Category Archives: Vermont

New Beginnings Marked by an End

With this entry, a return to those native New Hampshire sons who made their mark on the development of wooden bridges, this brings us to a name now little recognized as one once seen as a famous native son, and little remembered as someone who made the significant impacts he did.

Humble beginnings building towards impacts of significance. Little remembered, in large measure, because his time and the works he did in it were marked by change so huge, that huge works have been almost lost in the fabric of time. The beginnings of that change and the huge shift in the social fabric of our then young nation was itself marked by an end. An end to modes of commerce formed by canal boats and river trade, and overland trade shaped by turnpikes, and teamsters, and taverner’s. Ways of life then nearing an almost abrupt end, brought about by the building of railroads, and the ripples of change in travel and commerce they would carry into being.

As this shift was unfolding, Lebanon’s Simeon Post went off to help build both, the railroads, and a growing nation. Seemingly a commonality amongst the uncommon men drawn to bridge building innovation in his time.

His stepping stone vocation and humble hometown beginnings would last though his mid-twenties, in these formative years he is often described as having apprenticed as a “House Joiner.” He and his fellow Lebanon native bride, Parthenia Peck married there in 1830, but had moved onto opportunity in Montpelier Vermont by the time their second child, Andrew Jackson (who will closely follow on in his fathers footsteps, which we will come back to downpage) was born four years later.

We can’t really know with what is left to us, but it can’t be helped but to imagine that Simeon was a naturally gifted draftsman, and possessed something of a towering intellect and was perhaps, in some ways, both charming, and a bit of a force of personality. For somehow, with no record of a formal education but a recently completed timber-framing apprenticeship, he set up in Montpelier as a practicing architect. This move began a meteoric career, first with work under the direct supervision of the Surveyor General of Vermont, which would see young Simeon as influential in the choice of his recently adopted city as the new state capitol. This in turn would see him offered by the General’s son, his first in a long series of railroad positions, by 1836 he is now serving as Assistant to the chief Engineer for the Auburn & Syracuse RR.

By July of ’40 he would monopolize this position into one as Resident Engineer of the NY & Erie RR. He would move up through the hierarchical ranks there at the NY & E, then engaged in endless construction, from Superintendent of Transportation to Chief Engineer by the time of his leaving in March of 1853, when he would move onto the same position with the Ohio & Mississippi RR, leaving their employ just two years later as General Superintendent. In ’55 he returned to the New York City area serving both as consulting engineer with his former employer The NY & Erie, and as chief Engineer for the Long Dock Co. in its construction of the Bergen Tunnel, continuing as chief of this project until its suspension five years later for lack of funds.

It was at this time he turned his attentions and long railroad influenced study of the bridge building branch of engineering, publishing his “Treatise on the Principals of Civil Engineering as Applied to the Construction of Wooden Bridges” in ’59. He is said to have during this period “tinkered with models” and prepared his Letters Patent for an “Improvement in Iron Bridges” receiving Patent 38,910 in June 1863.

He formed the “Atlantic Bridge Works” with fellow patent holder Daniel McCallum in 1867, This company would go onto build “hundreds” of Post Patent Trusses, most of these for railroads, both partners having deep roots in that community. The following year Atlantic dissolved, and Simeon formed a bridge building concern with his son called “SS & AJ Post, Civil Engineers and Bridge Builders” Andrew would that year patent both details for built up Iron Posts and a “Combination Truss” wood & iron variation of his fathers truss, No. 81,817

Bell Ford Covered Bridge - A Post Combination Wood & Iron Patent Truss - Photo provided courtesy of Tony Dillon

Their firm contracted Watson Manufacturing Company to fabricate its cast and wrought iron parts. AJ would later partner with this firm and become its chief Engineer. Building SS Post Patent Trusses would become Watson’s primary business for a full decade. At its height employing some 200 men at its plant and foundry in Paterson NJ, and another six to seven hundred divided up among multiple crews building bridges at sites across the nation.

A 19th C Stereoscopic view of an Unhoused Post Combination Truss Bridge - Colorado Central Railroad

Other well known and geographically dispersed bridge building concerns such as Boomer Brothers of St. Louis & Chicago (see prior entry Sister Bridge) would be granted right to build the patent. Some, such as Cleveland’s McNairy Claflen & Co. (company principles thought to be among former RR’ing associates of Simeon’s) would go on to specialize in this Truss Type.

Henry Claflen even filing an associated patent No. 47,395 for Top Chord Splices for the “Combination” versions their firm and foundry tooled up for and specialized in.

A Bell Ford Top Chord Panel Point

The last existing Post Combination Truss was lost just five years ago, the 1868 Bell Ford Covered Bridge was built by McNairy Claflen. I was part of a team which dismantled it after its collapse, and cataloged its parts for storage and a hoped for future rebuilding. It stood in Seymour IN, a town at one time served by, and which served as a north south / east west hub for Mr. Posts former employer, the O & Miss RR.

A Bell Ford Bottom Chord Panel Point

Thousands of Post Truss spans formerly bridged the nations waterways serving both highways and railroads. Single spans over modest streams and long multiple span versions bridging wide nationally known rivers. Only three all-iron examples still exist.

In March of ’70 Simeon returned to railroading, appointed chief engineer of the Northern Pacific RR, but would only some months later be stricken by a “Paralysis”. He passed quietly in his Jersey City home 29 June 1872, while at the height of his own personal success, a success also shared by his namesake Truss.

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A Chasm, vast, and deep, and wide

With my return from Vermont and the effort to repair flood damage to the Hall Covered Bridge, a brief diversion away from the history of bridge building. Though one sparked by both, time in the area, and an exploration of history and the areas long ties to bridge building…

We wrapped repairs this past Tuesday, and I worked with Barns & Bridges again Wednesday to demobilize, seeing the Bridge returning to service in time for the Holiday. After we removed the temporary gates, I retrieved my tool trailer from the bridges interior, where it had served as storage for the project, and had the honor of being the first vehicle to pass through both its Portals in almost three months.

One of the many things I hoped to see while there in the area, were the “Great Falls” themselves, the former home of The Tucker Toll and Colonel Hale’s Bridge, (see earlier entry High Water) and current home to The Vilas Bridge, a two span Open Spandrel Concrete Arch built in 1930 after the removal of The Tucker. It like the chasm it spans inspire both awe and vertigo.

This plaque on The Vilas and the stanza it recites sparked my interest, in part because I was puzzled as to why it had not crossed my desk before now.

I turns out to be from a poem titled “The Bridge Builder” by Will Allen Dromgoole, 26 October 1860 – 1 September 1934, a noted poet, novelist and newspaper columnist of her time. Yes, her time – Another Will, I am happy to share a name with.

Will Allen Dromgoole

Photo of Will Dromgoole courtesy of LibraryThing.org

The Vilas and Bellows Falls are a particularly fitting place in which to cite this poem, it is a “Chasm deep and wide”, and has stood host to two concurrent successions of bridges and builders, as time, like the meeting waters, ever continues to flow.

The Bridge Builder

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”


Rivers of Time

With the distractions of distant travel and the teaching of a scribe layout timber framing workshop aside. And in celebration of work in earnest beginning on the Saxtons River and the Hall Bridge, and the town of Rockingham officially opting to replicate the Bartonsville, I thought we should take a moment, to again glance back at the life of its Bridgewright, Sanford Granger.

The following information, and the mans portrait were found in – The History of the town of Rockingham Vermont, Including the Villages of Bellows Falls, Saxtons River, Cambridgeport and Bartonsville by Lyman Simpson Hayes, published in 1907.

In addition to his bridge building, sawmill and brick manufacturing endeavors, Sanford seems to have been heavily involved in the establishment, support for, and and activities of his church. He is also known to have been devoted to several social movements of the day. These still seen as those defining and shaping his time – Temperance and abolition.

His work towards abolition is said to have extended to support for Canadian border bound escaped slaves. And this beyond the, there is an indian in every woodshed explanation for every dead space cubby under every stairwell, having somehow been a secret hiding place for the Underground Railroad. Sanford’s son Albert often recalled how his father provided a spot to sleep and a morning meal to those fleeing north.

The temperance side of things could not have always been welcome among all those working for Mr. Granger. This was a time when skilled tradesman were still often paid in part, with a daily Rum allowance. Contractual documents related to bridge building sometimes specifying how many drams per day each framer was to receive…

Mr. Granger shares a personal experience with current residents of the area, and was himself no stranger to flood damage, and the loss of personal property to high water. His sawmill on the Saxtons River was lost to a freshet on March 25th 1826. This report from the Bellows Falls Intelligencer of 3 April 1826 curiously lists the value of his “joiners tools” lost to the flood. Clearly suggesting the Mill also served as his carpenters shop. Sixty five 1826 Dollars would have a current value approaching $1500, a staggering loss when measured in hand tooling. When coupled with the loss of the almost personal relationships one develops with favored hand tools, this loss might approach something akin to immeasurable.



Homage Found

In casting a net in a search for more in depth information on the Sullivan Railroad Bridge, I’ve thus-far turned up a strange dichotomy. Both hugely deep information about some of the fine day to day type details of a kind almost always lost to us, that, and a complete void in the side of things which often does survive.

Strangely and sadly, it seems almost certain there are no known photographs of this bridge. The Sullivan RR replaced it in 1882 with an Iron Lattice variant. Photographs or even stereoscopic cards potentially do exist, and yet sit undiscovered in some dusty attic.

Here a map is seen prepared for planning of the ’05 Steel Arch, the Sullivan RR is still a going concern, not yet gobbled up by the B&M.

The deep findings are to do with the bridges designer, and hands on engineer, George Alanson Parker, who I referred to in an earlier entry. (see Lost to Evermore) In the following both the effort to build the Sullivan is described, as well as the PB&W RR Bridge, which I described in “Lost”

Sources suggest, and it seems almost entirely probable that it was in the framing of the Sullivan that George came to know, and have the kind of entire faith in the man, that saw him recruit Nichols Powers to the effort to build the bridge at Havre de Grace.

A “Powers” is here listed as among those George knew as being of those “the best worth knowing”. I’m always suspect of those who find in history what they wish to find, yet see no revisionism in wondering if this was our Nichols.

I reproduce the description of George’s career here in its entirety, well, because it is way cool source material, and it seems to merit a “bump” back out into the light of the present day.







Sister Bridge

Those who read the last entry, and clicked on the the image at the bottom, (to expand to a larger version) perhaps noticed that the Tucker was closely paralleled by a second Covered Bridge. I thought I’d put up a brief entry on that construction, now one hundred and twelve years gone.

This was a Double Barreled Railroad Bridge built for the Cheshire Railroad by the Massachusetts Firm of Boody Stone & Company, and said to have been built under the direct supervision of Lucius Boomer, who would go onto move to the mid-west and form a bridge building partnership of some renown.

The bridges 1849 construction was challenged in a lawsuit all the way to the New Hampshire Supreme Court by Mr & Mrs Tucker, citing the inherited limitations of Colonel Hale’s charter and exclusive rights to build or keep a bridge within two miles in either direction, the chartered limits of his holding. This challenge was denied, in part because the Railroad bridge was intended for an altogether different purpose. Damages were assessed, but seemingly limited to compensation for confiscated land. Ironically the Railroad bridge was heavily traveled by pedestrians seeking to avoid the toll, so heavily the Railroad came to see it as a safety problem and a bit of a nuisance. And this unintended and unauthorized traffic, on this bridge and another nearby bridge built by the Sullivan Railroad, (which we will discuss in a future entry) quite clearly would have cut into the profitability of the Tucker Toll Bridge.

The bridge is often described as having been a Howe with arches, and Wm. Howe’s third Patent Truss (and the variation which would go onto be used with the greatest frequency, though typically without the arches) No. 4726 does include arches, and was patented in 1846, about the time the Cheshire was being planned. Though the following photograph clearly tells us it was a a Burr with Counter Braces.

These are seen as a possible variation in Mr. Burr’s Patent drawings, though were seldom used. However Counters would have been absolutely necessary in a Burr bridge designed to carry the heavy rolling loads of rail traffic, to buttress and counter the massive bending moments being imparted by the Braces (compression diagonals) to the Posts.

It is unclear as to whether this truss type confusion started because Boody Stone & Company were in time counted among Howe’s authorized agents, or perhaps it was mixed up with the nearby Sullivan. It is also not impossible that the Counter Braces and the X they formed, had something to do with this case of mistaken identity.

The Cheshire was removed in the Autumn of 1899 after the completion of its replacement, a two span stone arch.

A but brief window through time, now long closed, three bridges over Bellows Falls. Beyond The Tucker can be seen the bottom half of The Cheshire and the interface with its pier at midspan , beyond it, is its stone arch replacement, construction in process with arch falsework forms still in place.


High Water

With the continuing influences of high water, my researching attentions have turned for a time to the Bellows Falls Vermont area and the works of area Bridgewright Sanford Granger, builder of The Bartonsville. The now heavily damaged Worral, also bridging the William’s River in Rockingham, the town which includes the village of Bellows Falls, is the last standing example of his bridgewrighting.

Bellows Falls has twice been home to the most famous bridge in the nation. Most recently, just over a century ago the area became home to a new steel parabolic arch bridge, then the longest single span in the country at 540′, though these long span beginnings had their start with wooden framing and in the very first year of our newly independent nation, with Col. Enoch Hale petitioning the New Hampshire General Assembly for “The Liberty and Privilege of Building and Keeping a bridge at the Great Falls called Bellows Falls in the Town of Walpole in said State” Two years later on February 10th 1785 the newspaper The Massachusetts Spy reported :

Widely acknowledged as a first in long span timber bridges, and sometimes described as a first in cantilever type bridges, largely because of the image shown here. Thought to be the only such image accurately rendered, the 1791 ink on paper drawing by famous period artist John Trumbull.


Though in all likelihood, with the timber in this bridge being open to the weather, and requiring a regime of heavy and routine maintenance which would have seen few original pieces survive through to the end of its service, the Colonel’s bridge, in some form, survived until 1840 When Sanford Granger used it as falsework for the construction of its replacement, The Tucker Toll Bridge.

Sanford was born 12 March 1796, in Chesterfield New Hampshire, and died 17 May 1882, at Bellows Falls, Vermont. He married Abigail Stevens on 26 February 1826, she was born 16 January 1800 on the Vermont side of the Connecticut in Chester. A couple born on opposite sides of a river and a bridge, which would help shape both their lives.

Like his father Eldad before him, Sanford operated a sawmill, his on the Vermont side, on the Saxton’s River in Westminster, a town neighboring Bellows Falls. Though additionally, he maintained a brickyard, as well as a bridgewrighting carpenters yard and built many area bridges.

The Westminster Library is home to the archives of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges and is made available to those doing bridge research. I hope to make use of the archives and other local sources to find additional information about Mr. Granger and perhaps find whatever remains of his operations, while working there on the Saxton’s, as part of the crew to soon repair recent high water damage to the Hall Bridge in Saxtons River Village, which is like Bellows Falls, a borough of Rockingham.


The Mans Name is Nichols

Some attempt to shine light on the fact that the builder of The Blenheim Bridge is misidentified more often than not, has been a quiet crusade of mine for some while. I’m not entirely sure why, except that it is just plain wrong to call someone by a name not their own. It is innocent enough to add an a to the mans name in the mistaken belief, that an error is thereby being corrected. (this seems to be how this whole silly business began) But as it far more often happens, a long ago error is just repeated, and re-repeated, and then repeated yet again.

Even bronze plaques at Blenheim, and recent flood related mentions in newspapers, even in the mans towns of birth and residence misidentify him as Nicholas.

I’ve been intrigued by this bridgewright and his life’s work since the late Nineties when I was involved with the restoration of the Ashuelot Bridge. Though still unconfirmed, it is thought to be his work. The high level of workmanship, and details common to his other bridges, such as double Lateral Braces, strongly suggest to me that he was its builder. ( Sanford Granger builder of the Bartonsville, lived closer and also used double laterals, but tended to omit the third Chord ) It was that its builder “family’ed” the 3 X 11 Lattice plank in both the Chords and the Truss Webs, using the thicker plank just where time now tells us is most appropriate, which told me the Ashuelot’s Bridgewright was both practiced, and at building Town’s in particular. And a cut far above, simply capable.

I stopped by the mans grave a year ago or so on my way back from some distant work related travel, because it had occurred to me that his name etched in stone might bring it home.

The mans name is Nichols.


We Will

The simply staggering power of moving water has of course, been much on my mind lately. Too much really. With news of similar flooding devastation seemingly every few days, happening somewhere in the weeks since Irene’s visit to our patch of the planet. With travel into areas which suffered devastation, and research and planning for the probability that I will be involved in some of the rebuilding.

The Contoocook RR Bridge was twice tipped by floods in both ' 36 & ' 38, and both times righted and returned to service

It is in thinking about the rebuilding that I find some solace. And this not because it brings much needed work, but because history tells us the power of high water seems equaled and even excelled by the resilience of humankind to pick ourselves up and rebuild. And to learn in the doing.

The Hall, on the Saxton’s River in Bellow’s Falls, none so far from the lost Bartonsville, was itself, very nearly lost to Irene. With a large section of a dry-laid stone abutment washed away, and a set of Bolsters, (visibly displaced in this flooding footage) a support sub-structure, was very nearly punched out from beneath it at this same compromised corner.

We have been here before, like those we share similar experience with on these very same rivers and waterways.

Flood Scene, Wrack and Ruin Postcard

Just as they have done, again, we will rebuild.


Tropical Irony

A short blurb to bridge the gap.

There is more than a little irony to be found in this stunning reality…

In the just over six weeks time which has passed since The Timber Framers Guild’s Chester Bridge Project, two of the attendees who helped build a new wooden bridge in New Hampshire have happened upon and shared photographs of bridges lost to tropical storms in their home states.

Photo Katie Hill

Katherine “Katie” Hill, a Vermont structural engineer shared a photo of The Bower’s, a Tied Arch truss washed off its abutments in the aftermath of Irene.

Bruce Cowie a timberframer from Lancaster Pennsylvania shares a photo of the Siegrist’s Mill Bridge, a Burr Arch. This past weekend it was similarly washed out of place by Tropical Storm Lee.

Photo Bruce Cowie

There is hope that both will be returned to service.

Work on the "The House" continues and nears completion - Photo Darrell Quinn


Lost to Evermore

Those of you who occasionally click in on my twitter feed might recognize this image as its background. (click to enlarge) I’d meant to only someday post a blog entry about it. Someday, when I’d moved on from New Hampshire’s historic connection to wooden bridge building. The recent floods however have moved up someday.

Irene’s aftermath will long be memorable, perhaps in part for video caught as the Bartonsville slipped into the storm swollen Williams River. We still don’t know the full number of bridges lost or damaged, but we do know this image has several things in common with what is perhaps the greatest loss. There is no question that it was the largest lost, and arguably, (and silly, my dog’s better’n your dog, arguments were ongoing) among the very last of the giants, that being New York’s Old Blenheim.

The image is, for a number of reasons, one of my favorites. In part because it shows one of history’s giants. Many are not aware that such wooden giants existed, because they have long since been replaced, usually because they crossed at all too important, high traffic areas. As often, the piers they were built on were far more expensive and time consuming to construct than the bridge they carried, and they were wanted to carry a new span which could carry a higher volume of traffic.

This bridge circa 1866, stood just upstream from the confluence of the Susquehanna with the Chesapeake Bay. It was a fourteen span Howe – Thirteen of 250′ and a Draw Span of 175′, for a total length of 3,500′. It carried the rail traffic it was designed for until the 1906. And then was re-purposed in 1910 for vehicular use, and continued to serve another couple of decades until its removal sometime in the late 30’s. Its Piers still sit idle next to the yet operational Iron Railroad Bridge.

Another reason it’s a favorite, is because, though as photographic technology of the time demanded it is obviously posed, all the same, it captures the actual circumstance of that moment in time. Drawn from a photograph prior to the existence of affordable ways to print photographic images on newsprint, a common technique of the day. It shows us not only the Falsework still in place under the near span, and how that Falsework is designed to interact with the masonary in the piers, and how the seeming ornamentation in the masonry was designed with two-fold purpose to receive that Falsework. We also see crews at work, and various aspects of the bridge still under construction.

The Bottom Chords of the Double Barreled Blenheim

It also pictures two men at the images center. Though only a theory of mine, I don’t see it as much of a stretch. The one in the top hat is George A. Parker, engineer and designer of this bridge built for the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. The man next to him with the cane, is undoubtedly his clerk of the works hand picked lead framer, and Master Bridgewright, Nichols Powers.

Parker and Powers, in building this span, on this stretch of the Susquehanna, which like the nearby Schuylkill, stood host to many of these early giant spans, quite literally joined the ranks of bridgewrighting’s giants. Palmer, Wernwag and Burr.

Nichols, eleven years earlier, also built the now lost Blenheim –

The Trait de Jupiter / Bolt 'o Lightning Bottom Chord Scarfs of Powers' Masterwork

Among other still existing bridges, he also built the Brown, near his home town of Clarendon Vermont. We are yet to hear how it fares in the aftermath of Irene.

Recent video imagery accompanied by particularly timely & poignant original music by Kevin Sullivan.