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Stone Arch Bridges

Stone arch bridges are from a bygone era. Their graceful arches and stonework sides still attract attention. Built to last, a stone arch bridge in Ipswich, MA is over 240 years old and still in active use with heavy volume traffic today. Some bridges had a single arch while others had twin arches. Most were built after stone quarrying developed to the point of being able to split square blocks off regularly (i.e. Post 1803). Arched bridges ranged in quality like any other structure. Here are a few examples.

Choate Arched Bridge – 1764 – Ipswich, MA
Choate Bridge was originally a single lane. A later addition widened the road to two lanes as seen in photograph of underside. Small darker stones on left side are from original bridge. The type of stone apparently was easy to break apart and shape into uniform blocks as the original bridge was built long before commercial quarrying methods were developed.

Small arched bridge connecting Arlington and Lexington, MA
On an abandoned dirt road, this quaint little bridge now serves walkers around a town reservoir. Years ago it connected the outskirts of two adjoining towns. Its arch is formed by using trapezoid shaped blocks. Roughly shaped fieldstone boulders were faced off for a finished look to outside surface of abutments and road base above bridge. It is the only example in this collection with mortar to keep the stones in place.

Jewel Mill Arched Bridge - next to Route 1, Rowley, MA (Privately Owned)
The bridge once served an active and busy grist mill. It connected the mill with Newburyport Turnpike (now Route 1). It was built between 1850-1872. The arch was built of quarried bars. The first three levels of stone are 1- graduated, 2- larger than rest of arch stones. Curve for arch was formed by placing stone wedges at back of bars to tilt bar into correct angle. Bridge was angled across path of road following the path of the Little River. Note at top of arch builders had a slight problem. Instead of a key stone there are two filler stones, one on top of the other. Abutments were constructed of split and unsplit field boulders. Outer surface was left with an unfinished look.

Contoocook River Valley style stone arch bridge - southwestern New Hampshire
According to signage twin arches were the favored style for the river valley.  They were built during the first half of the nineteenth century. The bridge pictured here has a semi-faced off finish on outer surface of abutments. To keep wagons and animals from falling off edges, thin iron posts and a single rail were erected along length of bridge. Remnants of this early guard rail are still there.

Ipswich, Massachusetts
Ipswich has two excellent examples of stone arch bridges the old Choate Bridge in center of town and this beautiful bridge on another street. Quarried blocks from the same quarry with rust and gray colors contribute to the bridge’s beauty. The arch was formed by placing the base block on an angle probably with a wedge behind it. This arch has a constant even curve across its whole width. It shows the workmanship of master builders. Abutments were made of semi-finished blocks giving a finished look to the whole bridge. The bridge was probably a show piece when it was built.

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