Completed in 1847, the great Stone Arch Bridge that spans the Branch River in South Keene, New Hampshire, was one of the most impressive masonry arches to be constructed in the United States before 1850. Playing a crucial link in the transportation system in the former Cheshire Railroad that extended 42.81 miles from the Massachusetts border at Fitzwilliam to a point near the Vermont border at North Walpole. The arch over Branch River surmounted the final major obstacle preventing a railroad connection to Keene from the south. Following completion of the bridge in 1847, the Cheshire Railroad completed its route to the heart of Keene and opened the road to regular traffic on May 16, 1848 with the arrival of a special excursion train from Boston. The Cheshire Railroad was officially abandoned along most of its length in 1972, and in the early 1990s, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation purchased approximately 40 linear miles of the railroad in the towns and cities of Fitzwilliam, Troy, Marlborough, Keene, Surry, Westmoreland, and Walpole. The bridge, designed by railway engineer Lucian Tilton (1812-1877) with the involvement of William Scollay Whitwell (1809-1899), is built into a 700 +foot-long earthen causeway that is elevated some 48 feet above the banks of the river, with the arch possessing a radius of 34’-0”--- giving the bridge a clear span at the spring line of 68’-0”.
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