Only two out of an original thirteen Concord & Claremont Railway Co. covered railroad bridges still exist in Newport, New Hampshire, and are known as the Wright’s Bridge and the Pier Bridge. These bridges, which are located along the Chandlers Mills Road, cross the Sugar River and help create a portion of the ‘Sugar River Rail Trail’ – a rail trail owned by the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, Division of Parks and Recreation. This 9.5 mile multi-use, recreational trail from Newport to Claremont is open year-round and is used by hikers, bikers, 4-wheelers, equestrians, runners, cross country skiers, snowshoers, snowmobilers and sled dogs.
Both the Wright’s and Pier Bridges were re-built in 1905/1906 for the Concord & Claremont Railway Co. by Concord, New Hampshire, born Jonathan Parker Snow (1848-1933), Bridge Engineer for the Boston & Maine Railroad. The Sugar River Railroad was incorporated in the early 1870’s to complete a rail line for the Concord & Claremont Railway from Newport to Claremont. This small, electric railway was first used to move passengers and freight to a Boston and Maine Railroad connection. By the early 1900’s, the bridges were rebuilt to accommodate GE 70 tonne and 44 tonne locomotives to transport products to and from paper mills, fuel dealers, and other manufacturing companies in the area.
The design for these covered bridges, known as a ‘Double Town Lattice Truss’ design was patented in 1820 by Ithiel Town (1784-1844). Town was an American architect and civil engineer from Thompson, Connecticut. The truss design consisted of diagonally oriented pine or spruce planks fastened at their intersections with wooden connecting pins or tree-nail pins. The methods and materials used (standard lumber instead of heavy timber and wooden pins instead of mortise and tendon joints) made it much easier and less expensive for carpenters to build. Because of these factors, the design was widely used in New England as well as throughout the United States. Although both the Wright’s and Pier bridges are considered to be of ‘Double Town Lattice Truss’ design, they are both unique in their own respect. The Wright’s Bridge is the last example of such a truss bridge with laminated wooden arches between the two truss layers. It was named after S.K. Wright who granted a right-of-way to the railroad through his land. The Pier Bridge spans the Sugar River a total of 216’ 7”, which makes it the longest railroad covered bridge in the world! It was occasionally referred to as the Chandler Station Bridge, but its current name comes from the pier in the middle of the Sugar River upon which its two spans rest.
According to an Historic American Engineering Record on the Wright’s Bridge (Library of Congress), only eight Railroad Covered Bridges remain in the country: one in Oregon, two in Vermont and five in New Hampshire. They are all important to our national history and local heritage. However, covered bridges have two great dangers: weather and fire. It is a constant battle to maintain the integrity of a covered bridge from the harsh New England elements.
The Pier Bridge Preservation Project was launched in June of 2006 to ensure preservation of this rare and important piece of covered bridge and railroad history. Please visit our other links in this series to learn more about this important project.
History of Sullivan County
Eli Whitney Museum website, www.eliwhitney.org
Ithiel Town – Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ithiel_Town
Bridge Basics website, http://pghbridges.com/basics.htm
Northern New England Railroads website, www.nhrra.org
Library of Congress website, http://www.loc.gov/index.html