Completed in 1847 for the Cheshire Railroad, the great stone arched bridge at South Keene was one of the most impressive masonry arches constructed in the United States before 1850. With twenty arched granite bridges and culverts, more than a hundred stone box culverts and cattle underpasses (some of which support over a hundred feet of overburden), and impressive cuts and fills along the forty-three-mile route, the Cheshire Railroad surpassed all other rail lines in New Hampshire in its mastery of masonry construction and in the bold use of the stone arch for its many stream crossings. With a span of sixty-eight feet, the South Keene bridge was the single most impressive feature on the line. It was designed by Lucian Tilton (1812–1877), with involvement by William Scollay Whitwell (1809–1899), both of whom attained eminence and national recognition in railroad engineering and, in the case of Whitwell, in water supply engineering and tunneling as well. The bridge is significant for its aesthetics, utilizing carefully split granite ashlar to create a composition that juxtaposes the vertical arc of the bridge vault with the horizontal sweep of curved wing walls, thereby creating a design that surpasses most comparable spans of its era in visual impact. It resembles a few predecessors of similar design on other important New England railroads, notably a series of stone railroad arches built on the Western Railroad in western Massachusetts by George Washington Whistler (1800–1849) during the late 1830s and early 1840s. Even with granite quarried nearby, the Keene bridge was not built easily; in the fall of 1846, a violent windstorm destroyed the massive wooden centering that had nearly been completed to support the stonework of the arch.
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Arched Railroad Bridge
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