Milford seeks help saving Swing Bridge

MILFORD – One hun­dred years ago, women in long skirts walked over the bridge to their jobs at Milford’s textile mills.

Now, the mills have been turned into senior housing, and on fine days, children on scooters, dads pushing strollers and people out for some exercise go back and forth over the Swing Bridge to cross the Souhegan River in down­town Milford.

But the iron suspension bridge that joins Bridge and Souhegan streets is showing its age, and town officials want to prevent it from going the fate of another historic span, the Green Bridge, which was demolished and carted away this summer.

The Swing Bridge, built in 1889 and refurbished in 1975, needs full restora­tion, and the work could cost a half-million dollars, Town Administrator Mark Bender said.

The town is looking for help from the New Hamp­shire Preservation Alli­ance and its Seven to Save program.

The program picks sev­en endangered historic properties to spotlight each year. There is no money connected to the selection, but being on the list helps attract new investment and re-use op­tions for community land­marks.

Documentation to sup­port the town’s request in­cludes photos of severed wires, bent trusses and other problems, and "de­terioration from frequent traffic shows, as the struc­ture shakes and squeaks and peeling paint and rust are taking hold," the engi­neer’s report said.

The bridge is 200 feet long, made of towering uprights nearly three sto­ries high that support a wooden walkway hanging from cables.

It’s called the Swing Bridge because the first bridge at the site swayed. This one squeaks when people walk over it, and it bounces a bit if you jump up and down on it.

The original wooden bridge on the site was built in 1850 to allow mill workers to get to near­by textile and furniture mills.

"A wooden walkway and railing allowed for a precarious crossing, since the whole structure swayed," is how "The Granite Town" described it.

In 1869, the river car­ried that bridge away, and it was rebuilt and used until 1889 when the more durable iron bridge was built.

The engineering firm of Hoyle, Tanner and Asso­ciates recently classified the decking and support towers as fair, but the rest of it – the superstructure and the substructure – is considered poor based on Federal Highway Admin­istration standards.

Which means the bridge may eventually have to be closed.

"Left in its current con­dition without any repairs and under existing light duty, it is estimated that in the next five or 10 years, the bridge may require closure," according to the firm’s report.

The report also notes that the bridge was built "at the height of the Victo­rian era, which is evident through its elaborate iron work and detail."

Engineers recommend an annual maintenance plan, but, "This is not enough to save the bridge from further deteriora­tion, and the town’s on­going maintenance, such as replacing deck boards and replacing stringers, does not arrest decay," engineers wrote.

If the bridge is saved, "It would continue to pro­vide a safe transportation corridor for all trail uses through the congested downtown and encourage regular healthy exercise and recreation."

Towns chosen by Seven to Save can receive help that might include train­ing programs, mentoring retreats, workshops, and stories in the agency’s newsletter and public presentations to educate voters, said Maggie Stier, who heads the program for the nonprofit group.

The state’s Land and Community Heritage In­vestment Program, which provides grants to towns to protect natural and cul­tural resources, gives ex­tra consideration to Seven to Save listees, she said.

In the application for Seven to Save, the town has included supporting comments from residents, including Nicola McAllis­ter, who called the bridge "a very historic part of Milford. It should be re­stored. We love being able to walk into town over it!"

Nick Hardman, who was walking his dog across the bridge last week, called the bridge a "great part of Milford … with an old New England feel."

Stier said the cho­sen projects will be announced at the alli­ance’s annual meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 21. If Mil­ford’s bridge is chosen, it would be the first pedes­trian bridge to make the list.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.