Sunday, July 22, 2012

Contoocook Railroad Bridge, Contoocook, NH

Contoocook Covered Bridge
The Contoocook Covered Bridge, crossing the Contoocook River in the Contoocook village part of Hopkinton, New Hampshire, bills itself as the "oldest surviving covered railroad bridge in the world". That's a lot of qualifications, but it's still an impressive piece of covered bridge history.

Constructed in 1889 on the piers of an earlier bridge, it was built at a time when New England was turning to iron bridges, such as those built by the famous Berlin Iron Bridge Company. Its relative newness could be responsible for its longevity, maybe.

This bridge was probably designed by the Boston & Maine Railroad engineer Jonathan Parker Snow and built by carpenter David Hazelton. The B&M railroad used wooden bridges long after most other railroads had moved to iron.

Tradition. It's New England!

Double Town lattice
The Contoocook covered railroad bridge sports a rather unique double Town lattice construction, with a second lattice bolted to the outside of the first. This probably helped take the weight of trains as they came through to the nearby depot. I have not seen that in any other covered bridge, but Wikipedia claims it wasn't uncommon in northern New England and a few other examples survive to this day.

This bridge was used as a working railroad bridge to 1962, weathering a number of disasters, including the 1938 hurricane that nearly wiped out Providence, Rhode Island. Between 1962 and 1990 it was used as a warehouse. In 2006, the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges paid for some necessary upgrades, and in 2010 the NH Department of Transportation modernized the lighting and fire suppression system -- you can see the red fire alarm button midway down the bridge wall in the picture above.

Portal to Contoocook Covered Bridge
I used to live twenty miles from this bridge when I was a kid, but I didn't know it even existed until a couple weeks ago. Used to ride to Hopkinton on my bike a lot after they built this really nice bike path that follows Interstate 89 north. But it would have been being used as a warehouse back then, anyway. The pictures on the Library of Congress website (which is down at the moment, so no links) show it filled with junk. Now it stands as the centerpiece and symbol of Contoocook village.

The bridge isn't hard to get to; if you're anywhere in the Concord, NH area, get to I-89, go north to route 127 and follow the road into Contoocook. There is parking available both at the adjoining depot and a restaurant on the other end of the bridge.


  1. What a pretty bridge. I'm glad it was renovated. As common as the double lattices were, you just don't see them anymore. I suppose it was a good thing it was used as a warehouse or it may have just fallen apart.

    1. Poor thing was well-abused during its long life. According to Wikipedia, the bridge nearly got washed entirely downriver -- it was saved only because the train tracks running through it tethered it to the banks!

  2. Brenda -

    You keep writing about bridges I know better than most, so I thought it was time I piped in. If you have any interest I've written extensively on The Contoocook, Snow and other bridge topics Hopkinton related. You'll also find photos of it tipped by the floods of '36 & '38 - As you suggest, only barely kept from being lost in that the Rails were what held it there. An interesting sidenote to that is if the wooden Village bridge had not been removed in '35 and replaced by that stonearch bridge in a Depression era makework project it likely would have pushed the RR Bridge off its abutments, rails or no, and it would have been long since lost to us.

    The Hooksett Village bridges you touch on in your last post are one of my earliest memories - My Mother was one of those deathly afraid to cross bridges, but being that we then lived there in town, that now bypassed High Pratt was where she would have to most often grin (well fuss) and bear it.

    -- Will

    1. Of course I'm interested! I headed straight to your blog to look for your posts and found out there was _another_ covered bridge in Hopkinton!

      I grew up in Concord, biked to Hopkinton lots, but never looked around -- I'd continue off toward Dunbarton and Goffstown and stuff.

      The bridge I remember best from growing up, aside from the Amoskeag Bridge in Manchester, was the truss bridge crossing the Merrimack on Route 3 in Concord. I don't know when that was torn down and replaced with the much wider but much more boring girder bridge that stands there today, but when I was a kid, crossing it was a magical experience. You knew you were going someplace when you crossed that bridge.

      Pembroke. Well, it was someplace.

      Of the Hooksett bridges, the north one was closed off, but the south one had a filled-in bed and a wide path for walking; you'd hardly know you were on a bridge. It bugs me how many times I have been on 3A and never before noticed those bridges.

  3. I used to live in Concord and visited Contoocook on occasion. I'm glad that old bridge has survived. It's a gem.