Comments on Pier & Wright’s Bridges
By Dr. James L. Garvin
State Architectural Historian
New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources
Pier and Wright’s railroad bridges are among the last survivors of an age when railroad engineering was served by traditional bridge-building techniques. Built a century ago, these gig
antic spans adapted the traditional wooden lattice truss, patented in 1820, to carry the enormous weight of the locomotives and trains of the early twentieth century. The Boston & Maine Railroad was the last major American rail system to continue to design and build wooden bridges on its branch lines, citing the practical virtues of economy and resilience in these traditional structures. Today, only eight covered railroad bridges survive in the entire world, and Newport is unique in retaining two of the eight.
Pier and Wright’s Bridges were essential links on the Concord and Claremont Branch of the Boston & Maine, reminding us of the hard work and enterprise that were needed to link the two communities. Tracks were laid from Concord to Bradford by 1850, but were stopped by a rocky promontory in Newbury. After a difficult cut was blasted through the Newbury ledges in 1871, the line was rapidly completed through Newport to Claremont. The rail line has long been converted to a recreational trail, but these huge bridges remain as monuments to the sound engineering and high construction standards of one of New England’s premier railroad networks.
As American civil engineering landmarks, Pier and Wright’s Bridges must be protected against loss. These bridges document an important evolutionary step in transportation history. Their awe-inspiring presence reminds us of an age when native spruce and practical engineering were combined to carry mankind’s first mechanical transportation system across our rivers. Officially measured at almost 217 feet in length, Pier Bridge is the longest covered railroad bridge to survive in the world. Wright’s Bridge is the only remaining lattice truss bridge to incorporate wooden arches within its side trusses. As a unique survivor, Wright’s Bridge was recorded by the Historic American Engineering Record in 2002.