Old Stage Road Bridge Opens
Ribbon-cutting Held in the Snow on Saturday
By Aubry Bracco
Hampton Union, Tuesday, December 29, 2009
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Aubry Bracco photo]
HAMPTON FALLS — Community members braved the snow to celebrate the reopening of the Old Stage Road Bridge Saturday, and the cooperative effort that made restoration of the 184-year-old landmark a reality.
The "soft-opening" occurred on the bridge during a Dec. 26 ribbon-cutting. According to Hampton Falls resident and Old Stage Road Bridge Committee Chairperson Judy Wilson, a more extensive, community wide celebration will occur in the spring.
"It's the perfect example of a community effort that has resulted in the maintenance of a very historic structure," Hampton Falls resident Ted Tocci said before the presentation. "Now, it will be enjoyed by all future generations."
184 years and counting
According to Warren Brown's "History of Hampton Falls," residents of both Hampton and Hampton Falls "voted to build a bridge" in 1824. Construction was completed in 1825.
"Before 1825, there was no bridge over Taylor's River at Coffin's Mills," Brown wrote. "Previous to that time, travelers between the two towns were compelled to ford the stream, which was disagreeable when the water was high. Those hauling logs from the Hampton side were obliged to double their teams to enable them to get over and up the steep banks."
According to Joseph Dow's "History of Hampton," the property was owned by Stephen Coffin, who "bought with other property, the gristmill which, we have seen, was established at the same dam with the old sawmill on Taylor's River" in 1825. The gristmill was later deeded to Stephen's son, Aaron, before it "descended to" Aiken S. Coffin and then Sylvanus B. Coffin, according to Dow's history.
Brown's history indicates the bridge between both towns was repaired in 1859 and 1872 after its original 1825 erection date. It was later rebuilt in 1897.
According to Wilson, the bridge is "one of the few remaining double stone arch bridges in New Hampshire." In addition, historians on the Old Stage Road Bridge Committee said the bridge was once the only route between Boston and Portland.
The bridge was closed to traffic in 1997, after the state Department of Transportation (DOT) determined it was unsafe for traffic. Old Stage Road Bridge Committee officials said they have been working on plans to rehabilitate the bridge for four years.
In the 2009 election, articles passed in both communities authorized the towns to enter into an inter-municipal agreement so that the volunteer committee could move forward with its restoration efforts to transform the Old Stage Road Bridge into a pedestrian way.
'The generosity of neighbors and friends'
At Saturday's ribbon-cutting, Wilson recognized those who have helped her committee fulfill its goal of making the "historic bridge safe and functional once again.
"We've been looking forward to today for such a long time," Wilson said.
Wilson thanked Hampton and Hampton Falls town officials, town managers, building inspectors and boards of selectmen, as well as Hampton's Hurd family for their support throughout the project.
"(Additionally), we had the daunting task of raising private funds in the worst economy in decades," Wilson told the crowd, "but we're here today, thanks to the generosity of our neighbors and friends."
According to officials, a total of $45,000 in private funds was raised for the project.
Leadership Donors, who donated $5,000 or more for the bridge, included Tim and AnneMarie Samway, Larry and Fran Rice, Ted Tocci and Marietta Garavaglia, Judy Wilson and Larry Smith, and the Henry Family Charitable Trust.
Wilson said Vice Chairman of the Old Stage Road Bridge Committee, Steve Volpone, was in charge of the budget and made sure that "not a penny was wasted."
"Steve's mantra has been 'reuse, recycle or return' all materials," Wilson said. "As you all know, this project is a reality because our community support went far beyond money."
Wilson thanked the Seacoast Youth Association, who performed "pre-construction clearing and cleanup."
Peter Robart and Tom Roberts of Selectwood of Portsmouth; Don Quigley of the University of New Hampshire; and Ted Severance of Coastal Forrest Products in Bedford, were acknowledged for contributing their wood products to the project.
Wilson also acknowledged Wakeda Campground's Savage family, including Jan Hambleton, Terry Savage and Charlie Savage for donating "native Hampton Falls pine for roof purlins and interior guard rails."
According to Wilson, the Savage family patriarch, Charlie, who is currently in Florida for the winter and is in his late 80s, often calls home to his daughter, Jan, and asks about the bridge's progress.
"Jan said her Dad calls her and says, 'How's my bridge (coming along)?'" Wilson said.
Thanks were also paid to Jim White of Spruce Creek TV in Kittery, Maine, for documenting construction; Deanna Gamboa of Sunbelt rentals; Alex Dittami for donated signs; as well as "donated labor from Lisa and Peter Kucharski of Hampton Concrete, and discounted materials from Steve Moore of MMS Northeast of Hampton Falls who provided (the roof)."
Paul Rabenius and his "amazing" crew of Northway Builders of Seabrook also received accolades from Wilson.
"We would not be standing here today without your contribution and expertise," she told Rabenius.
As a "special after-Christmas present," Wilson presented Fran and Larry Rice, who have a full view of the bridge from their home, with a bundle of the snow-fencing utilized during construction, to thank them for dealing with a construction site for the past six months.
Finally, Wilson thanked members of the Old Stage Road Bridge Committee, "who, together, have put thousands of hours of hard work" into the project. Wilson granted Jack Fermery, the bridge's architect and "man of vision," the honor of cutting the ribbon.
'In the spirit of an old-fashioned barn-raising'
Following Saturday's presentation, community members crossed from the Hampton Falls side of the bridge into Hampton, and took time to enjoy the view and share construction stories.
Tim Samway of Hampton Falls, recalled the words of a resident at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting to describe the accomplishment.
"'They've turned an eyesore into a holiday postcard,'" Samway said.
"I appreciate the fact that this has become a reality," said Fran Rice, who now enjoys a picture-perfect view of the restored bridge from her home where she has lived for the past 30 years. "It's beyond our expectations, really beyond our expectations," she continued.
Although he was pleased to provide a rendering of a possible bridge, architect Jack Fermery admitted that he "never thought the bridge would actually be built."
Volpone lauded Fermery, 79, for his dedication and energy over the course of the project.
Nathan Page of Hampton is the current chairperson of the town's Conservation Commission, and was instrumental in working with Hampton, which donated legal services for the project.
Page highlighted the significance of the bridge in connecting two pieces of protected, historic land.
"The intent was to connect what Hampton Falls did with Applecrest and the Hurd Conservation Easement together ...; . Though it doesn't fully connect, it's an easy way for people to get to one from the other," Page said.
Community members are reminded that the restored Old Stage Road Bridge is open only to foot and bicycle traffic.