New England is famed for its covered bridges, but its stone arch bridges are also deserving of admiration. One of New England’s most impressive stone bridges is the one in South Keene. Traveling west on 101, shortly after exiting Marlborough, one may see a massive white-gray stone span to the left of the road; this is the celebrated Cheshire Railroad Bridge.
When Keene was bypassed by other railways in the mid-1800’s, the residents banded together to form a railroad company that would connect Keene to other towns in New England; the Cheshire Railroad Company was the result. This structure was built in 1847 as a part of the rail line for the Cheshire Railroad which went from Winchendon, Massachusetts to Bellows Falls, Vermont. From Winchendon, the line connected with other railways to enable people to travel all the way to Boston.
This arch over the Branch River was one of the most demanding sections of the railway built; it has a span of 90 feet and is over 50 feet high. It is built of split-faced granite ashlar stones quarried from the nearby Thompson Farm in Roxbury, NH. It is considered one of the most impressive stone arch structures built in the United States before 1850. It wasn’t until the 20th century that other bridges were built to rival its height, span, or mass.
The railway was abandoned in 1972 and was eventually taken over by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation; the bridge is currently administered by the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development as part of its hiking trails division.
By the mid 1990’s the bridge was deteriorating, but due to a concerted effort by local historic and preservation groups and Keene city officials, the bridge was restored to its current condition with the aid of state and federal funding.
The bridge is open to pedestrians, and is a favorite of rock climbers. Please note if visiting this site: there are no railings on the bridge or its approaches, so one must be careful walking on or near it.
The bridge was placed on the National Historic Register in 2012. For a detailed history of the bridge with construction and engineering facts, consult the application that secured its place on the Register, available online.