Hemlock Covered Bridge, Fryeburg Maine

Date added: February 23, 2024 Categories: Maine Covered Bridges Paddleford Truss
Looking West (1970)

Fryeburg is an old and interesting town in Oxford County, situated between Bridgton, in Cumberland County, and the New Hampshire line. The larger part of Fryeburg was granted by Massachusetts in 1762 to General Joseph Frye, who had been at the siege of Louisburg, in the same year a grant was made to some persons in Concord, New Hampshire, who came with their cattle and commenced clearings. Of these Nathaniel Smith with his family were the first settlers.

From its humble beginnings as a farming community to a township incorporated in 1777, time and needs made way for the small manufacturing of leather, harnesses, carriages, lumber, tinware, cheese, canned vegetables, etc. By 1880 the population was 1633. In 2020, the population is 3,369. The Fryeburg area of today is a prosperous summer resort. Only vestiges of its agricultural origins remain, fields once clear have resorted to a forest cover, but the village sections retain the charm of the other times.

Seven wooden covered bridges once enabled the traveler in Fryeburg, Maine to cross the Saco River. Today only one, the Old Hemlock Bridge remains. It has been repaired and preserved by the state, but it would never have been constructed in the first place if Benjamin Wiley and fellow lumbermen and farmers of North Fryeburg had not changed the course of the Saco River over 200 years ago.

The Saco River rises in the White Mountains and wanders 121 miles through New Hampshire and Maine. In its first forty miles, the river drops rapidly southward, but soon after it crosses into Maine and reaches Fryeburg it slows to a sluggish stream that flows north before turning south again. In 1800, the river described such a meandering loop through the Fryeburg intervale that early settlers spoke of it as "thirty-six miles of river and six miles of country."

Spring floods not only inundated fields but also washed away and scattered logs that lumbermen had piled on the river banks. Tired of being plagued by a river that didn't go where it should go, Wiley and his neighbors petitioned the Massachusetts Legislature in 1815 and secured a charter giving them permission to dig a canal that would alter the river's course.

In 1816 they made their first cut and diverted the river into a series of small ponds. From these, it rejoined the south flow of the original loop. The canal was narrow when first dug, but freshets soon widened the channel. Before the canal was dug there were five covered bridges in Fryeburg. After the canal was dug two more bridges were built, and one of these was the Old Hemlock Bridge.

Bridge Description

This wooden covered bridge spans the Old Course of the Saco River in the township of Fryeburg and in the East Fryeburg section thereof. Once oriented in the main town of Fryeburg, the traveler would proceed northeast on U. S. Route 302, (Maine Rt. #5) for five miles. At this point, they would find a side road going in a northwesterly direction. They would follow this side road for three miles where they would find this bridge. The locale is rural. This area is a lowland here bisected by a slow-moving shallow stream that still flows in an ancient river bed. Much of what was open field farming land has reverted to a forest cover in this area.

This wooden structure is 116' long, about 19' wide, and 20 ' high from the floor to the peak of the gable roof. This overhead clearance is 14' and the clearance between the sides is 16'. This bridge is built on granite block abutments that rise from the sides of the River bed for about 15'.

The basic engineering concept employed in the span of this bridge is best described as being Paddleford Truss construction. The main feature is an arch of laminated wooden 2" x 12" planks in ten courses. These are bolted together with iron threaded rods. The ends of the arch rest on the abutment similar to the Burr Truss or Kingpost Arch System, patented in 1817. The bottom and top chords are bolted and morticed into the Kingposts and for additional strength, the bottom chords of each span are bolted with iron rods to the Paddleford Arch. Extra support for the Kingposts is gained by crossed timbers, morticed at the crossing, placed between, and morticed again into and near the tops and bottoms of the Kingposts. Resting on the tops of kingposts and running down the length of the bridge are timbers that provide the plate for the roof. The rafters tie into the plate and a roof supporting truss work with a ridge pole completes the gable of the roof. On top of the roof rafters, spaced shingle straps run the length of the roof and on these, cedar shingles provide the final cover for the roof. The sides of the bridge have been boarded in. Boards run up and down. Six window spaces on each side of the bridge help provide natural lighting for the interior. The ends of the gable are boarded in down to the clearance. These are then covered with clapboards and finally, trim pieces surround the ends of the gable. Except for the trim, the bridge is not painted. The flooring of planks runs down the length of the bridge.

Hemlock Covered Bridge, Fryeburg Maine Looking West (1970)
Looking West (1970)