After 100 years, Canterbury/Boscawen bridge knocked down, removed

Last modified: 11/21/2014 12:10:10 AM
Removing the old Boscawen/Canterbury bridge required town officials to do what the bridge had done for more than 100 years: meet in the middle.

Contractors collapsed the bridge into the Merrimack River and removed the second section yesterday. The 347-foot bridge, built in 1907, was one of the last remaining Parker truss bridges in the state and had fallen into severe disrepair.

To get the bridge in – and out of – the water, both towns needed to approve separate warrant articles for money, secure state Department of Transportation reimbursements and agree to include an educational and historical component to complete the project. The agreement led to the smooth removal of the bridge, said Ken Folsom, Canterbury town administrator. “Our side dropped today, and they’ll drag it up and pick up the pieces and pull it out of the water,” he said. “It was easier than it sounded.”

The cost of removal should be lower than the initial estimate of $400,000. Both towns will split the costs and the state DOT will reimburse up to 80 percent of pre-approved costs. “It was an agreement that seemed to make sense to the two boards of selectmen. Rather than having two staffs trying to work on the issue, it made sense to have one staff do it,” said Alan Hardy, director of land use and community development in Boscawen.

Workers cut the bridge at the concrete abutment in the middle, dropped it into the water and used an excavator to pull it out of the river. Scuba divers are checking the river for pieces of the bridge that need to be removed, Hardy said. A floating tarp-like “divinity curtain” is set up south of the bridge to prevent materials from floating down-river. The concrete abatement will not be removed.

Famed engineer John Storrs designed the bridge, which for years allowed people in carriages, carts and cars to shuffle between the two rural communities. Its future had been uncertain since it closed to traffic in 1965. Different ideas were floated and funding for restoration had been sought, but a 2009 engineering study concluded removal was the only option.

Town officials had to weigh the historic value with safety and liability, Folsom said. Divers on the Boscawen side found four beams that had earlier fallen from the bridge. Thankfully, no one was under the bridge when it happened. “We didn’t want it to fall in the river and not have a plan,” Folsom said. “Particularly during the summer – if you get a group of kayaks coming through and a chunk of that bridge falls? At some point, it was probably going to fall in.”

Also, both towns had safety concerns with people sneaking on the bridge during the summer. “There was potential for some kind of injury from people jumping off the bridge,” he said.

The Parker truss Sewalls Falls Bridge in Concord will soon be closed and removed.

Canterbury, Boscawen and the state Division of Historical Resources have agreed to include an informational and historic component for future visitors to the site.

“It remains an important part of the project and we hope to hear more about its progress soon,” said Elizabeth Muzzey, director of the Division of Historical Resources.

Plans haven’t been finished, Hardy said. “I think we would all love to see old things kept the way they are, but there are times when the condition of the structure becomes more of a safety factor than anything else,” Hardy said.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter@iainwilsoncm.)


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