The second bridge across the Connecticut River here at Bellows Falls, after the original toll bridges (one built in 1785 and replaced by the present structure in 1840), was for the old Cheshire Railroad, to enable them to reach the Bellows Falls yard and connect with the Rutland & Burlington Railroad. It was located the same as the present double arched stone bridge that is serving the Boston & Maine Railroad.
It was a wooden bridge, with a double track, and was erected a few months after the completion of the Cheshire Railroad from South Ashburnham to Bellows Falls, until which time the station for Bellows Falls had been located over the river, near where the present railroad engine house is, and was a picturesque affair. In its day, it was a wonder, for its two spans of one hundred and forty feet each marked the limit of length of span at that period. Then, too, its location in a romantic spot, where the water of the river rushed through a narrow channel worn in the rocks, made all the surroundings of the place attractive. It was a massive pine framework, upon a principle of bridge building that today seems primitive. It did its duty well until the autumn of 1899, when, a question having arisen as to its safety, the Fitchburg Road, which then owned it, suddenly decided to replace it with the present beautiful stone arches. The old massive wooden bridge is still well remembered by many of our present residents.
The stone used in the abutments and pier was all quarried from what was known as “Thayer’s Ledge” in Rockingham, near the Springfield line. It was drawn by team down to the Connecticut, and loaded on large scows that brought it down the river to the head of the canal, where it was loaded upon small cars and run down to the bridge by hand. The ledge is located on the top of the divide, between the Williams and Black Rivers, about two miles from the Connecticut, and at the top of a high hill. The late Charles Hapgood had charge of the boats that brought it down the river. A. P. Crossett, then a boy of eighteen, assisted the workmen in running the stone to the bridge on the cars.
The present double arch stone bridge of the Fitchburg division of the Boston & Maine Railroad is unique in having two of the longest arches with the least rise of any bridge in the country. The spans are each one hundred and forty feet long with a rise of only twenty feet. Work was commenced on it by contractors Holbrook, Cabot & Daly of Boston on September 13, 1899, and, without interfering with the passage of trains for a single day, the structure was completed on December 10th of the same year.
The first bridge here of the Sullivan Railroad, similar in every respect to the first frame Cheshire Bridge above described, was placed across the river almost directly over the dam during the summer of 1851, about the time of the completion of the Vermont Valley Railroad from Brattleboro to Bellows Falls. The Sullivan Railroad had been open from here to Windsor nearly two years, using a station located near the New Hampshire end of the toll bridge. This primitive bridge, in turn, gave way to an iron lattice bridge in 1882, the first piece of iron being laid February 1, and the completed structure was tested May 18 of that year.
In 1911, because of the greatly increased weight of locomotives and cars, the Boston & Maine Railroad was obliged to replace the lattice bridge by the present substantial structure, which was commenced in July of that year, and completed about Sept. 1st, 1912. Two men were killed during the construction. On May 20th, 1918, eighteen persons were fined for trespass in persisting to travel across it against the rules of the railroad.
The present beautiful steel arch highway bridge across the Connecticut here was erected in 1904-5, two-thirds of the cost being paid by the town of Walpole, N. H., and one-third by Rockingham, Vt. J. R. Worcester, a civil engineer of Boston, prepared the plans. The contract for the steel superstructure was awarded to Lewis F. Shoemaker & Company of the Schuylkill Bridge Works of Philadelphia, for $40,394, while the contract for building the stone work was awarded to Joseph Ross & Sons of Boston for $4,545, making a total cost of $44,939.
The bridge was completed inside of the appropriations made, and was opened to the public at 4 P. M. Monday, March 20, 1905, at which time W. H. Kiniry, of North Walpole removed the last obstructions. A formal celebration of the event by citizens of the two villages occurred that evening. The school and church bells of North Walpole were rung, and red fire and fireworks set off. The citizens’ band played on the bridge and later at Russell Memorial Hall in North Walpole, where the principal celebration and public speaking completed the exercises.
The bridge consists of two spans, one 104 feet 8 inches in length over the Rutland Railroad tracks, and the other 540 feet in length over the river. This latter span is notable in that it is the longest highway arch span in the United States, excepting the one across the Niagara River, near the falls, and because it is the only long-span arch with suspended floor in this country. The arch of the main span, at its highest point, rises seventy feet above the level of the roadbed. The bridge is thirty-two feet wide over all and carries, a carriageway, and sidewalk, twenty feet and six feet wide, respectively.
The bridge is built to sustain a maximum load of sixty pounds to the square foot on the road way and the sidewalk, and a concentrated load of eighteen tons on two axles two feet apart. The estimated weight of the steel in the bridge is nine hundred thousand pounds.
Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.