Tag Archives: Bartonsville

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.

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.

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.