Tag Archives: Horace Childs

Model of Improvement

I had long heard of a model of Col. Long’s Truss in the collection of the The New Hampshire Antiquarian Society, and long had it in mind to arrange a visit as part of research in piecing together my multiple blog entries on the Colonel and his Truss. Though I did not work to do so until coming upon this curious passage in an article titled – An Hour in the Antiquarian Room in Vol XXXII No. 1 of The Granite Monthly, published in 1902.

That initial inquiry to the Antiquarian Society was spurred by some seeming confusion found in the passage, (none of the Childs brothers have or had C.B. as their initials, nor where any of them still living in 1902) and a curiosity as to if there was any possibility that the Society perhaps also had in their collection a model of a Childs truss.

As it turns out, it was a Childs (likely Horace – visit the search bar to the right for information on the man and his truss, or for greater information on the good Col. Long) who donated this Long Truss model to the society, this sometime in the 1870’s. This would stand to reason being that Horace was a cousin of the Colonel’s and his bridge building firm was counted as among the earliest of those named as agent and sanctioned to build Long Trusses, and such a model would have been a useful tool in selling bridges of this truss type.


Col. Long’s Bridge – The Model fits in its box like a hand in a glove

It was a rare thrill to examine the model, which is truly joined with well executed wood to wood joints and holds features I have not yet seen (such as the upper lateral bracing details, and the thrust blocks on the terminal ends of iron rod wind stays) on any still standing Long Truss bridge. It was also an honor and a privilege to examine this tiny construction, it being perhaps wrought by, and likely held by the hands of one or both of these storied bridge truss patent holders.


The Bridgewright Blog would like to thank the NHAS / Hopkinton Historical Society for their willingness and cooperation in providing access to this rare piece of both area and wooden bridge history.


Genuinely joined and richly detailed



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.

There and Back

Recent treks around the State, have somehow dovetailed nicely with both this weblog, and recent treks around the Nation. I’ve found myself within the confines of Henniker New Hampshire in recent days. A town I’ve made mention of in prior entries as a hotbed of wooden bridge building, and home to a number of the States storied Bridgewrights, and to a now long forgotten Bridgewrighting yard.

The almost unknown ripples of good and enterprise in the bridge building world, found from seeds sown and knowledge shared here, in this one town, were and are widely cast.

Recent treks across some of the Nation bring me full circle back to “The only Henniker on Earth” – When this past month, as part of my participation and demonstrations at the Second National Covered Bridge Conference in Dayton Ohio. I, along with fellow attendees on the last day of the conference, took in a tour of the bridges of nearby Preble County, home of a collection of bridges of a Truss Type patented by Henniker native Horace Childs.

This tour and their bridges had me again ramp up our research on Mr. Childs – Though I’ve posted a number of entries on his work, I found this bit of town lore on the Childs brothers, and other town Bridgewrights as worthy of sharing.

Other bits are churning up, more to follow…

From Cogswell’s 1880 History of Henniker –

This town history published two years prior to the notice in the Engineering News and American Contract Journal citing the expiration of the Childs Patent, (see the archival entry cited in the caption four photos below) said to have inspired Sherman to make this his chosen truss type.

Built in 1887 by Everett Sherman - The Brubaker was rehabbed in 2005

Built in 1887 by Everett Sherman – The Brubaker was rehabbed in 2005

Oblique view of a Preble County Sherman variant Childs Truss

Oblique view of a Preble County variant Childs Truss

The merchant stamp of a Michigan Sawmill - Being hardwood country, Ohio imported the Bridgewright specified & desired for max minimization of Dead load Michigan White Pine for hundreds of its bridges

The merchant stamp of a Michigan Sawmill – Being hardwood country, Ohio imported the Bridgewright specified & Dead load desired Michigan White Pine for hundreds of its bridges

As described in July '11 archival Childs bio entry "Children of Childs"  - The only known existing timber constructions attributable to Horace are a Long Truss Bridge in neighboring Hopkinton - And this, the former Henniker Academy building - Now home to the Henniker Historical Society - No Childs Truss bridges exist here in New Hampshire, most such bridges were constructed for area Railroads and were long ago replaced

As described in July ’11 archival Childs bio entry “Children of Childs” – The only known existing timber constructions attributable to Horace are a Long Truss Bridge in neighboring Hopkinton, the hometown of Col. Long – And this, the former Henniker Academy building – Now home to the Henniker Historical Society – No Childs Truss bridges exist here in New Hampshire – Most such bridges were constructed for area Railroads and were sadly, long ago replaced

Crossing Childs’ Living Legacy

Happenstance had me helping out on the rehab of a 19th century cape this past Friday in Contoocook Village, across and up the hill from the Train Depot and almost within sight of my old haunts on the Railroad Bridge. When we wrapped the day, I headed for the far side of Hopkinton to visit the Rowell’s. Both to compare details with those seen recently on Long Truss sister bridges, the Bement and Blair, but also to again put eyes and hands on the Childs’ living legacy.

Some photos from the visit, and observations explored in the details found.

Here is seen the west Portal, the far end has suffered some recent but minor damage. The driver apparently ignoring the impossible to ignore clearance sign, but not the screaming protests of portal trim tearing into the aluminum and fiberglass in the trucks box. Damage thankfully, limited to the Portal, and not carrying on into the Through Truss proper.

Top Chord splices at mid-panel, six laminations, iron spacers, just the single bolt.

Somewhat unusual, the Upper Lateral Braces are in a single plane, one broken and tenoned into the other. More unusual, this system is “Square Ruled.”

(note how the shoulders are truncated down to a common width)

Though many bridges have both systems of timber layout.

Square Rule is typically employed only on secondary systems, Rafters and Knee Bracing. Major systems such as Lateral Bracing, like the trusses, are more commonly “Scribe Ruled,” pieces literally scribed to one another in the direct transfer of information. This to compensate for changes in angles and lengths in the framing introduced by intended camber.

Unnecessary for a Long, these as the “Description” tells us, were built “flat,” with light camber being driven into them during the wedging / pre-stressing process.

The solid encased Arch comes up and kisses the Top Chord at mid-span. (See the July ’11 Archive – Children of Childs, for thoughts on the use of an Encased Arch used similarly on a Long Truss by Nichols Powers on New Yorks’ Blenheim) An Arch being harder to plan and layout than first glance might suggest.

This kiss tells us Horace was well versed in their use and that Rowell’s was likely no one-off or odd experimentation.

A unique detail I’ve seen on no other bridge is this Purlin Post / Purlin Plate system, which support the Rafters at mid-length by providing a load path to the Ties. Built of seemingly undersized timber, this is another suggestion that the Childs Brothers shared understandings learned from their cousin. This framing being kept as slight as engineering calculations allowed, to help keep the bridges dead load as light as was possible.

In some ways, this completes the circle, and in a single generation and within an extended family. The Engineer learns from the bridgewright how to achieve lightness in design and framing, the Bridgewright learns from the Engineer how to max that lightness through calculations, to keep his framing timber as slender as was possible.

Though Long is widely credited with breaking ground in engineering, in using formulas and calculations in the design of trusses, and the sizing of their webs, it is Haupt and Whipple who are widely credited, through their work and writings with disseminating this information to the wider bridge building community. Long’s influence along these lines is perhaps under realized. It clearly began with the publication of “Description” and then through the work of his agents, and their interactions with bridgewrights over widely scattered parts of a growing nation.

Preparations for, and the coming Wason Pond Covered Bridge workshop in Chester NH, are bound to distract me for a bit. We will temporarily suspend the continuing series on NH bridgewrights and patent holders. The next few posts will highlight the Chester activities and all we hope to share and learn from each other there.

Children of Childs

It turns out to be taking more time than expected to turn up substantive information on Mr. Childs and his bridge business partners and brothers, Enoch & Warren. There are plenty of honorable mentions and brief bios, but little in the way of hard information or a sense of just who he was…

Though a prolific builder, with other long span bridges beyond the “New Bridge” pictured in Long’s pamphlet to his credit, (See archive entry – A Name Unknown and a Face to a Name) most notably the former Granite Street Bridge in Manchester, and the famed railroad Triple Bridges at Hooksett Village, and Boscawen’s Rainbow a two span McCallum Truss, these all bridging the Merrimack, and many many other bridges of varying truss types to their credit. Somehow the singular example to still exist is a Long Truss, the Rowell’s at Hopkington. The Rowell’s is an interesting Long variant which has intrigued bridge historians for years because it sports a Childs improvement of encased arches in both trusses. I find myself wondering if they built other solid encased arch examples, and with their railroad contracts providing work over a wide geographic area, perhaps a Childs arch variant Long might have influenced Vermont’s Nichols Powers, who used this same detail in the middle truss of his New York masterpiece, the Old Blenheim.

Seemingly the only other known surviving structure of his construction is the Henniker Academy building, now the home of the Henniker Historical Society.

Sadly and strangely, no examples of his own patent truss still exist here in his home region, though there are a pocket of Childs Truss bridges in Ohio, all built by the bridgewright Everett Sherman. He is said to have chosen this truss type after reading the following announcement in 1882 in the Engineering News and American Contract Journal, that the patents for several truss types had slipped into the public domain, and royalties would no longer be charged of those who chose to make use of them.

Horace is said to have walked long distances in his youth to avoid paying to ride the stage, so he might well have admired Mr. Sherman’s Yankee like thrift.

New Hampshire is still home to a continuing tradition of wooden bridge building and people who specialize in bridge restoration and preservation work. And somehow, in a very real way, I feel that any of us who have ever taken a chisel to a bridge bound timber are all, the children of Childs.

Railroading, Adverts and Lists of What Was

In imagining The Col’s schedule as being always incredibly busy, and cyphering through the available source materials in hoping to find some clue, and some sense as to when he might have found the time to actually work directly with a Bridgewright framing one of his patent trusses and who it might have been…

I fell upon this gem of an advertisement, placed by brother Moses, agent for Stephen, in January of 1836 –

The first name on that list of sub-agents is cousin Horace, (much more on this prolific bridgewright and fellow patent holder later) builder of the Henniker and Haverhill examples listed in this ad. And also of the still existing Long, the Rowell’s, in the Long family hometown of Hopkinton NH, and just downriver from Henniker.

He also built (credit as to the builder of the Hopkinton Village Bridge was corrected in a later entry) this “Village “ example (an in-town bridge with double sidewalks) in the Contoocook Village section of Hopkinton. Removed in 1935 in a WPA Depression era makework project, it sat just upstream from the still existing covered railroad bridge

Former Contoocook Village Bridges

– In fact, we know this little girl and the scene pictured here were photographed before 1889 when the RR bridge pictured was replaced by the one still standing. Little is known about this bridge. But, it is not at all improbable that it was a Childs built Childs Truss, as Horace and his own tight-knit cadre of brothers went on to do much of their contracting and bridgwrighting work for a number of area railroads.

The RR bridge in the photo has little more overhead clearance than the Village bridge it stands beside, and was likely built in the 40’s or 50’s when Locomotives were smaller and lighter.

Amoskeag - Locally built & favored by small area RR's

The Boston & Maine quickly replaced this bridge soon after acquiring the line from the Concord & Claremont, in anticipation of the heavier rolling stock of the future.