First Connecticut River Bridge

Courtesy of the Historical Society of Cheshire County

Col. Enoch Hale’s Connecticut River Bridge was completed in 1785, the first such crossing between New Hampshire and Vermont.

Prior to the 1780s there were no bridges spanning the Connecticut River. Col. Enoch Hale was determined to build such a bridge, despite the scornful laughter of the many people who said that it could not be done.

Hale was a well-known and prosperous citizen of Rindge, where he served as the town’s first magistrate and served for several years as selectman and town clerk in the 1770s and early 1780s. He also rose to the rank of colonel in the military during the Revolutionary War.

Hale petitioned the N.H. Legislature for the right to build and operate a toll bridge between Walpole and Bellows Falls. He was granted a charter for construction in December of 1783. Hale soon moved to Walpole the following year and began construction. The process was long and difficult; one young worker died when he fell from the bridge to the rocks below.

Hale’s Connecticut River Bridge was completed in 1785. This was the very first bridge to span the Connecticut River and remained the only bridge on the river until 1796. The bridge was 360 long. The Legislature set the rate of tolls at 3 cents for each person on foot, 6 cents for a horse and rider, and 12½ cents for a horse and wagon.

Early stage lines felt the tolls were too expensive. Consequently, stagecoaches often stopped at the entrance to the bridge to allow passengers to walk across the bridge while their baggage was pushed across in wheelbarrows. The owners of the bridge eventually reduced the tolls to end this practice.

The bridge was acclaimed to “exceed any ever built in America in strength, elegance, and public utility.” It is still considered one of America’s most outstanding bridge constructions of the 18th century.

The Connecticut River Bridge carried passengers for many years. It was eventually found to be weakened from decay, and a new bridge was built upriver in 1840. When the new bridge was completed, Col. Hale’s great engineering landmark, the first bridge over the Connecticut, was cut down and carried away by the waters of the river.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.