Joined Hackmatack Knees - The Knees, Trunnels & Floorbeams in all probability supplied by McQuesten & Co. - Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress and The NPS Historic American Buildings Survey / Historic American Engineering Record – Photo Credit Jet Lowe

The Boston & Maine’s finest still standing example – The Wright’s Ca. 1906 features Encased Laminated Arches and Shear Block Joined Hackmatack Knees – The Knees Trunnels & Floorbeams in all probability supplied by McQuesten & Co. – Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress and The NPS Historic American Buildings Survey / Historic American Engineering Record – Photo Credit Jet Lowe

Another Litchfield son made a name for himself, and is perhaps better known than his cousin George, at least his nickname is familiar to most – Leroy Napoleon “Jack” McQuesten left his mark on The Yukon, but that is another story, one that will require we sit, open a bottle and pour a shot or three…


A Riddle’s Answer – Exemplifies the Why

As followup to last months Riddle entry – A deeper look at this third and last of those late 18th Century New Hampshire wooden spans often also described as groundbreaking firsts on the national stage, this squint does find our Riddle, in some measure solved. We do now know who contracted this long multiple span bridge to be built. This in itself is a hugely interesting story, particularly from a local history perspective.

Seemingly missing from our ever unwinding scroll of recorded history are those answers to what from my perspective, are the far more interesting questions. Those being who designed it, who framed it, how the truss-work was configured, and what did this piece of yesterday look like?

These multiple missing pieces, despite long ago prompts that this was structurally somehow a significant ahead of its time multi-span bridge, sometimes described as a first in true truss bridges – An enticing bit of plausible real information sadly intertwined with an oft repeated bit of misinformation. These details of the structural specifics of this long span wooden bridge are pages of our common history that are sadly and seemingly, forever lost to us.

This first bridge at this crossing, The Amoskeag Bridge (not to be confused with Amoskeag Falls Bridge which was built at a later date and upstream of this crossing) like most every other in that period, was built by a for profit company formed expressly for this purpose. This both to collect tolls. And to attract traffic to the area as an unknown convenience and option superior to then available ferries to those traveling to, or more importantly and more profitably, those moving goods and materials or driving stock to points west of the Merrimack.

In October of 1792 a Boston paper announced the completed construction of the six span five hundred and fifty six foot Amoskeag with this brief blurb –

The Principal in this effort, Robert McGregor, was a mover and a shaker of his time. And arguably had hand in shaping both the Nation and the State. And while he is not forgotten to history, it is almost confusing that his many efforts and accomplishments are as under-realized and little acknowledged as they now are.

His National front efforts begin with service in the Revolution in which he rose to rank of Colonel and served as Aide de Camp to General Stark. Robert would a decade later, while a member of the State Legislature attend a special meeting at Exeter and vote with the majority to ratify the United States Constitution.

Col. McGregor seems to have left the war effort about the same time as his commanding officer, and would purchase land just downriver and on the opposite bank from the mill the General ran in Derryfield just above Amoskeag Falls. Years later Stark was heard to say, when the charter was sought and potential stockholders were thinking of investing in his former subordinates Amoskeag Bridge Company “Zounds – Build a roadway over the Merrimack? Man alive, you nor I will ever live to see it done!”

General John would then go on to cross The Amoskeag for some twenty years.

A first in a long series of varied businesses McGregor would engage in in the coming decades, would be that of his former commander. Beginning in the mid 1780’s Robert would long own and operate a series of area sawmills. (This clearly would have had him long knowing the area’s carpenter’s & millwrights – Both being groups of highly skilled people capable of sophisticated framing – Who did he choose to design and frame his bridge?) He became active in Goffstown politics, for many years serving as Selectman, and serving as Moderator for much of the 90’s – He simultaneously served many terms in the State House which was at this time still meeting in the former colonial capitol of Portsmouth. Robert’s business pursuits were many and varied, he for a time even held a license to sell “Spirituous Liquors” Two years after the Bridge Company completed its endeavor Robert would become principal in the Isle of Hooksett Canal Company. Among numerous other cooperative ventures he would in time be counted among the founding Proprietors of The Amoskeag Cotton & Woolen Mill.

For many years after this subsection of Goffstown was annexed to the City of Manchester, the area of the city served by the west bank end of the Amoskeag Bridge was known as McGregorville. The third of the replacement bridges to span this crossing would also go on to carry the name McGregor.

As it turns out, the confusion which was the root of our Riddle, was a long ago crossing up of the chronology of this crossing, a jumbling of just who built which iteration when – Wm. Riddle’s bridge building concern was contracted to build a replacement for the then breifly abandoned Amoskeag. This the second in the string of spans to bridge this crossing, built for a newly formed shareholder owned toll-bridge company, “The Proprietors of Amoskeag Bridge” their replacement was completed in November of 1825. The “Proprietors” in 1838 would go on to sell their bridge to The Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, then expanding its mills to also encompass the east bank of the river. (In time becoming the largest mill complex in the world) Riddle’s bridge would ultimately be carried away by a freshet in 1851. Though it was clearly also a wooden bridge, we know little of it, and as with its predecessor, neither a sketch nor a landscape painting seems to survive to suggest for us either its framing configuration or outward appearance.

The record suggests a quite literal gap of thirty years would pass before The Amoskeag Company would replace their bridge. This they would build with twin decks, the upper to serve the city, the lower to serve mill operations and their employees.

The Bridge Street or McGregor Bridge stood at this location from 1881 - 1936 - A three plus span Lenticular Truss built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co. - Photo courtesy of HABS / HAER and the Library of Congress

The Bridge Street or McGregor Bridge stood at this location from 1881 – 1936 – A three plus span Lenticular Truss built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co. – Photo courtesy of HABS / HAER and the Library of Congress – The photographer’s name, and the date this image was taken are unknown

The above advertisement placed by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company in the Engineering News and American Contract Journal in 1884 pictures their incarnation of the bridge then known as The McGregor, this twin deck bridge an obvious point of pride they had built three years prior.

Here we see the upper deck of The McGregor as seen from Canal Street on the east side of the city. The Lenticuler Pony Truss in the foreground bridged a no longer existing canal and the Boston & Maine’s rail-bed. This span can be seen on the left end of the above advertisement. Berlin’s iron bridge would serve the city for fifty five years until it was lost to highwater in the Great Flood of 1936.

Here the torrent of flood water can be seen battering The McGregor in the distance - It would hold out until highwater reached the level of the upper deck - Photo courtesy of The National Archives OPA - Archive Identifier: 6252792

Here the torrent of flood water can be seen battering The McGregor in the distance – It would hold out until highwater reached the level of the upper deck on 20 March – Photo courtesy of The National Archives OPA – Archive Identifier: 6252792

In time the shifting makeup of the city’s population, driven by patterns of employment by the milling corporation which shared the name Amoskeag, would see both the neighborhood on the west bank and the Bridge at this crossing come to be known as Notre Dame.

The Notre Dame built in 1936/37 stood in the location of the 1792 Amoskeag until its 1989 demolition - Post Card image courtesy of The Boston Public Library

The Notre Dame built in 1936/37 stood in the location of the 1792 Amoskeag until its 1989 demolition – Post Card image courtesy of The Boston Public Library

The 1792 Amoskeag Bridge venture though both an immediate success, and having had the lasting effect of to this day shaping the face of and traffic patterns to and through the City, seems to have in the years that followed, been one of Robert McGregor’s few profit failures. In 1796 the Proprietors petitioned the General Court for an increase in tolls, “’The prayer of their petition was granted” The failure to realize any profit on investment seemingly continued, Being open to the weather the giant would see an exceedingly short service life. By 1812 it was judged to be “impassable to teams” – Those on foot did continue to cross at their own peril for some years.

Though the bridges primary purpose, of a realized return on investment for the stockholders of the Amoskeag Bridge Company never came to pass, Robert’s obvious secondary purpose was amazingly & blazingly successful – It forever changed commerce, in that area he knew best, and held as home.

With its short service life limiting any potential return or profit on this speculative venture, perhaps the well known Amoskeag may well have served as example to those near and far that an investment in any wooden bridge should and would best be protected by simple sets of cladding & roofing –

Looking upstream under the current concrete deck bridge - The fifth span to cross at this location - The fourth to stand as replacement for the city shaping Amoskeag

Looking upstream under the current concrete deck bridge – The fifth span to cross at this location – The fourth to stand as replacement for the city shaping Amoskeag

Just downstream an empty set of piers now serving little more than childhood wonder

Just downstream an empty set of piers now serving little more than childhood wonder

The Bridgewright Blog would like to thank the staff of The Manchester Historic Association Research Center for their cooperation and assistance in locating source materials during research in preparation for this Riddle’s Answer entry.


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.


Adulation for Bruno

In learning we had this past Fourth of July somehow missed acknowledging his 200th, and in looking for more information on the the good Mr. Pratt, we find adulation for Bruno…

I have several times here linked to full text clips of period bio-obits for historical members of the wooden bridge community. I quite like these as primary source materials, clearly they are written by close friends or associates, within weeks or months of someones passing. As such there are often found interesting nuggets of information, sometimes recorded nowhere else.

Here we learn Thomas Willis Pratt shared more than much in common, in a parallel lives sort of way, this far beyond bridges and bridge design, with others we have discussed here on these pages. Involvement in Railroading, and being often described as and thought of as an engineer, despite a lack of any degree.

We also learn he was involved in the building of Railroads and railroad bridges here in NH, and like his storied wooden bridge predecessor Timothy Palmer he also spanned the Merrimack in Newburyport. The thought that homage to his father Caleb was part of appending his name to the ‘ 44 patent was here affirmed. And somehow, we come to know he was a pamphleteer of sorts, often writing Boston papers using the “Nom de Plume” of Bruno.

Surprisingly, despite the success, even in his own lifetime of the “Pratt Truss” built then, and for decades on into the future, in a variety of materials and in many variations – The Bio suggests “ Mr. Pratt derived little or no pecuniary profit from the invention.” This leaving us to wonder why.

The author displays multiple biases, of the newer is necessarily better variety – Besmirching the name of the good Col. Long, based primarily on some assumption of an adherence of all wooden parts in an all wooden bridge, and seemingly an assumed and accepted superiority of iron over wood as a building material. He then carries on about “The advance of knowledge taught us to modify those notions of the powers of the camber, and of the need of Counters except for short distances each side of the centre of the bridge” – This sadly is to my mind, a first person contemporaneous suggestion, that then as now, design engineers were failing to seek any input from the very people they would conspire with to build their designs – Though calcs and models do suggest that but for those near mid-span, there is no need for Counters to convey loads from Panel to Panel – However, in the process of construction of wooden bridge trusses, with a number of truss types, they are useful in every panel in both the fully controlled development of, and in-service maintenance of camber.

He also (The author) then betrays his own suggested wood is inferior biases, in his description of Pratt’s April ’73 patent No. 137,482 – Though the bio, like the passing of Mr Pratt only follows the patent date by two years, we learn this all wooden truss had already been built in numbers. While most wooden trusses can be produced far far quicker than most people would today expect, I see that part of his description “Ordinarily it could be laid together and prepared for Tree-Nailing in an hour” as a bit of an exaggeration.

This Bio was written almost on the Eve of the Ashtabula Bridge Disaster, which would send shock-waves of change through the Engineering and Bridge Building communities, and I can’t help but wonder if the author perhaps tempered some of his thoughts in response.

– The following is from the Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers Vol. 1 November 1873 to December 1875 –