10 votes

Schell Bridge


Oblique View From Northeast Abutment, Looking West

Photo taken by Historic American Engineering Record

View photos at Library of Congress

BH Photo #135033

Street View 

History of the Schell Memorial Bridge 

Written by Michael Quiet

The first bridge to span the Connecticut River as it flows southwards into Massachusetts from the Vermont/New Hampshire border is this beautiful, unique, and highly significant structure. The construction of the Schell Bridge (or the proper full name the Schell Memorial Bridge) was started in 1901 and completed in 1903, and served traffic until structural deterioration forced its closing in 1985. Since then its future has been uncertain, with the state of Massachusetts trying more then once to demolish the bridge (with a lack of funding usually being a saving grace). Demolition is again planned for this bridge, with its removal and replacement with a pedestrian bridge a stated goal for the state by the end of the decade.

The history of the bridge is almost as fascinating as its design and structural details, so we will start on that front. The Schell Bridge is the first bridge at its location, replacing a wooden covered combination railroad/highway bridge downstream. The old bridge (located where the current NECR Connecticut River bridge is - ID# bh56313) was unpopular with residents, who had to deal with soot, noise, and spooked horses from overhead trains on the combination bridge (as well as rent fees). The town moved to build its own independent highway bridge when the old wooden bridge was condemned, but disputes over funding arose, with the town not wanting to have to expend more then it would cost to continue to share a bridge with the railroad.

The solution was a wealthy summer resident named Francis Schell, who had become interested in Northfield due to the Evangelical work of a town resident named Dwight Moody, who maintained a Seminary in the town and held religious conferences throughout the summer. The two became good friends, and Schell maintained his relationship with the school and town even after Moodys death in 1899. The new bridge would have several benefits for the school as well as the summer conferences (as it would give easier access to a nearby rail depot). Schell generously offered to pay the entire sum for the bridge (initially $32,000), granted that the bridge would be named in memorial of his recently deceased father.

The original design called for a simple 3 span system crossing the river, however with the bridges new benefactor wanting it to be a worthy memorial bridge he added an additional $6000 to ensure that no details were omitted from this bridge. The new design called for a single arched span, utilizing a cantilever system deigned by Edward Shaw. Several ornate details were added at this time, giving the bridge its elegant and unique Gothic themes. The mechanics of the design are quite unique and deserve further discussion.

The system functions as a cantilever while at a dead load, with it acting as a single span between the piers, with the two outward spans cantilevered out from this span. Thus, with no live load no weight is applied to the abutments; the piers carry the entire load. When a live load is applied to the system however the span acts as a continuous truss across the abutments and piers. Evidence of this system can be found at the abutments, with large springs being located at the abutments, which are in place to counteract the upward force of the cantilever arms when the center span is under load.

Certainly this bridge has a incredible amount of local history associated with it, making that alone worthy for preservation. Add also its unique and elegant design, say nothing about its striking beauty. We should also consider its practical nature, as with the large span between the piers the bridge has little exposure to river flow, which undoubtedly helped it survive the great flood of 1936 that damaged or destroyed most of the bridges along the Connecticut river. A continued maintenance and preservation of this generous and beautiful gift from Francis Schell would be a worthy testament, instead of the proposed demolition simply for the sake of expediency.


Cantilevered Pennsylvania through truss bridge over Connecticut River on East Northfield Road in Northfield
Northfield, Franklin County, Massachusetts
Closed to all traffic
Future prospects
Slated for demolition and replacement. This is a project proposed by MassDOT and is now supported by the "Friends of Schell Bridge," a group once dedicated to preserving this bridge!
Built 1903 by New England Structural Co.; Closed 1985
- Edward S. Shaw of Boston, Massachusetts
- Ellis & Buswell
- New England Structural Co. of Boston, Massachusetts
Riverted Cantilevered Pennsylvania through truss
Length of largest span: 352.1 ft.
Total length: 515.0 ft.
Deck width: 17.4 ft.
Approximate latitude, longitude
+42.71258, -72.45370   (decimal degrees)
42°42'45" N, 72°27'13" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
18/708515/4732042 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Inventory number
BH 41280 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • December 9, 2022: New photo from Geoff Hubbs
  • January 13, 2022: New Street View added by Geoff Hubbs
  • July 31, 2021: New photos from Patrick Gurwell
  • March 1, 2018: New photo from Dana and Kay Klein
  • May 19, 2016: New photo from Art Suckewer
  • April 24, 2016: New photo from Art Suckewer
  • March 2, 2016: Essay added by Michael Quiet
  • January 3, 2015: New photo from Ian Martin
  • November 18, 2013: Updated by Nathan Holth: This bridge is now doomed.
  • March 8, 2009: Added by James Baughn

Related Bridges 



Schell Bridge
Posted June 18, 2022, by Steven W Lindsey (SteveLindsey60 [at] hotmail [dot] com)


MassDOT seeking funding to replace Schell Bridge in Northfield

by: Kayleigh Thomas

Posted: Jun 7, 2022 / 06:04 AM EDT

Updated: Jun 7, 2022 / 06:04 AM EDT

NORTHFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) MassDOT has filed a Rural Grant Application asking for $24 million to replace the Schell Pedestrian Bridge in Northfield. The historic bridge spans the Connecticut river.

The total cost of the project would be around $60 million. The bridge was shut down back in 19-85 after it was deemed structurally unsafe.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Schell Bridge
Posted June 5, 2018, by Nathan B Holth (webmaster [at] historicbridges [dot] org)

Where is the Section 106 documentation as required by federal law indicating that all feasible and prudent alternatives to adverse effect have been considered? To my knowledge this has not been completed. Thus the below referenced clarification article is important... all these efforts as near as I understand are meaningless under the law.

Schell Bridge
Posted June 4, 2018, by Steve Lindsey (stevelindsey60 [at] hotmail [dot] com)

My proposal for renaming the new bridge: http://www.bostonherald.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/20...

Schell Bridge
Posted June 4, 2018, by Steve Lindsey (stevelindsey60 [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Clarification on recent Greenfield Recorder article. http://www.recorder.com/Letter-to-the-Editor-Clarifying-brid...

Schell Bridge
Posted June 4, 2018, by Steve Lindsey (stevelindsey60 [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Replacement span design chosen. A modern arch bridge. http://www.recorder.com/Schell-Bridge-design-decision-175034...

Schell Bridge commentary
Posted February 15, 2018, by Steve Lindsey (stevelindsey60 [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Some excellent commentary on the fate awaiting the Schell Bridge here. Maybe some of you should consider joining me in commentating following a Greenfield Recorder newspaper article. Save one article, my opposition to the replacement of this heritage span never made print even through I spoke passionately at public hearings...

All stake holders appear to be on board with this "done deal."

Bring "the war" to them, with opposition commentary following articles. . Like I have. Let dissident voices be heard too. Let the historical record show...


A former reporter.

Schell Bridge bicycle bridge replacement options narrowed.
Posted February 15, 2018, by Steve Lindsey (stevelindsey60 [at] hotmail [dot] com)
Schell Bridge
Posted November 1, 2017, by Michael Quiet (mquiet [at] gmail [dot] com)

Townsfolk got their options for what kind of boring prefabricated bridge they want to replace the historic bridge...Looks like they want an arch bridge:


Missing is option #9 to recognize the historic value of this bridge and to rehabilitate and preserve it.

Schell Bridge
Posted September 25, 2016, by Echo Anderson (Echo Anderson [at] Outlook [dot] com)

They are no longer a friends group! God bless the people who want to save the historic bridges!

Schell Bridge
Posted September 9, 2016, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

The fact that they call themselves a "Friends" group is rather pathetic at this point!

As always, kudos to Mr. Baslee for the continued use of his "Award winning" photo!

Schell Bridge
Posted September 9, 2016, by Michael Quiet (mquiet [at] gmail [dot] com)

New article from back in June that I just noticed.


Key takeaways:

1. Article is callous to the extreme (or even hostile) towards historic bridges.

2. The nearby General Pierce bridge (a beautiful, and somewhat later, example of a multi-span Pennsylvania truss) should now be considered under threat.

3. Apparently using state funding appropriated for "Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement" to demolish a historic bridge in rural Northern Massachusetts that hasn't been open for 30+ years is acceptable.

And my favorite:

Oh my God! I hope I live that long, said Jennifer Tufts, former president of Friends of the Schell Bridge when she was told the news. Its thrilling news. Im very hopeful this project will move forward at last.

....The person who was *president* of a group that was meant to *save* the historic truss bridge thinks that its "thrilling" that the bridge will be replaced "at last".

That's some good friends this bridge has

Schell Bridge
Posted May 26, 2016, by Nathan Holth (nathan [at] historicbridges [dot] org)

I do want to note also that MassDOT's proposed replacement of this bridge not only will use federal funding, it may require an Army Corps permit as well. Either aspect federal involvement is sufficient to trigger a Section 106 Review. As such, MassDOT will face the burden of demonstrating that there is no feasible and prudent alternative to replacement that avoids or minimizes adverse effect to this historic bridge. It is my opinion that rehabilitation, potentially with in-kind riveted replacement of substantial portions of the bridge would meet a project Purpose and Need while avoiding or minimizing adverse effect. I look forward to participating in this Section 106 Review and providing input and comment onto the detailed Alternatives Analysis that it is my expectation will be a part of this review. Further, if the outcome of Section 106 is an adverse effect such as demolition it is my expectation that very extensive mitigation will be required of a bridge of such unique design and high historic significance.

Schell Bridge
Posted May 26, 2016, by Michael Quiet (MQuiet [at] Gmail [dot] com)

You found the correct bridge Nathan that is often cited as having drawn reference from the Schell bridge...I agree with you in that I don't see the resemblance that others tout either. The vague curvature of the upper chord is enough to sell other people apparently...

Having the luxury of visited both bridges makes this whole affair even worse for me, as I've enjoyed the beauty of the Schell bridge and seen the bland, boring future that awaits it. Even if they throw some of the portal elements on it, a welded modern bridge will never compare with the beautifully complex geometry of a completely unique riveted cantilevered Pennsylvania truss with built up members. Its going to be a truly devastating loss

Schell Bridge
Posted May 25, 2016, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

There is no replacement that compare to this iconic span... They might as well just implode it and buy an MOB.

Schell Bridge
Posted May 25, 2016, by Nathan Holth (nathan [at] historicbridges [dot] org)

Steve (or anyone)... I have heard a lot of talk about some bridge in Keene, NH that supposedly is inspired by the Schell Bridge. However, when I search for this bridge I don't get a lot of results... the only bridge I can find referenced as the "Keene North Bridge" is this three-span welded bridge over Highway 9 as shown in this street view:


However this bridge bears no resemblance of any kind to the Schell Bridge aside from the fact that its made of metal, its rusty, and the center span has a curved top chord. Curved top chords are standard for any modern prefab truss bridge with a span of this length, and not custom/special in any way).

I continue to believe that people are being severely misled by MassDOT with claims that a replacement bridge would look even remotely like the historic Schell Bridge.

Perhaps my opinion of pedestrian overpasses is clouded by my recent life-changing experience of beholding in person the awe-inspiring beauty of Indiana's Freedom Bridge soaring over IN-25, but I find this bridge in Keene over Highway 9 to be little more than a run of the mill modern weathering steel welded pedestrian truss bridge.

Schell Bridge
Posted May 25, 2016, by Steve Lindsey (SteveLindsey60 [at] hotmail [dot] com)

While the replacement span, partially inspired by Keene, NH's "North" bicycle bridge which was in and of itself inspired by the Schell, may incorporate some of the Schell's portal architectural elements, it will be a replacement.

After the recent dismantlement of Boston's Northern Avenue Bridge and Lowell's Textile Memorial Bridge, the loss of the Schell will be felt keenly for those who love iron and steel vintage trusses. The value of such spans never really caught on in New England outside of Vermont.

Schell Bridge
Posted March 2, 2016, by Carolyn Susor

For such a big bridge, it doesn't look like it was connected to any major roads.

Schell Bridge
Posted December 20, 2014, by Mike Tetrault (isabeats [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Satan's Kingdom is a wildlife management area, not a town.

Schell Bridge
Posted November 19, 2014, by Tony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

Can you say LAME!!!

Photo by Todd Baslee

Schell Bridge
Posted November 18, 2014, by ArtS (asuckewer [at] knite [dot] com)



They plan to spend $5M on a pedestrian bridge that looks like the original rather than restore the original!

Schell Bridge
Posted March 11, 2009, by Todd Walker (twalk41 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

There is an active push to save this bridge by a group of historians that live in the area. Look up "Schell Bridge" on google and you can see their website. I am all for preserving historic bridges. Who needs too many UCEB's to spoil America's landscape.