Category Archives: New Hampshire

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…

The Apprentice and the Master – And their many and continuing parallels in legacy

The trekking continues, and as we follow Mr. Childs through time and across borders and find his once prolific life’s work in bridge framing now limited to one standing example. (see Living Legacy) So sadly, we also find the living embodiment of his most successful Apprentice’s (see Names & Places) life’s work likewise limited to but one standing example.

Their lives and works understandably forever paralleled in their own time, and curiously, now with little more than happenstance to connect them, these parallels somehow seemingly continue on into ours.

I recently visited the Town of Warner, a town both Master & Apprentice knew well, with both having built bridges in numbers on its namesake River, for both highway travel and for the Railroad which formerly paralleled the rivers banks. There I took in the Waterloo Station Bridge hoping to find a better sense of how the Masters Apprentice, Dutton Woods approached his work. With The Waterloo being the last still standing to speak for him, my intent was to find a better sense of Dutton the framer, Dutton the Bridgewright, but found that voice somewhat muffled, by probable impact damage and a successive series of repairs and attempts to increase capacity.

Named for the adjacent Railroad Station

Sometimes known as The Waterloo Station Bridge it is said to be named for the adjacent Railroad Station

Unlike the Childs legacy standing in the Rowell’s and its intact Tie and Lateral Bracing System, in the Waterloo there is a mish-mash of repair, and even entire system replacement.

These odd external angle blocks for the steel Lateral Bracing a feature of one of the many incursions and attempts at improvement

These odd external angle blocks for the steel Lateral Bracing a feature of one of the many incursions and attempts at improvement

With true timber joinery in Town Trusses limited to the Tie’s and Laterals, there is little of the mans voice there to suggest how he originally configured the framing, (photographs will have to speak for him) or what he might think of what remains if again he were to tread this ground.

Lightly framed originally, all the Lattice in this Town Truss has been sistered

Lightly framed originally, all the Lattice in this Town Truss has been sistered

The Waterloo’s lightness in framing speaks to the builders varied abilities, and this Railroad Bridgewrights’ capacity to design a bridge to fit the need at hand. To fit both the traffic the bridge would carry, and the towns budget.

It is near time for a tune-up, and the replacement steel rod Lateral Bracing systems are bent and tired, rusted and worn. Perhaps it is not too forward thinking to hope and suggest that a cohesive and compatible, original type wooden system should see a return to both the Woods and Wooden Bridge legacies.

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.

At the Beginnings

This ramble finds us returning to our very beginnings. Those of this weblog and our ongoing series on New Hampshire’s historic connections to wooden bridges, and a first entry mention of Mssr. Timothy Palmer’s Piscataqua “Great Arch” near Portsmouth New Hampshire. We will also look into another of Palmer’s still noteworthy and known and to history spans, The Schuylkill Permanant Bridge at Philadelphia. Itself a beginning, widely acknowledged to have been the first of North America’s bridges to be “Covered” – And the man’s own words will tell us why.

Though not his first large and long bridge building effort, The Great Arch at 244′ was Timothy’s longest ever span. Seen as a marvel of its time, it brought worldwide attention, and great renown to its builder. And was arguably directly attributable to this Newburyport Massachusetts resident native being offered bridge framing contracts as far afield as the Potomac at Georgetown.

Descriptions such as this, were quite commonly shared by then travelers to the new America, and were part of the renown brought to the builder of “The Great Arch”

Palmer was granted a patent in 1797 which in all probability would have held details of the framing of his Great Arch, had all record not been lost in the Patent office fire of 1836. ( see Dec ’11 archived entry Long Lost ) We do know it featured multiple lamination Chords composed of 16 X 18 X 50 Arch Ribs hewn following a natural curve in logs chosen and harvested specifically for this purpose, and that the Arch rose twenty seven feet at mid-span.

The Permanent Bridge, built a decade later. Was like The Great Arch, built by a for profit company formed for this purpose and funded by the sale of stock. In part to maximize fully any potential return on this investment for the duration of toll taking period allowed by the city’s charter, until that charter required it be turned over to serve as a free bridge. And additionally to allow it to continue to carry any and all traffic types for that duration, meaning Drover led stock taken on the hoof to market, and the heavier Teamster type loads of freight which demanded the larger tolls – The Schuylkill Permanent Bridge Company President Judge Richard Peters, saw fit to suggest the company board in and roof over their bridge.

Palmer, their chosen bridgewright, had long been a proponent of such enclosure to protect his work from the elements and extend its service life, and explained in great detail the simple reasons why in a letter to one of their agents:

Opened to traffic on New Year’s Day 1805, it would though ultimately be removed and replaced in 1850 with a truss without any arch following rises in its multiple spans, these being unsuitable to also carry the rail traffic its replacement was expanded to accommodate. Palmer’s Permanent Bridge exceeded his conservative suggestion that boarding in his through trusses might add as much as thirty or forty years to a wooden trusses service life.

And time has proven that such trusses, with a properly maintained enclosure have an exceedingly long service life. Surviving examples in both New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are yet carrying vehicular traffic, now well beyond their 175th year.

Palmer’s final bridge, built the following year, spanned the Delaware connecting Easton Pennsylvania and Philipsburg New Jersey. It featured an improvement, of a level floor through his Trussed Arches. It would continue to carry traffic until its removal in 1895. An end and a replacement, which like that of the Permanent Bridge was more about traffic type and volume, than a service life which had reached its end.

A Now Two Century Old – Overnight Turn on a Paradigm

My revolving focus is often driven by a particular bridge, or its Truss Type, or an interest in its developer or Patent holder. My current attentions have once again revolved around to focus on something of deep and long interest, something that is the core of who I am and what I do. And interestingly something of a mystery, one which is perhaps this very year, slipping into its third century of wide use.

Traditional / historical timber framing layout systems became a preoccupation of mine something over twenty years ago now. In part with a growing understanding that the non-traditional layout used by the shops in which the first frames I helped cut did not have a practical level of success, and in part because it was a connection to history and a historical continuum which drew me to this Trade. That and ample example that historical layout systems did possess a level of predictable success and practicality “then” suggested to me that they would still share these same practicalities in the now.

I sought out practitioners of these systems – The Scribe Rule & The Square Rule. (Scribe being the direct transfer of information from one timber or set of timbers to another – Square Rule being the shaping of timbers to a mathematical constant at each of its connections) And have gone on to, as a rule not an exception, regularly practice both, and also to teach traditional layouts in a series of workshops over the last dozen or so years.

Though in part it is out of preference, it is happily also out of practicality that I lean towards the Scribe side of things. With much of my work being Bridge related, and with Timber Bridges being the seeming lone exception (this due to slightly dissimilar pieces in what appear to be like, redundant and, mirror image Panels – Small inconsistencies driven by camber) to an amazingly rapid and geographically vast shift (here on the North American continent) away from variations of Scribe which had been the norm for timber carpentry for millennia.

Scribe layout survived all the many changes humanity brought to its fellowship and the need to house itself, including this migration to a new continent, this particularly well exemplified here (forty or so miles from the coast and just outside of first period settlement) in my little patch of Northern New England. Here settlement was, for the best part of the first two centuries of the then Colony’s existence, incredibly slow to expand. Long hostilities with the neighboring colony of New France including cross border raiding, and raids encouraged from those neighboring colonials among Tribal peoples from both sides of the border. This pressure saw to it that settlement here in Northern New England held fast at a standstill from the 1630’s through the 1760’s – As did building technology. As is found elsewhere in the New World, settlement patterns heavily influenced construction, in that colonials brought with them what they knew. This is particularly true of Timber Frame Carpentry, with country of origin and even regional variation in the home country heavily influencing the many regional variations found in the former Colony/ies. Framing style, technique and typology were brought from the Mother Country. Here in New Hampshire that transplanted Mother Country typology would be English Tying, in dominant use from the early 17th Century – the “First Period” on through to an end to the expansion standstill, and on into an area wide expansion and building boom. (settlement beyond coastal areas and nearby river valleys) The building boom and now rapid expansion of settlement brought on by an end to these formerly unending hostilities, this end coming with the close to what is little realized as, but was in truth the real first “world war” one encompassing multiple nations simultaneously on multiple continents – Known here as the French & Indian War, and elsewhere to history as the Seven Years’ War. Both Scribe and English Tying would survive this war and follow the boom of settlement into interior sections and remain in dominance another fifty years until a somewhat mysterious rapid change would morph both long used systems (Scribe & English Tying in both houses & barns) out of use in little more than a decades time.

An English Tying frame in Strafford County NH dating to the post F&I Boom-time

An English Tying frame in Strafford County NH dating to the post F&I Boom-time

This mystery of an almost overnight sensation shift away from what even here was a centuries old tradition in Scribe type layout has been high on my mind of late, with the current project being a Settlement Period barn in Bernhard’s Bay New York (here “settlement” was the mid 1790’s through 1815 or so) on the north shore of Oneida Lake. The Bernhard Barn is Square Ruled, and though the exact year it was first built is not yet determined. (research perhaps including Dendro is in the works) In part due to some unusual detailing, I believe it may be the earliest Square Ruled building I have ever put eyes and hands on.

A settlement period building, the Bernhard Barn is an early Square Ruled example of a common barn typology

A settlement period building, the Bernhard Barn is an early Square Ruled example of a common barn typology

Tax records suggest the property was held by John Bernhard - The Farm was developed by his son John - Improvements beginning in 1815

Tax records suggest the property was held by John Bernhard – The Farm was developed by his son John – Improvements beginning in 1815

With long study, exploration and preservation work on historic structures in my home region on the edge of First Period development and what might be the Nation’s first building boom, the sudden move to Square Rule and the concurrent move away from English Tying has long intrigued me. This seems to have begun sometime in the second decade of the 19th Century, and somehow saw total acceptance as the norm as not just common practice here in layout, this rapid shift to Square Rule would become dominant practice over the entirety of the then young nation. Everywhere north to south and as far west as settlement carried, and in this same contracted time-frame.

Some few have suggested, and having seen first hand great numbers of timber framed structures from the period, in not just my home region, but also in most all of those areas then settled – I adhere to the theory that the rapidity of this universal acceptance over a hugely wide geographic area is directly attributable to another violent international struggle, one this year marking its bicentennial – The War of 1812 – The theory holds that high hundreds if not thousands of Carpenter’s from all over the country were brought into the war effort (Hundreds did participate in a strategic effort to build Naval ships at pace on Lake Erie to outnumber British craft in what came to be known as the “The Battle of the Carpenter’s”) to build watercraft, bridges, earthworks & barracks buildings. They shared ideas and also a need to produce needed constructions quickly. An ability to throw more carpenters into an effort which lays out individual pieces mathematically than could possibly fit / fold into a Scribe layup assemblage, made this sheer numbers strategic advantage of Square Rule the Layout of choice for the wars duration, and upon its end Carpenter’s in great numbers returned home with a new tool in their kit, one that despite a generations long practice and tradition, and a tendency in humankind to resist change – Somehow, this became a new beginning, a foundational shift, a season change uncountable hundreds chose to use and share. And in little more than a decade’s time, carpentry would forever be changed.

It is not impossible that Square Rule is also now marking its bicentennial year as a widely accepted widely used system, and that this paradigm shift was in part responsible for setting the tone that the rest of the century would take. That conceptually the idea of interchangeable parts and mass production became an accepted norm and expectation and became part of the human psyche. All through this paradoxical chain of events, this bit about the horrors of war somehow leading to wide and rapid dissemination of a useful idea, coupled with humanity’s unending and simple need to house itself – And that this would in time and in turn, lead to techniques of mass production being used to also build, The Cotton Gin, The Springfield Rifle, and one day, The Tin Lizzy.


Less than Hardwired for Hardware

If I were to define what it is I do, the description I see as mayhaps that one most accurately describing it, with both eloquence and in as few words as is possible, is simply to suggest that “I join timber”

My work is to take one of our planets greatest blessings, Trees. And to take their only modestly converted stems, (With variation, but in essence with only four sapwood slabs removed) and then join this blessing into useful configurations. Be it, houses, barns, or bridges.

In most such efforts joining timber, I find myself working to wholly avoid the use of large metal fasteners – This is almost one of the sub-definitions of what it is to be a Timberframer. Wood to wood is what we do.

Bridgewrighting, as allied a trade as it is, is a bit different. Even those Truss types without iron in them – Longs, Paddlefords, Burrs and Towns, still are often peppered with a smattering of bolts…

Many Truss types, share iron as almost an equal partner, equal in effort if not proportion of material used. A Symbiont of sorts, necessary to allow a largely wooden truss, to do what is asked of it.

Pratt’s are one of these “types” – So, echoed in the lyrics of one of my favored songs, with The First Day in August, last years local Timber Framers Guild project – The Wason Pond Bridge marked the passing of its first year, (see July / August ’11 archives) and I recently found myself willingly engaged in a once common bridgewrighting chore – A first of several, wrench in hand scheduled visits, to tighten Truss Rods and assorted Bolts to compensate for expected and predictable shrinkage as the Timber in the Through Truss seasons.

Joints again fully seated, camber re-tuned. All went as hoped for and expected, with but one small exception. The washers on some of the smaller Bolts sunk into the now dry White Pine wood grain as an attempt was made to re-tighten. I chose to replace these. My first thought was to go to the cast Ogee’s found so commonly in this application. Their cost and limited availability saw me turn to the second most common washer type found on Wooden Bridge Bolts – Large Square Flats.

As such explorations often do, I went looking for contemporaneous Rules of Thumb in what was seen as a norm for such hardware. In AJ DuBois’ – The Strains in Framed Structures – We find these not only crunched number, but period proven suggestions in his list of specifications.

As always, I like to point out how White Pine was and is, the favored Species for the framing of Wooden Bridges – Also from the DuBois List – Section VIII

In Jacoby’s – Structural Details or Elements of Design in Timber Framing – A wealth of information is found on the seemingly mundane subject of washers, as they are related to Timber Work.

The restoration of Maryland’s Gilpins Falls, is the only time we’ve worked with “Special Countersunk Washers” and their funky headed friction dependent Bolts. This bolt & cast washer type was also that chosen and used by Nichols Powers in The Blenheim.

The Wason Pond Bridge is fitted with a number of “Malleable Iron Washers” on both the smaller section Truss Rods at Mid-Span, and at the Tie Beam Bolts.

And like many other wooden spans, it is now home to a large handful of Squares.

Storied Crossing

In a search for one, we turn up many…

At a river crossing which in time had fallen under the gaze of a succession of bridge builders. A bit of a who’s who amongst New Hampshire bridgewrights and bridge design engineers, most of these, already spoken of here. Their work demanded, as the winds of time and happenstance, with its January thaws and their flowing ice, and log jams and rouge gales, would in turn destroy that of those they followed.

This Crossing chartered with the stoke of a pen by a man who would one day be the nation’s President. This detail and others in the crossings history brought to us in the words of a John Kimball, one time Building Agent for the City of Concord, in his annual report to the city. With a flair for pared down storytelling, he wrote with a cogency and an ability to be descriptive which is far from common, and almost unheard of in the requisite reports of a city agency administrator – Thank you Mr. Kimball

Dutton’s bridge seems to have served well. Though in time fell to a different set of circumstance, 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. It was replaced in 1915 with a Riveted Pratt through truss designed by John Storrs. (See January ’12 entry – As Mysteries Unfold) This bridge, still carrying traffic into its ninety-seventh year, is itself now slated for replacement. As ammunition in the battle for preservation of the current crossing, a bill was several years ago introduced to rename the bridge after Storrs.

While I can appreciate both the effort, (I stand in that camp) and the homage paid. Being that this succession of bridges have shared a common name, that predated even the first construction, I see it as a tie to time which should, like the bridge that now carries the name, simply continue.

Names & Places and Windows through Time

Recently several brief video clips, somehow out of nowhere, jumped to my attention – Simple moments in time, captured decades ago, of two bridges which formerly stood side by side, ( and both of which have been mentioned here on the weblog ) had been digitized, and uploaded to You Tube by the Contoocook Riverway Association, a 501 c3 non-profit that has seen fit to take on the restoration and maintenance, ( I’m sure donations are needed and welcome ) of the nearby Contoocook Railroad Depot.

This first one appeared to me as if almost an apparition – And this not just because of the almost ethereal effect the falling snow seen in it lends, nor the reflected glow of that which had already reached the ground – ( I’m thinking the snow-bright light might be why the shooter chose to take this expensive piece of equipment out into the weather – You have to replay the 10 secs multiple times for detail to reveal itself ) But because despite it having left us Seventy Seven long years ago, just seven years after this piece of film was shot – Through the patch of ground it sat on, and a long familiarity with the sister bridge which we see here releasing a train which passes the far portal of the Village Bridge which picture frames this passing train – I somehow know this bridge – Through research, and photographs and many months spent on-site, and with having imagined how the two bridges and their traffic might have interacted, all the while never having imagined a moving image of all this was somehow somewhere out there waiting to be seen.

Wonderings bring on wonderment, and in seeing these captured moments, I found myself again in wonder after that Bridgewright who left us this Village Bridge. Some sources cite Horace Childs as its builder, with his firm having built the Railroad Bridge which preceded this one, and also having carpentered the other still existing Long Truss in town, and I echoed these sources in an earlier entry. ( See June ’11 entry Railroading Adverts ) This Village Bridges Bridgewright turns out to have been a former apprentice of Henniker’s – H. Childs & Co.

With so many of these guys having trade appropriate monikers, and names that almost too perfectly fit their time. I kinda chuckled in a truth is somehow stranger than fiction sorta way, on how befitting the mans name is. If I were fiction name tasked with coming up with a name for a nineteenth century Bridgewright, I think just such a name, might be that of Dutton Woods.

Such a man did exist, and though the ample list of his life’s achievements is long, and plentied with long span bridges of varying truss types. Most all of these, like the glimpse we see here of this Long Truss Village Bridge, have long since left us.

Born in Henniker in 1809 to Wm. & Betsy, his mother celebrated her sons birth while paying homage to her blood relations, by sharing her surname as Dutton’s given name. After a brief stint in his father’s mill, he entered apprenticeship as a carpenter and bridgewright under the tutelage of the Childs Brothers. He would leave their employ in his 28th year. The very same year he would take a Henniker girl, Hannah Chase, as his bride. He set up shop as a going bridgewrighting concern of his own, and though his long career was peppered with employ by various area railroads, he would continue to cut highway bridges under his own name through to the end of his life’s work

A glimmer of this, and a seeming step backwards – From the 1873 Manchester “Annual Report”

In 1850 Dutton left Henniker, for several years settling in Contoocook, before then moving on to Concord, where he would live on through to the end of his time in 1884. A Henniker history suggests “In twenty five years he constructed ten thousand lineal feet of truss bridging” Just months after his death a memorial notice in Engineering News, commends that “Among his best works was the construction of a large double tracked (Double Barrel Railroad) bridge at Goff’s Falls”

The now largely lost Village of Goff’s Falls (In the last two decades gobbled up by a fast growing airport – MHT) is a part of the world I know well, having come up just down-river and over the town line – This would be the also lost double barreled Moore’s Crossing Bridge

This not his only span to bridge the Merrimack in the Queen City. From the 1847 annual report of the City of Manchester – Committee on Finance

This clip is shot from the Depot, its sister bridge no more. Shot from the same end. This one was arriving, the other, for a time, leaving.

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