Ware-Hardwick Covered Bridge, Gilbertville Massachusetts

Date added: March 08, 2024 Categories: Massachusetts Covered Bridges Town Lattice Truss

The Ware-Hardwick bridge at Gilbertville has unusual significance as one of only four 19th-century wooden bridges, roofed to protect their structural members from rain and snow, still standing in their original locations in Massachusetts. The present rarity of such bridges in Massachusetts is in contrast to their former importance in the Commonwealth as elsewhere in 19th-century New England. Timothy Palmer and William Howe, inventors of two of the early trussing systems, were natives of Massachusetts. Ithiel Town, who, in 1820, patented the "Town Lattice Mode" on which the Gilbertville bridge is based, designed the impressive covered toll bridge which for 102 years spanned the Connecticut River at Springfield. In his book Covered Bridges of the Northeast, Richard Sanders Allen states that "well over 100 roofed spans were distributed over Massachusetts." Of the various structural systems available, Town's lattice truss was particularly attractive to local builders; it departed from earlier systems which incorporated arches, and relied instead on a dense web of simple, diagonally crossing planks. As Allen points out, Town trusses continued to be erected in New England long after Ithiel Town's patent had expired. Two of the Commonwealth's four in situ covered bridges are constructed on the Town truss system; the Gilbertsville bridge, erected in the 1880s is evidence of the lingering appeal of the system.

The manufacturing village of Gilbertville to which this bridge leads, was founded in 1860. In that year the George H. Gilbert Company, a woolen manufacturing firm in Ware Village, purchased a water power in the adjoining town of Hardwick. Four large mills and 200 tenements were reported for the village in an 1888-89 directory.

The 1886 date of the Gilbertville Bridge appears in several secondary sources on covered bridges, as well as in the 1983 Ware Survey. No primary source for this date has been located, nor was a reference to the bridge found in the Ware Town Records for the 1880s. However, there is a reference in an 1892 directory of Gilbertville to Bridge Street as the name of the public way "from Highland Avenue to the covered bridge." The bridge can date no earlier than 1884, since a photograph published in 1885 including an 1884 Congregational Parsonage, shows the present site of the bridge with a millpond, but without a span. The 1886 date, though it derives from an unspecified source, is therefore a reasonable one.

Bridge Description

The covered bridge over the Ware River at the village of Gilbertville, Massachusetts links the towns of Ware in Hampshire County and Hardwick in Worcester County. The single span is at right angles to the Old Gilbertville Road from Ware Village; the road makes a sharp right turn into the bridge from the Ware side, and continues straight onto Bridge Street in Gilbertville on the Hardwick side.

The bridge is a Town lattice truss, constructed on the principle: patented by Ithiel Town in 1820. Its dimensions are approximately 25 by 137 feet. The continuous web of diagonal members that forms the trusses is pegged together with cylindrical wooden treenails, two at each intersection and three through the top and bottom chords. Both the deck and superstructure have been reinforced with iron rods, bolts, and tie bars.

The exterior cladding of the bridge consists of vertical planks extended from the bottom of the trusses to within a few feet of the eaves; above this point, the trusses are exposed and light is admitted. The cladding is brought several yards into the tunnel at either end. The exterior siding was replaced as recently as 1954, but several planks are missing. The roof is asphalt and the deck is planked with boards laid at right angles to the line of traffic.

The portals of the bridge are shouldered, with vertical siding on the uprights and horizontal siding across the gables. The exterior is painted barn-red, trimmed with white on the Hardwick side. The portals are disfigured with graffiti, particularly on the more isolated Ware side.

Ware-Hardwick Covered Bridge, Gilbertville Massachusetts  (1984)