SACO — After 11 years of discussion about the future of the historic Stackpole Bridge, a proposed $1.4 million restoration plan feels like progress to neighbors who have long advocated for the span to be saved.
“It’s a great bridge that was built in 1848 but has not really received any maintenance. It’s still a strong bridge that needs a little TLC,” said Inga Browne, who lives next to the bridge on Simpson Road and said “110 percent the bridge should be saved.”
The City Council will hold a workshop in December to discuss a recent report from Structures North Consulting Engineers of Salem, Mass., that recommends a rehabilitation plan to preserve the historic integrity of the structure. The plan likely is headed to a citywide referendum to approve $1.4 million in funding for the project, but the next step will have to be determined by city councilors.
The plan won the unanimous support of a committee formed earlier this year that included neighbors, city officials and representatives of the town of Buxton, whose border is about a mile from the bridge.
Friends of Stackpole Bridge, a separate group created by supporters, also favors a plan that would keep the bridge and improve safety.
For more than 160 years, the drystone bridge — the oldest stone bridge in Maine on a public roadway — has carried traffic across Stackpole Creek, which empties into the Saco River near the Dayton border.
The rural Saco neighborhood, dotted with 200-year-old farmhouses, has rallied around the bridge, which has been restricted to one lane for a decade and is closed any time it rains more than an inch.
“Simply put, this is a 19th-century structure designed and built to handle horses, carts and wagons,” said City Planner Bob Hamblen.
The bridge, eligible for National Historic Preservation status, is remarkable for its vaulted arch, which is shaped like a giant keyhole and rises 21 feet over the creek. During floods, water laps the top of the arch.
The Structures North plan — a hybrid of previous proposals to replace or restore the structure — would stabilize and restore the bridge’s lower masonry. It also calls for improvements to guardrails to meet Department of Transportation standards and removing the top course of masonry and replacing it with a new concrete roadway, essentially creating a “bridge within a bridge,” according to the report.
The DOT has recommended knocking down the bridge and replacing it with a new span, which Structures North estimates would be less expensive.
However, fixing the stone bridge would allow another 100 years of use, compared with the 50- to 75-year life span of a new bridge, said Browne, the resident who lives nearby.
“This ($1.4 million) cost is 7.5 percent higher than (the) replacement scheme, but preserves and protects the original historic structure and provides a new, full-capacity roadway,” Structures North president John Wathne wrote in his report.
Susan Littlefield, who lives next to the bridge and is and member of the friends group, said she would like to see the bridge saved and is looking forward to a time when she won’t have to make 8-mile detours to town when the bridge is closed.
She is encouraged by the city’s focus on historic preservation. This summer, the City Council decided to sell the former Central Fire Station to a developer who will restore the downtown building, which otherwise faced demolition.
Susan Littlefield’s daughter-in-law, Sarah Littlefield, said she would like to see the bridge restored and believes others in the city will support the plan as they become aware of it.
“The more people who are aware of the history the bridge holds, the more important it becomes,” Sarah Littlefield said.
Rep.-elect Justin Chenette of Saco helps maintain the Friends of Stackpole Bridge website and Facebook page. He said the bridge is important because of its connection to the history of rural Saco, where farms once provided food for millworkers in Biddeford and Saco.
“It’s a gem for the state and a rural icon in Saco,” Chenette said. “I really am excited that now, after more than a decade of work on this, that this is actually going to happen. It feels like we’re moving in the right direction.”
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:
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