Stockbridge's Old Stone Arch Bridge, one of state's oldest, closed -- but for how long?
STOCKBRIDGE -- The river runs under it -- actually, the rapid-rushing Marsh Brook connecting Stockbridge Bowl with the Housatonic -- but the historic Old Stone Arch Bridge just off Route 183 in the village of Interlaken is now closed to traffic because of severe deterioration.
Is it a bridge too far gone?
Before too long, town leaders will explore possible designs to restore it following Tuesday night's scheduled Select Board meeting that officially closed it to vehicles.
Listed on national and state historic district registries as part of the once-thriving industrial Old Curtisville section, the bridge was constructed in 1842 near the first wood-based newsprint paper mill in the U.S., according to the official Stockbridge town history. It's among the oldest stone-arch bridges in the state.
Following a scheduled annual inspection, the state Department of Transportation urged Stockbridge officials to close the bridge because of "cracking in the arch, arch wing and foundation stones," according to a DOT letter dated Sept. 28 and delivered to the Select Board and Town Administrator Jorja-Ann Marsden.
The certified letter from MassDOT Chief Engineer Thomas F. Broderick followed a phone call from District Highway Director Peter Niles to Marsden.
"Your immediate action is requested," the letter said.
The town's highway superintendent, Clinton Schneyer Jr., shut down the bridge immediately. He will be meeting with engineers to explore restoration options, Marsden said on Tuesday.
She anticipates extensive paperwork to win approval from town and state commissions and regulators for any repair work.
Acknowledging the town would have to jump through many hoops to gain permits, Marsden described herself as "a true optimist. I think there is a way for us to fix it so it can be used."
Ultimately, town voters would have to approve the project, possibly at next May's annual town meeting.
Leading a close-up inspection of the bridge for Eagle staffers on Tuesday, Interlaken resident Charles C. Wales, 90, a retired GE engineer who has lived on Willard Hill Road overlooking the site since 1956, pointed out failure in the wing walls last repaired 30 years ago and shored up about 20 years ago.
Scrambling down a brambled, leaf-covered slope to the rapids of Marsh Brook, also known as Larrywaug Brook, Wales pointed out a fault line up and over the arch, separating the stonework. Orange markings by state inspectors traced the damage.
Lime deposits had leached into the stonework and stalactites (mineral deposits) were spotted dangling from the underpinnings of the bridge.
According to Michael Verseckes of MassDOT, the decision to close the bridge came on Sept. 21, when the inspection was conducted.
The town owns the two-lane bridge, but federal regulations require periodic state inspection of any bridge longer than 20 feet, he explained. Although the Interlaken bridge is only 16 feet long, MassDOT has been inspecting it every year since 2007 at the town's request.
"The determination to close the bridge was based on a loss of mortar and cracks forming in the stones," Verseckes stated in an email message. "This bridge is in poor condition and prior to its closing, the town had reduced the weight limit on it to three tons."
The bridge carried an average of 200 vehicles a day, MassDOT reported.
The sudden shutdown came as a surprise to him, Wales said. It's only a minor inconvenience to a few Interlaken residents, he added. It would take drivers heading north three-quarters of a mile out of their way, Wales said.
"It's not a connector for the area and commerce doesn't depend on it," he said. But, he noted, the bridge is historically, architecturally and aesthetically significant.
To reach Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.
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