Plainfield, Windham County, CT
Engraving of Packerville Bridge, Plainfield Souvenir
(Click on images for larger view)
Packerville Bridge is a single-span stone-arch bridge built in 1886 .
It is located in a rural, residential part of Plainfield, Connecticut, just
downstream on Mill Brook from the stone dam that impounds Packers Pond.
In the immediate vicinity are several 19th-century buildings, including former
mill-owned multi-family houses, that reflect the area's past as the site
of a small textile-manufacturing village known as Packerville
. The mill complex itself, which included both a wood-frame and a stone
factory, is today marked only by foundations, millraces, and a chimney across
the town line in Canterbury.
Packerville Bridge spans 26
feet, with an overall length of 31 feet; the travel lane is 20 feet wide.
The roadway is carried about
20 feet above the brook, which runs through a rocky, wooded gorge at this
point. The bridge takes the form of a semicircular arch, springing from ledge
outcroppings at both ends.
The barrel of the arch is built
of squared-up granite blocks, about 1'-square by 2' long, of the grayish-pink
color associated with Westerly, Rhode Island. The spandrels (the side walls
of the bridge beyond the arch ring itself) are built from randomly sized
fieldstone, with small pieces of the dark shale found on the banks inserted
into many of the interstices. Although mortar has been applied to much of
the spandrel walls, the stonework appears to have been originally dry-laid.
The principal alteration to the bridge is the use of modern pre-cast concrete
"Jersey"-profile roadway barriers in place of the low wooden fence that formed
the original guardrail. Also, on all but the northwest corner, rubble channel
walls for the stream have been built up against the spandrels; these probably
date from the resumption of manufacturing in the early 20th century. Despite
these alterations, the setting and overall appearance of the bridge today
(December 2000) resemble to a remarkable degree those shown in the 1895 engraving
at the top of this page.
Packerville Bridge is significant as a well-preserved example of stone-arch
bridge construction (National Register Criterion C
). Stone arches represent a vernacular technology; they were built
using traditional carpentry and masonry skills that were available in nearly
every Connecticut community in the 19th century. The stonework is typical
of the rural dry-laid masonry of the period. Shaping of stone was limited
to the arch ring itself, where a more expensive stone was used and the faces
cut to provide a better bearing surface. Although probably brought
from Westerly, Rhode Island, the stone was hardly an exotic material:
similar pink granite slabs are used as the doorsteps of several Packerville
houses. The rubble stonework of the spandrels, which did little more
than support their own weight and resist the outward push of the roadway
fill, resembles that found in stone walls and house foundations throughout
the Connecticut countryside. Similar stone arches were built throughout
Connecticut from the 1790s to about 1900, wherever the importance of the
road, difficult conditions, or the threat of flooding from nearby millponds
justified the expense. Most have disappeared or been substantially
altered, so that today only about 20 comparable to Packerville Bridge remain
in the state.
Plainfield was hit by a tremendous flood on February 13, 1886, and most
of the town's bridges were damaged or washed away. Town records indicate
expenditures for a "temporary bridge at Packerville," so presumably the wooden
predecessor to this bridge was one of the ones that were destroyed.
Plainfield mason Nathaniel Olin (1819-1893) received $2,200 that year, probably
for building this bridge, with small additional sums paid for other materials
and teams of horses or oxen. Local tradition holds that Isaac J. Baldwin
(1833-1894) had a hand in its construction. Baldwin, born in nearby
Canterbury, was a land surveyor who spent most of his time in the West following
the death of his wife in 1869. In the late 1880s, however, he was back
in Plainfield, surveying properties for local millowners and publishing,
shortly before his death, a map of Plainfield and vicinity.
The millpond just upstream was the chief incentive to build in stone.
Severe rainstorms would swell rivers and streams, causing milldams to burst,
and the bridges downstream would be washed away. Although stone arches
could be damaged by such floods, they were thought to hold up better than
wooden bridges. In addition, although it was probably not a prime consideration,
the bridge's soaring geometry, contrasting granite and fieldstone masonry,
and wooded setting gave it exceptional visual qualities. Its scenic
value was appreciated at least as early as 1895, when a view of the bridge
appeared in the Plainfield Souvenir.
See step-by-step how stone arches were built in the nineteenth
Sources used in preparing this presentation
This Web presentation is based upon a National Register inventory/nomination
form written by Bruce Clouette in 1992 and on a recording project undertaken
by Michael S. Raber in September 2000. 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 Lisa Centola, PAST, Inc., December 2000.