Connecticut River Bridge 1804

The first bridge across the Connecticut river between Brattleboro, Vt., and Hinsdale, N. H., was erected in November, 1804. The description of it, as well as of an accident that occurred there soon after, and its fall the next year, are recorded in the Political Observatory, a newspaper printed in Walpole, N. H., at that time.

Under a date line of Brattleboro, December 1, 1804, that paper says:---

On Tuesday last the new toll bridge over the Connnecticut River which connects Brattleboro with Hinsdale in New Hampshire was opened for passengers. The bridge does the highest honor to Mr. Kingsley, the architect, as well as to Mr. Lovel Kelton and the mechanics who executed the work under their direction.

It has been pronounced to have been erected upon the best plan of any yet put into execution in this part of the Union, combining greater strength with less weight of material and promising more durability.

From the Vermont side a stone abutment projects from the bank 34 feet wide, 50 feet in length and 34 feet in height, from which is thrown the western arch 124 feet in the arc and resting its eastern end on a stone pier in the channel from which is extended an eastern arch of the same dimensions meeting a similar abutment on Barrit's Island.

Upon the eastern side of the island another bridge 260 feet long with stone abutments and resting on trussels extends the passage to New Hampshire. The public are congratulated upon the completion of these useful edifices. Perhaps there are few bridges in the interior which will be so extensively beneficial.

The bridge is connected in the act of incorporation of a turnpike road through Hinsdale, Winchester and Warrwick where it unites with the Massachusetts turnpike so that the invalid seeking health or the healthy seeking pleasure may now be transported in a wheeled carriage from Boston to Bennington and so on to Albany and Ballstown Springs entirely upon a turnpike road withhout the least interruption of even the smallest ferriage, reducing the distance from Boston to Ballstown Springs to 170 miles.

Under its general news head the same paper says under date of December 15, 1804:---

On Thursday, the 8th ultimo, Isaac Grant, one of the workmen completing the flooring of the new bridge connecting Brattleboro and Hinsdale fell backwards from the center of the western arch into the river. He fell about 30 feet into about 25 feet of water.

He could not swim but on rising to the surface he was told not to struggle against the current which being swift carried him some rods below the bridge where he was saved by the exertions of two men who came to his assistance. He was so exhausted that it was some hours before he was restored to his senses.

The humane activity and determined presence of mind of those who saved the life of this valuable citizen had they lived within the notice of a humane society would doubtless have been honored with a medal. It is only in our power to notice their merit by inserting the names of Jacob Locke of Walpole and Lewis Brewer.

The same paper says on February 16, 1805:---

We learn that on Thursday last the new bridge lately erected across the Connecticut River between Brattleboro and Hinsdale fell, and was crushed to ruins. The cause is said to have been the great weight of snow lodged on it. The private loss must be heavy and the public inconvenience not small.

Lyman Simpson Hayes, The Connecticut River Valley in Southern Vermont and New Hampshire: Historical Sketches by Lyman S. Hayes, Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, Rutland, VT., 1929, page 158, "First Connecticut River Bridges At Brattleboro, Charlestown, White River Junction and Hanover"


Gateway To Wantastiquet

Brattleboro', December 1.

New Bridge.

On Tuesday last the New Toll-Bridge over Connecticut river, which connects this town with Hinsdale in New-Hampshire, was opened for the accommodation of passengers.

This Bridge does the highest honor to Mr. Kinsley, the architect, as well as to Mr. Lovel Kelton, and the ingenious mechanics who executed the work under their direction. It has been pronounced by connoisseurs to have been erected upon the best plan of any yet put in execution in this part of the union: combining greater strength and less weight of materials and promising more durability.

From the Vermont side a stone abutment projects from the bank 34 feet wide, 50 feet in length and 34 feet in height; from which is thrown the western arch 124 feet in the arc; and resting its eastern extremity upon a stone pier in the channel of the river, from which is extended an eastern arch of the same dimensions, meeting a similar abutment on Barrit's Island. Upon the eastern side of the island another bridge 260 feet in length, with stone abutments and resting on tressels, extends the passage to state of New-Hampshire.

Greenfield Gazette, December 10, 1804.

Reprinted in the Brattleboro Reformer, January 25, 1907

"The Old Toll Bridge".

[In the original Greenfield Gazette article, the antiquated letter "s" appears now to look like the letter "f".]


Sauve Qui Peut

A substantial bridge here connects Vermont with New Hampshire. In the early construction of bridges over the Connecticut, the completion of one was thought a feat, as it was, of sufficient importance for a public meeting upon it as a kind of trial, if no more, of its strength and examination of its workmanship.

This example was followed here when the first bridge, some fifty or sixty years ago was erected; and a distinguished barrister of the village was requested to deliver an oration on the occasion. He made preparation and had so well possessed himself of his subject as he thought that he omitted to take with him his manuscript.

The villagers, and the inhabitants from the neighborhood assembled. A new cart, decorated, was drawn by a pair of sturdy oxen to the centre of the bridge as the speaker's platform. The orator mounted the cart. All was silence and expectation.

But whether from the sight of the water far below him, or some other cause, and what, is unknown, and probably like other similar occurrences, will remain unaccountable, he seemed to hesitate, stammer; lose his self-possession and recollection. The oxen becoming somewhat restive added to his embarrassment.

After two or three abortive attempts to get under-way, with, "gentlemen, hem! fellow citizens!--hem!--hem! twenty years ago, hem! just twenty years ago---these two---two empires, pointing to New Hampshire and Vermont; states he could not think of.---

By this time, some wag, cried out, 'she cracked,' which produced as much confusion to compare small things with great, as the celebrated panic at Waterloo, sauve qui peut; save himself who can; and the orator was said to have been among the first to clear himself from the bridge.

When reminded of that transaction by his brethren of the bar, his only answer was: "All I know about it is, I had a good oration, but could not remember a word of it."

Rev. Hosea Beckley, A. M., The History of Vermont; with Descriptions, Physical and Topographical. (Brattleboro: George H. Salisbury, 1846), pages 198-199.


Mr. Field, in his historical address on the Fourth, stated that the first bridge over the Connecticut at this place was built in 1804. A story is told by Gov. Holbrook, corrected by Mr. Steen, with regard to this bridge, which is substantially as follows.

It appears that it was customary in those days to dedicate bridges as well as churches. A large crowd had assembled upon the bridge to witness the ceremony.

Parson Grey of Newfane made a prayer, and John Noyes, a prominent politician of the time, was about beginning an address, when a loud cracking of the bridge, caused by the weight of the people upon it, produced a general stampede and brought the exercises to a sudden close.

The bridge settled several feet, but did not fall until the following winter when, being loaded with snow, it gave way and went down.

Vermont Record and Farmer, July 21, 1876.

[Hon. Charles K. Field, Gov. Frederick C. Holbrook, and Joseph Steen are named.]


An incident which occurred during this or the preceding year, was long remembered by the inhabitants of this, and the neighboring towns.

Hitherto the passage of the Connecticut River had been by ferry-boat, or upon the ice; about this time the first bridge was completed; and its opening for travel was an event of exciting interest to the people both on the Vermont and New-Hampshire side. Arrangements were made for a grand celebration.

Judge Tyler was to deliver the oration, and the venerable, & Reverend Bunker Gay, Congregational minister of Hinsdale, was to dictate to the people the proper things for them to pray for.

The Parson & the Orator stood on a wagon, in the center of the bridge, which was crowded from end to end by their audience. The former had finished the sacred exercise, and the Judge had begun his remarks, when loud cracks gave notice that, however it might be with the Speaker, the bridge was not equal to the occasion.

The crowd scattered, East & West, with exceeding alacrity. Engineering skill & experience were no doubt wanting in those days. The structure did not fall then, but did so a short time afterwards.

Ada Lou Carson, Thomas Pickman Tyler's "Memoirs of Royall Tyler": An Annotated Edition, a thesis submitted to the faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, August 1985, pages 242-243.


When the bridge was originally built in 1804, it was an event of such local importance that it was marked by a public celebration, with speeches and other ceremonies. The orator of the occasion was Hon. Samuel Elliot, then a young man.

The speaker's stand was erected on the bridge, and the people crowded in closely in order to hear the speaker. The weight caused the timbers to crack, and it is a matter of verbal tradition, probably authentic, that the speaker suddenly stopped and cried out to his auditors,

"Run, run like hell. The bridge is going down."

No damage to the bridge followed, however, and the oration and other ceremonies were duly completed.

Vermont Phoenix, August 14, 1903.

"Good-by, Old Bridge: A Chapter of Local Bridge and Ferry History."


The Hinsdale Bridge and a Little of Its History.

[Sunday Republican Correspondent.]

The first bridge was built on the site of the present structure in 1804, and was dedicated in December of that year.

The story goes that a large number of people from this and the surrounding towns had congregated in and about the bridge to listen to a dedicatory oration by the late Judge Tyler, father of the present Judge Royal Tyler, clerk of the county court.

Just at the point where the gifted speaker had begun to grow interestingly eloquent, the bridge timbers began to crack, when the excited orator, perceiving the threatening danger, called out in stentorian tones: "Run, damn you, the bridge is going down." Fortunately, however, the bridge did not go down.

Before the bridge was built the only way to cross the river hereabout was by ferry, which was then in operation near the Simon Brooks farm, two miles below the village. Since the first bridge there have been five or six new ones built, one-half or more of the number having been carried off either by high water or ice.

The first toll-keeper was an old resident by the name of Pettee, who, it is said, was in the habit of standing at the end of Mechanic's bridge, so called, at the lower end of Main street, for the purpose of collecting toll from those passing to the New Hampshire side.

He was succeeded in turn by Reuben Metcalf, who served for 25 years, and lived in a little one-story red house which had but two rooms. Then came Richard Gill, who tended the bridge for 13 years, and until he committed suicide by drowning just above the bridge. He was followed by Asa Sherwin who served seven years, and who lives here.

Finally "Uncle" John L. Putnam took charge and has been a familiar and much-esteemed character at the toll-house for the past 38 years and three months. During this period he has moved out of the house with his family twice on account of high water, April, 1862, and in October.

In the freshet of 1862, the toll-house together with the big and little-river bridge was carried off while, in 1869 Mr. Putnam moved out in the night, and for four months he collected toll from a small improvised office which he occupied in the bridge while the toll-house was rebuilding.

Brattleboro Reformer, December 7, 1888.

Article by Maj. Frederick W. Childs.


The first toll keeper, John Pettis (or Pettee), probably collected the toll at Mechanic's Bridge during 1804-1805 because Bridge Street had not yet been dynamited through the extensive rock ledge to the river.

The following year, June 17, 1802 a company was incorporated by the General Court of New Hampshire, under the name of "The Proprietors of the Hinsdale Bridge and Sixth New Hampshire Turnpike Corporation," with full power to erect the necessary bridge or bridges over Connecticut river "at any point from Dummer's Ferry to the Ferry at Barrett's Island, so called, and also at any place on said Island, or within one mile above the same;"

and to build a Turnpike road not less than four rods wide on the shortest and most practicable route "from Connecticut river in Hinsdale, intending to meet the aforesaid bridge when erected, through said Hinsdale and Winchester to the line of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at Warwick."

This act provided for the erection of two tollhouses, one at the bridge over the Connecticut river and the other at Winchester, and established the rate of tolls. The number of shares into which the stock should be divided was not limited.

The first meeting of the corporators named in the act,---who were Oliver Chapin, Foster Alexander, Cyrus Shattuck, Seth Hooker, Edward Gustine, Thomas Taylor, John W. Blake, Samuel Dickinson, Gardner Chandler, George H. Hall, John Holbrook, Silas Barrett, James Elliot, Stephen Hawkins, Reuben Alexander, Caleb Alexander, Daniel Twitchell and Daniel Hawkins, Jrs.,---

met at the house of Samuel Dickinson in Brattleboro, Aug. 18, 1802, and organized by the election of John Holbrook as President; Foster Alexander, Clerk; and Geo. H. Hall, Perley Marsh, Oliver Chapin, Daniel Hawkins, John W. Blake, and Benjamin Sawyer, Directors.

During the year following the subscription to the shares was opened and a survey of the Turnpike route made. At a meeting of the corporation the number of shares was fixed to 180, and the report of the Committee to lay out the road was accepted, "provided the town of Winchester or any individuals give the further sum of $85 for the purpose of making the bridge over Ashuelot river."

On the 29th of July 1803 a contract was made between the corporation and Oliver Chapin by which the said Chapin agreed to guild a bridge over the Connecticut river at Barrett's Island, the road, and a bridge over the Ashuelot river, for the sum of $16,000, and take one half in the shares of the corporation at $100 each.

Nov. 27, 1804, at a meeting of the stockholders it was "Voted, unanimously to accept the bridge over the main river on the west side of Barrett's Island," and "to suspend the acceptance of the bridge over the Creek on the east side of Barrett's Island." The amount expended to this time was about $18,500.

The bridge over the main channel, which was an arch bridge built of wood, owing to a defect in its construction, fell to pieces in a very brief period after it was opened, and the following year a new bridge was built upon the same general plan to supply its place, at an expense of $6000, which was raised by an assessment of $35 per share.

Vermont Phoenix, May 1, 1862.

"The Bridges Near Brattleboro"







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