Packerville Bridge 
  Plainfield, Windham County, CT


Packerville Bridge, 1895
Engraving of Packerville Bridge, Plainfield Souvenir , 1895


Description

(Click on images for larger view) Color photo 3

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.

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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.

Color photo 1 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.




Significance

color image 4 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



How stone arches were built . . .

     See step-by-step how stone arches were built in the nineteenth century.

Bibliography

     Sources used in preparing this presentation


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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.