ALL...ABOARD: Contoocook Covered Railroad Bridge
The Contoocook Covered Railroad Bridge is the oldest covered railroad bridge in the U.S. still standing. It was rebuilt in 1889 to replace a lighter covered railroad bridge constructed between 1849–50, having been built by the former Concord and Claremont Railroad (acquired by the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1887). It is the oldest of four surviving double-web Town lattice railroad bridges. It was likely designed by Boston & Maine Railroad engineer Jonathan Parker Snow (1848–1933) and built by carpenter David Hazelton (1832–1908). Under Snow, the Boston & Maine utilized wooden bridges on its branch lines longer than any other major railroad, the last of these constructed in 1916. The bridge was in use as a railroad bridge until 1962. It survived a flood in 1936, and the 1938 Hurricane. Both times it was moved off its foundations and saved from being completely washed down river by the rail tracks running through it.
Backstory and Context
High water was often an issue for the Contoocook Covered Railroad Bridge. During the flood of 1936 and the hurricane of 1938, the bridge suffered extensive damage. In fact, the only thing that prevented the bridge from being carried downriver was the strength of the steel railroad tracks. Following the 1936 flood, the Claremont and Hillsboro Railway lines suffered so much damage that there was talk of discontinuing them. Claremont, however, had just finished paying franchise and demanded that the washed-out bridges, including the damaged bridge at Contoocook, be restored. Following damage from the 1938 hurricane, trains from West Henniker to Hillsboro were given up.
From the NH Division of Historical Resources:
Location: East of N.H. Route 103 in Contoocook Village on the old Concord and Claremont Railroad line spanning the Contoocook River.
Style of Bridge: Double Town-Pratt lattice truss
Year of Construction: Originally constructed in 1849-50 with major reconstruction in 1889.
Original Cost: Unknown
Structural Characteristics: The bridge is 140'1" long and has clear spans of 64'0" and 67'0". It has an overall width of 21'6" and a roadway width of 15'1", and a maximum vertical clearance of 19'4". The rail line has been abandoned.
Maintained By: New Hampshire Division of Historic Resources
World Guide Number: 26-07-07
New Hampshire Number: 10
Historical Remarks: The structure was originally built when the Concord and Claremont Railroad laid its first 33 miles of track from Concord to Bradford, N.H. In the fall of 1850 when trains began to run regularly between Concord and Contoocook, a "day of great festivity" was held. Speeches were made, the band played, and the cannon thundered. A thousand people sat down to eat at a public dinner that cost $200 to put on. The bridge washed off its abutments in 1936 when the Contoocook River flooded and again in 1938 from a hurricane. The bridge was kept from washing downstream because the rails were bolted together at each joint. After the flood water receded, the bridge was drawn back to its location and restored. From 1962 until 1990 a Contoocook merchant owned and used it as a warehouse. In 1990 the bridge was given to the New Hampshire Division of Historic Resources under RSA 234:31. In the National Register of Historic Places Inventory (nomination form) it was stated that this bridge is the oldest covered railroad bridge still standing in the United States. The Railroad Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Contoocook Railroad Museum. Accessed May 15th 2020. https://www.contoocookdepot.org/.
Hopkinton Historical Society. A Walk Through Two Villages Contoocook and Hopkinton. Hopkinton, NH. Hopkinton Historical Society, 2009.
Lord, C.C. . Life and Times in Hopkinton, N.H.. Concord, NH. Republican Press Association, 1890.
Mead, Edgar T.. Through Covered Bridges to Concord. Brattleboro, VT. Stephen Greene Press, 1970.
New Hampshire Antiquarian Society. Life and Times in Hopkinton 1735-1970. Hopkinton, NH. New Hampshire Antiquarian Society, 1989.
New Hampshire Antiquarian Society. Hopkinton New Hampshire 1765-1965. Hopkinton, NH. New Hampshire Antiquarian Society, 1965.
New Hampshire SP Contoocook Railroad Depot, Accessed June 17th 2020. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/77845393.
Railroad Bridge Hopkinton, New Hampshire. Accessed July 3rd 2020. https://www.nh.gov/nhdhr/bridges/p21.html.
Tyler, Mala Duclos. Hopkinton and Contoocook. Charleston, SC. Arcadia Publishing, 2012.
Wallace, R. Stuart. Mausolf, Lisa B.. New Hampshire Railroads: Historic Context Statement. Concord, NH. New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources, 1999.
Photo credit Bob LaPree
Photo credit Bob LaPree