Historic Structures

Clark's Covered Railroad Bridge, Lincoln New Hampshire

Date added: November 5, 2021 Categories: New Hampshire Bridges Covered Bridges

One of only two railroad Howe truss covered bridges remaining in the country, Clark's Bridge is the only one that still carries rolling stock.

The covered bridge that would later be known as Clark's Bridge was an important link in the Barre Branch Railroad. The granite quarries attracted railroads to the Barre, Vermont, vicinity. While Barre granite was used in the construction of the state capital at Montpelier between 1832 and 1837, railroads made it possible to transport larger blocks and higher volumes nationally. The Central Vermont Railroad built a spur line in 1876 and the Barre Branch arrived in 1889. Both of these branches crossed the North Branch of the Winooski River just a short distance upstream from its confluence with the Stevens Branch. Railroads and the development of the pneumatic cutting tool contributed to growth. Between 1880 and 1910, the population of Barre grew more than 700 percent; from 2,060 to 14,928.

At least one source gives a construction date of 1904 for Clark's Bridge. If this date is correct, then there must have been at least one earlier bridge that carried the Barre Branch Railroad across the North Winooski. Whatever the date and original name of the bridge, the Barre Branch generally prospered through several extensions, a major flood in 1927, and many name and ownership changes until the Great Depression brought a halt to building construction. After World War II, architectural style shifted from dimension stone to concrete, glass, and steel. A decreased demand for granite made it more economical to ship via interstate highway, and it became increasingly difficult for the Barre Branch to return a profit. In November 1956 the corporate descendants of the Barre Branch and the Montpelier & Wells River Railroad (M&WRR) ceased operations. Before the month passed, however, Samuel Pinsley, a Boston financier who owned several shortlines, acquired and reorganized the parts of what remained. The following year Pinsley also purchased the Barre Branch of the Central Vermont Railroad. In the consolidation that followed, the segment with the covered bridge was abandoned.

Paul J. Dutton, owner of a transit mix business, purchased the covered bridge from the Pinsley interests about 1963. Edward M. Clark, son of the founders of what became Clark's Trading Post, a tourist attraction in Lincoln, New Hampshire, learned of the bridge sometime before the winter of 1963-64. Clark had been seeking a covered bridge to enhance his family's White Mountain Central Railroad. In the mid-1950s, Edward and Murray began collecting locomotives, especially geared locomotives used in the logging and granite industries. He and his brother, W. Murray Clark, had added the railroad to their family's tourist attraction, which was noted for its trained black bears and Eskimo sled dogs. When the White Mountain Central went into operation in 1958 it consisted of two parallel tracks laid out in an elongated "V" on the west bank of the Pemigewasset River. Acquisition of the covered bridge was necessary to expand the White Mountain Central across the Pemigewasset River and to free up scarce space on the west bank. The Clarks purchased the bridge for $1,000 along with the body of a 1910 Ford Model T touring car.

Disassembly of Clark's Bridge began in January 1964 and required building cribwork on the river's ice to support the bridge. Ed Clark and three teenagers did most of the disassembly in cold and spartan conditions. Components were match marked and transported to the Trading Post. Reassembly began in the spring, suspended during the summer tourist season, and rushed to completion before winter snows. The trusses were reassembled horizontally at the river's bank and raised with the help of a crane and a steam shovel so that the upper and lower lateral bracing systems could be installed. Once assembled, excepting the siding, rollers and thick planking helped move the bridge into place on the granite piers. The Clarks devised a novel system to support the bridge as it was moved into place. Two sets of railroad tracks, one set for each bottom chord, were laid in the riverbed. On each of the tracks, the Clarks placed wheel trucks - sets of four wheels and their housings typically used under railroad cars. Towers of timber cribbing were built on top of the trucks. The bridge was eased out onto the cribbing, and the whole system was pulled across the river using a Linn tractor crawler and a pulley block assembly attached to the wheel trucks. Clark's Bridge has been in service since the summer of 1965.