by Sean Coontz
Hillsborough, once home to more than a dozen stone arch masonry bridges, remains the proud owner still of five of these extraordinary engineering landmarks. Four of are still used everyday to support auto, bike and foot traffic.
Registered as historic structures by the Historic American Building Survey, part of the National Park Service, the bridges recently have been recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, the second in New Hampshire, after the Cog Railway.
Flooding has been an historic problem in the town of Hillsborough. Timber bridges, including the covered bridges so common in NH would not stand up to the frequent flooding that the town experienced. As a result, stone arch bridges were a solution to the weakness of timber bridges.
Hillsborough’s historic record reflects regular destruction and rebuilding of many of its early wooden bridges. But bridges made with other more lasting materials were not able to stand up any better because they required mortar which would be destroyed by the frequent flooding as well.
However, it was discovered that. by a more careful cutting and fitting of stones, it was possible – using a technique that came to be known as “dry masonry” - to make stronger stonework than could be made with use of the conventional mortar.
The stone arched bridges of Hillsborough are believed to have been the work of Scottish and Irish stonemasons who emigrated to Hillsborough in the 1800s.
Visiting the Bridges of Hillsborough
On Sawmill Road, just off Main Street and south of the area known as the “Lower Village” and at the intersection with the Second NH Turnpike is the first bridge built in 1864 along what was once the main route between Boston and Claremont.
Two of the Bridges are located on the Beard Road – almost directly across Main Street from Sawmill Road. The first bridge is a double arch bridge over the Beard Brook at the meeting of the Beard and Jones Roads. This bridge, built by Captain Jonathan Carr in 1840, is said to have been paid for with counterfeit money. Further north up Beard Road is the Gleason Falls Bridge. Here a cascade rushes under the bridge.
Another stone bridge can be found on the Gleason Falls Road. This location is the site of one of the town's first gristmills. The origin of this bridge is unknown but it is a remarkable piece of engineering.
The final bridge, known as the Sawyer Bridge, is reputed to be the finest of all and was built in 1866 by Rueben Loverin. The Sawyer Bridge is located at the junction of Route 202 and West Main Street. At one time. this bridge included a third arch which collapsed, precipitating some alterations to the original structure of the bridge.
Washday in Bristol, NH
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