The Bridges
of Hillsborough County
By Lorianne DiSabato

When people think of New England,
they often envision pristinely painted
covered bridges spanning peaceful streams, and we certainly have a pleasing
assortment of those structures in southern New Hampshire.

But the real architectural pride of New Hampshire is her remnant of old granite
bridges, erected in the early 19th century by Scottish stone masons who
eschewed mortar. That these structures have lasted over a century of New
Hampshire weather with the annual cycle of freeze and thaw that sent the iconic
Old Man of the Mountain tumbling from his perch is testament to the enduring
strength of a well-constructed arch.

The double-arch stone bridge that spans the
Contoocook River off Route 9 near
the Stoddard-Antrim border is no longer open to vehicular traffic. Instead, a
small parking area and historical marker encourage tourists to pull off the busy
road linking
Hillsborough and Keene in order to admire and take pictures.

Although I wasn’t born in New Hampshire, I quickly began acting like a local
when I moved here some six years ago, which is another way of saying I’d never
pulled off Route 9 to admire the
Stone Arch Bridge even though I passed it
several times a week in all weathers while driving to and from work.

During the four years I lived in Hillsborough, NH, I often drove over several old
stone bridges that are still in use, including the double arch that spans Beard
Brook at Jones Road. Although those 19th century Scottish stone masons built
these bridges without mortar, modern engineers have determined that some of
them can withstand the weight of motorized vehicular traffic and blacktop, a fact
to which I can personally attest after having driven my pickup truck over the
Jones Road one-lane bridge many times during my Hillsborough days.

One claim that puts Hillsborough on the historical map is the fact that it is the
birthplace of
Franklin Pierce, fourteenth President of the United States. Pierce’s
stint in Washington was so unremarkable that he was the only incumbent
President who failed to be re-nominated by his own party.  

Hillsborough’s real claim to fame, I think, is her handful of still-usable stone
bridges, edifices which have stood strong for much longer than Franklin Pierce’s
feeble four-year tenure and still work.

Not only are many of the bridges of Hillsborough County still functional, they
all are scenic, being built of the same granite that supports the entire state and
blending beautifully into their surrounding landscape. The stony jewel in
Hillsborough’s crown is the single-arch bridge at Gleason Falls, a structure
which transports cars over Beard Brook year-round while the tranquil shallows
below the falls serve as a popular local swimming hole in the summertime.
Wouldn’t you like to cool your heels within sight of a bridging beauty?

New Hampshire’s Contoocook Valley are among her hidden treasures. Made
out of Mother Nature’s own bone, these old edifices seem destined to last as
long as the boulders and trees that surround them, safely spanning as they do
the very waters of Time.

P.S. For an update on these bridges after the New Hampshire floods of October
2005, see:

About the author: Lorianne DiSabato, who lives in Keene, NH, is an adjunct professor
of English at Keene State College.  This story was excerpted from her blog about her life in
the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire,
Hoarded Ordinaries
The Stone Arch Bridge near Stoddard-Antrim border, NH
Jones Road Bridge
Jones Road Bridge
Bridge arch, closeup
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