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Historic Bridges

The Connecticut Department of Transportation published a book on "Connecticut's Historic Highway Bridges" in 1991. It reviews the history of our state bridges and discusses the different type of structures. The book calls itself a guide to the most outstanding of Connecticut's historic bridges with forty individual bridges described in detail.

The information on these bridges comes from the Connecticut Historic Bridge Inventory. They all meet the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places. A second goal of the project was to create a Preservation Plan for the state's historic bridges and help to preserve them.

Notably two of the bridges are located in the Tankerhoosen Valley - the keystone arch bridge on Tunnel Road and the iron bridge over the river in Talcottville.

Click on photos for full size images.

Vernon Tunnel Bridge

South approach to the tunnel.

The Vernon Tunnel bridge, known to the State Highway Department as Bridge No. 1617, is known locally as the Tunnel Road tunnel. The stone arch bridge is 110 feet in length and was built in 1849. It is a rare engineering structure from Connecticut's first generation of railroad construction. Tunnels such as this were needed when the railroad, in order to maintain a near-constant-elevation, constructed a high embankment. Massive ashlar masonry was typical of these early railroad structures. The tunnel outlived the rail line, which was abandoned in the late 1970's.

The following description is from a plaque installed by the Vernon Park & Rec Department near the south end of the tunnel: "This 108 foot keystone arch tunnel (longest in CT) was erected by the Hartford Providence and Fishkill Railroad between 1846 and 1849 as part of the first east-west railroad in Connecticut. An engineering marvel, it was built by masons and stone cutters, many newly arrive from Ireland, using only hand tools and oxen. A tremendous amount of earth fill was brought in and tamped to turn the sudden rise in elevation from Vernon Depot to Bolton Notch into the gentle incline necessary for trains to ascend. The tunnel was constructed to accommodate the long existent road from Lake Street to Vernon Center. The 14 foot wide and 16 foot high tunnel is constructed of 30 arches composed of native sandstone quarried from Box Mountain. Each arch is made of nine stones on either side of the keystone supported by five blocks. Along the inside corridor of the tunnel neither crack nor falling stone is evident, a tribute to the pride and craftsmanship of its creators. The Tunnel Road Tunnel is included in 'Historic Bridges in Connecticut' and 'Connecticut Register of Historic Places'."

Legend has it that one of the stone masons who worked on the tunnel carved 'Grady, Jerry' into the rock like an artist signing his work.

Although not currently on the National Register of Historic Places this bridge is judged to be eligible. There have been several attempts to replace it with a two lane road, but residents have resisted the change. Traffic flowed much more smoothly through the one lane tunnel before the state, in its wisdom, added stop signs forcing only one car to go through at a time. Before the signs there was an unwritten rule among regular users that three cars would go through at a time.

On the south side of the tunnel is an access to the Rail Trail with an informational sign. The Vernon Greenways Volunteers created and maintain the garden and sign.

Vernon Tunnel Vernon Greenways Volunteers Tunnel Sign
View showing keystone, arch and interior.
Vernon Greenways Volunteers prepare site.
Plaque from Vernon Parks & Rec Dept.

Talcottville Main Street Bridge

The bridge leads to the Talcott Ravine.

The Talcottville Bridge, state Bridge No. 4575, is a wrought-iron lenticular pony truss, one of the best preserved of about a half-dozen of this type left in the state.

The bridge is 58 feet in length and was built in 1891 by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company. The Berlin Iron Bridge Company was Connecticut's only large-scale fabricator of metal-truss bridges in the 19th century. Some 400 employees worked at its East Berlin plant, and hundreds of others worked in the field erecting the bridges. Over 1,000 Berlin bridges are believed to have been built before 1900. The company mostly built small-town highway bridges using its patented lenticular or parabolic truss design. Learn more about the Berlin Iron Bridge Company.

The bridge is typical of Berlin Iron Bridge Company's smaller spans. It uses tapered uprights, floor beams that are deeper in the center than at the ends, "hairpin" hangers connecting the beams to the lower chord joints, and the company's distinctive lattice railing with cast-iron rosettes. Only one orb-shaped finial remains as a postal decoration, but presumably such finials graced the other corners of the bridge as well. Architectural details include a decorative iron rail along the pedestrian walkway. Structurally, the bridge is now supported on an I-beam structure hidden beneath the deck.

Although it only accesses a dead end today, when built Main Street was an important road connecting the bustling mill village of Talcottville with Manchester and the rest of Vernon. On the west side was a sidewalk, now gone and supporting a gas line. Trolley tracks crossed on separate pedestals on the pond side of the bridge.

The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Talcottville Historic District.

Vernon is studying the feasibility of retaining and preserving this historic structure, which presently serves only three houses and is not strong enough to sustain the weight of modern emergency vehicles.

Ornaments Ornaments Ornaments
The iron bridge from the west.
Rusty iron & lattice railing.
Once a sidewalk, now a gas pipe.

Sources

"Connecticut's Historic Highway Bridges" by Bruce Clouette and Matthew Roth, 1991, CT Department of Transportation, 101 pages. Available at the Rockville Public Library.

Berlin Iron Bridge Company web page of the Public Archaeology Survey Team, Inc website.

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