Meriden's Stone Arch Bridges

In the decades following the Civil War, Meriden grew from a small town into a thriving industrial city. Numerous silverware factories each employed hundreds of people, and there were many other industries as well: brass lamps, cutlery, brass and iron castings, window shades, furniture hardware, shotguns, and music boxes were just a few of the products made in 19th-century Meriden. A portion of the town was incorporated as the City of Meriden in 1867 to provide for street paving, sidewalks, and other urban amenities. About the same time, two of the wooden bridges that crossed Harbor Brook, a stream that runs through the center of the built-up part of Meriden, were replaced with wide, well-built stone arches that were expected to stand the tests of time and floods. These arches, which themselves are now scheduled to be replaced, are described in greater detail below.

Cooper Street Bridge

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North elevation of Cooper Street Bridge

Cooper Street Bridge is built of rough-surfaced brownstone blocks set within a sandy pink mortar, with the joints raised and tooled. The arch rings consist of carefully cut stones, while the underside of the arch consists of a more rubble masonry. The spandrels extend upward to form low railings or parapets, finished with a coping of brownstone slabs. The bridge was completed in 1872.

Cooper Street Bridge spans 30.8 feet, and the faces of its arch are about 49 feet apart. The arch rests on 3.3-foot-high foundations consisting of three courses of large brownstone blocks, above which the arch keystone bottoms rise 6.8 feet. The cut-stone voussoirs are about 2.2-3.1 feet high, 0.8-1.5 feet wide, and extend 1.5-2.5 feet into the intrados, with a deeper, raised keystone. Storm drain discharges 19 and 21 inches in diameter run into the west and east arch foundations, respectively. Three cast-iron utility pipes — a 1.5-foot sewer main, an 8-inch water line, and an unidentified 8-inch line— run below the road level and extend through the intrados. South elevation of Cooper Street Bridge An 8-inch gas main is suspended along the south arch at about the bottom elevation of the keystone. Sometime before 1990, an unidentified 6-inch pipe mounted directly below the gas main was removed. The vanished pipe may be a gas main built along the same bridge face in 1892. Downstream of the bridge, the east bank of Harbor Brook is retained by a mortared rubble wall about 10 feet high. A similar wall extends about 5 feet upstream of the bridge on the west bank.

Published town reports show the Cooper Street Bridge was built during the fical year that ended August 31, 1872 for about $4,800. Cooper Street was in place by the early 1850s, and the new bridge almost certainly replaced an earlier timber structure, similar to the half dozen which remained over Harbor Brook into the 1890s. Documentation on the reasons for this significant local expenditure remains very limited. It is possible that Harbor Brook flood damages, and/or demand for better sidewalks, led to replacement of the Cooper Street and Center Street bridges with wide masonry structures. Roadway level, Cooper Street Bridge The structural, stylistic, and cost similarities between the Cooper Street Bridge and the Harbor Brook crossing at Center Street, built 1873-74, suggest both bridges were built by the same contractor. The better-preserved Cooper Street crossing remains an excellent example of an urban Connecticut masonry arch. It is perhaps the longest masonry arch span ever built in Meriden. The bridge appears to remain eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Center Street Bridge

West elevation of Center Street Bridge

Center Street Bridge is also built of rough-surfaced brownstone blocks. The arch rings consist of carefully cut stones, with a pronounced keystone, while the underside of the arch consists of a more rubble masonry. The bridge was completed in 1874.

Center Street Bridge spans 23 feet, and the faces of its arch are about 51 feet apart. East elevation of Center Street Bridge The arch rests on brownstone foundations several feet high and up to 5.3 feet deep, above which each arch rises 6.0 feet. The cut-stone voussoirs are about 2 feet high, 0.8-1.1 feet wide, and extend 1.5-2.5 feet into the intrados, with a deeper, raised keystone. The intrados consists of small pieces of mortared rubble, and is penetrated by cast-iron and concrete utility pipes: 4- and 6-inch gas lines, two 8-inch water lines, a 24- inch sewer main and an unidentified concrete conduit. Harbor Brook above and below the bridge is retained by mortared rubble masonry walls exhibiting several episodes of construction and repair.

The masonry spandrels originally extended about 4 feet above the voussoirs to form parapets with brownstone slab coping. By 1990, the integrity of the structure had already been compromised by removal of the downstream (west) spandrel to the top of the arch, on which a low concrete wall was installed. At that time, the upstream (east) parapet was relatively intact with some missing coping stones. Since 1990, the upstream coping has been replaced with a concrete cap. Chain link fences run along the surviving tops of both sides as well as the nearby retaining walls along the stream.

Detail of underside of arch, Center Street Bridge

Town reports indicate the Center Street Bridge was built during the fiscal year that ended August 31, 1874 for about $5,100. As with Cooper Street, the Center Street Bridge probably replaced an earlier timber structure. The Center Street crossing remains an interesting but highly altered example of an urban Connecticut masonry arch. The impact of alterations on the bridge's integrity calls into question its eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

Bird's-Eye View of Meriden in 1875

Bibliography

      Sources used in the preparation of this presentation.


This Web presentation is based upon on a recording project undertaken by Michael S. Raber in December 2001, which updated the forms in an inventory of Connecticut's historic highway bridges prepared by Matthew W. Roth and Bruce Clouette in 1991. The web version was funded by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and reviewed by the Connecticut Historical Commission. A copy of the full documentation prepared by Michael S. Raber will be permanently archived as part of the Connecticut Historic Preservation Collection at the Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut.

Web design by AHS, Inc., January 2003.