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Boscawen accepting bids to remove historical bridge over Merrimack River

A broken guard rail lies in the center of the Boscawen-Canterbury bridge over the Merrimack River on Wednesday, March 31, 2010.  The bridge is headed for the scrap heap, but there are some people who want to save it.  Steven Lindsey, a state representative from Keene wants to try to save the bridge, which was built in 1907 and designed by New Hampshire's top civil engineer of the period, John Storrs.  One proposal is to remove the bridge in sections and store it for possible use later.
(Concord Monitor Photo/Katie Barnes)

A broken guard rail lies in the center of the Boscawen-Canterbury bridge over the Merrimack River on Wednesday, March 31, 2010. The bridge is headed for the scrap heap, but there are some people who want to save it. Steven Lindsey, a state representative from Keene wants to try to save the bridge, which was built in 1907 and designed by New Hampshire's top civil engineer of the period, John Storrs. One proposal is to remove the bridge in sections and store it for possible use later. (Concord Monitor Photo/Katie Barnes) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

After years of deliberating preservation and removal tactics, the town of Boscawen is now accepting bids to remove a historical bridge over the Merrimack River between Boscawen and Canterbury.

Bids are due to the Boscawen Board of Selectmen by Dec. 18, and a contract will be awarded by Dec. 21. All prospective bidders will attend a mandatory pre-bidding meeting at the site at 9 a.m. today. Awarding a bid to remove the bridge is “the closing chapter in a long process,” said Boscawen Town Administrator Michael Wright.

The metal truss bridge, also known as the Depot Street Bridge, was designed by John W. Storrs, an eminent bridge architect in his day, and built in 1907. It is the oldest of its kind in New Hampshire. But the bridge was closed for use in 1965, and has been deteriorating ever since. The process of removing the bridge has included a lengthy debate over how to preserve its historic character. Previous proposals included re-purposing some of the material, but earlier this year the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and the Division of Historical Resources approved a plan that would allow the bridge to be completely dismantled, with the metal used for scrap.

The Department of Transportation approved funding for the project in 2007, and it will cover 80 percent of the costs. Boscawen and Canterbury will cover the other 20 percent of the costs, and townspeople approved to begin putting aside money for the project several years ago. Wright said he won’t know how much the removal will cost until after the bids are in, but the initial estimate by the department of transportation in 2003 was $200,000 total, shifting about $20,000 in costs to both towns.

Eckman Engineering, based in Portsmouth, has been working with the towns throughout the process, developing several conceptual designs for removing the bridge. It will ultimately be up to the company that wins the bid, however, about how best to deconstruct the bridge.

Officials from both towns said it’s sad to see the historic connection between the two towns removed, but the bridge has not been maintained over the years and has become more of a liability than anything. Pieces of rusted metal have fallen into the river below, and people have turned the bridge into a safety risk by jumping off of it.

“It’s really a sacrifice to watch the bridge go, but it’s just too far gone,” said Canterbury Selectman Tyson Miller.

There is no formal time line in place for the removal, but officials hope it begins as soon as possible. Removing the bridge in the dead of winter might be the best option, because the ground and the water underneath the bridge will be frozen over, said Craig Saltmarsh, chair of the Boscawen Board of Selectmen. The longer the bridge remains, the more of a danger it becomes.

“The engineer himself has said the bridge quite literally could fall into the water at any moment,” Saltmarsh said.

Both towns will mark the spot at the base of the bridge in a historical manner. In Canterbury, officials are considering keeping a portion of the base of the bridge and designating it as an observation spot, Miller said. On the Boscawen side, officials plan on erecting a kiosk with historical information about the bridge and Storrs. Although the bridge must go, maintaining a historical reminder is important for both sides.

“It will be a sad day when the bridge comes down,” Saltmarsh said. “It was a beautiful bridge in its day; it served the towns of Canterbury and Boscawen very well.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

This year they razed New Hampshire's most historic bridge, the Memorial Bridge of Portsmouth. Next year it will be the Dept Street Bridge mentioned here. And in 2014? The Sewalls Falls Bridge? 2015? The Meadow Bridge of Shelburne Falls? 2016? ... Why bother with historical markers? No one cares. When visitors ask me where historic sites are, and where they can experience authentic New England culture, I point west and say "Vermont." Hon. Steven W Lindsey state rep (retired) Keene, NH

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