In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

New Portland: Bridging the Past to the Future

Bridges of West New Portland

Text by Marilyn Gorman and Dianne Pease
With Images from New Portland Historical Society

Grist Mill Bridge:

The Grist Mill Bridge, also known as one of the Twin Bridges (along with Gould Hill Bridge) is located on the main street of the West Village, Rt. 146. This bridge was constructed by the Maine State Highway Commission in 1923. This two span slab concrete span is the eastern bridge of the pair. DOT records do not indicate what type of bridge was replaced by the present bridge.

Gould Hill Bridge:

The Gould Hill Bridge, also known as on of the Twin Bridges, was also constructed by the Maine State Highway Commission. Located on the main street and constructed in 1923. It is a two span concrete slab bridge and is the western bridge of the pair. Records do not indicate what type of bridge was replaced by the present bridge.

Tannery Bridge West New Portland
Tannery Bridge West New Portland

Item Contributed by
New Portland Historical Society

Tannery Bridge:

The Tannery Bridge is located on Tannery Street. It was constructed by the Maine State Highway Commission in 1953. It was a steel stringer bridge. It replaced a boxed timber pony truss. Photo records indicate that this old bridge was damaged in 1926, when the weight of a truck caused the floor beams to collapse. There is no indication in DOT's records whether the bridge was ever repaired, or if the crossing remained without a bridge from 1926 until 1953.

Wire Bridge:

Wire Bridge
Wire Bridge

Item Contributed by
New Portland Historical Society

The wire bridge is located in the West Village on the Wire Bridge Road, in a quiet country setting where people can picnic and enjoy the cold water of the Carrabassett River and take in the splendor of the old bridge.

In the book by Roland E. Foss, “The History of the New Portlands in Maine”, it states that “West New Portland has a landmark that should not be forgotten: the so called Wire Bridge over the Carrabassett River connecting the Parsons District with the Village. This bridge has been a topic of conversation in recent years, more in the last few weeks of the year 1950, because action was scheduled to be taken at the annual town meeting to repair the bridge.”

It's history dates back to 1838 when, at the annual town meeting, there was discussion relative to a bridge over Seven Mile Brook at this place. The reason this bridge thought of was so that the settlers on the North side could get to New Portland Village, as the current was swift there it was considered doubtful if a wooden bridge would stand the freshets or even high water.

Col. F. B. Morse who lived on the South road, came forward with the idea of a suspension or wire bridge. It was decided to build a wire bridge in 1840 and citizens voted to raise the sum of $2000. The bridge was to be built under the direction of Col. Morse who had been in the army and had engineering experience. He drew the design and ordered two cables to be made in Sheffield, England.

That summer under his direction, Elder Ezra Wilson and William Witham with a crew built the two abutments. It was said there was much criticism about the project and it was called, Colonel Morse's “Fool Bridge”. One prisoner from the state prison was brought here to do the welding.

Sometime in the winter of 1841 the cables came to Bath, Maine. That spring they were loaded on a schooner for Hallowell. Col. Morse ordered 16 pair of oxen in two heavy teams to make the trip to Hallowell to haul cables and fittings to New Portland. On the seventh day they returned bringing the cables and fittings. Moses Mitchell Sr. and Samuel Parker were the boss teamsters. This was in June 1841. In August of that year the cables were strung, and before cold weather the bridge was nearly complete. Work was suspended during the winter but early in the spring it was resumed. On June 20, 1842 the bridge was opened to traffic, the cost was $2,200. This was 108 years ago.

This bridge is a little off the main highway but many of those that know about it go to view this structure. As far as we know this is the only of it's kind in the United States.

Mr. Robert Whitten of the middle debunks this information as fluffery. His father, Charles Whitten, bridge construction engineer for the Maine State Highway Commission and a resident of New Portland researched the Wire Bridge and decided that the bridge was built between 1864 and 1866 by David Elder and Capt. Charles B. Clark. This information was authenticated by a town report dated March 1, 1866 and conversation that Charles Whitten had with the granddaughter of Capt. Clark. The item in the town report simply states “Paid David Elder, agent for bridge $3,624.97". Since the structure in town which could have cost that amount of money is the Wire Bridge, it seems fairly certain that is what the item refers to.

Whether the information in Mr. Foss's book is fact or fluffery remains to be seen. He interviewed many of New Portland's old timers and did not wake up one morning and decide when the wire bridge was built and how.

Mr. Whitten's facts are a little on the vague side as well. In 1863 the Covered Bridge was being built at the East Village and New Portland would have been supporting the efforts of the Civil War, probably an expensive venture. There is also a large rock that one of the cables of the wire bridge is attached to that has the year 1842 carved into it, so there are doubts on both sides.

In 1990, the Wire Bridge was dedicated as a Maine Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and a plaque was installed at the site.

Information obtained from Mr. Kurt Jergensen, Historic Planner, Maine DOT: “the Wire Bridge, constructed by David Elder and Capt. Charles B. Clark, 1864-1866, is the only early suspension bridge remaining in Maine and is one of the earliest examples in the U.S. Today. This exceptional 198' wire suspension span with wooden towers and a wooden deck system was very likely patterned after the similar bridge constructed over the Sandy River at Strong in 1856. The Wire Bridge was substantially rehabilitated in 1960, with new wire suspenders and new timber floorbeams installed, and strengthening of the tower's foundations and anchorages with concrete.”

Regardless of which date is accurate, New Portland is extremely fortunate and proud to have this marvelous structure in it's town. Hopefully it will be well preserved for many years and generations to come.