For at least half of the 20th century, Woodsville, at the junction of the Ammonoosuc and Connecticut rivers, was a major rail hub. It remains a commercial hub.
The present Rte 302 bridge (Veterans Memorial Bridge) is approximately where the first Ranger Bridge once stood. The Ranger Bridge had a comparatively short life from its construction in 1917 until its destruction, by ice, five years later. The bridge got its name from Rogers’ Rangers, who had conducted a daring raid on St. Francis, Canada, in 1759.
North of the Rte 302 bridge, the Railroad Bridge linked Wells River, VT to Woodsville, NH. Built in 1853, not only was it the longest single-span bridge in the country, it was also a double-decker – trains on top and road traffic beneath. Made of wood, it endured until 1904, when it was replaced with a steel structure.
Shortly after crossing the bridge and cresting the short rise is a building on the left that is readily recognizable by its architecture as once having been a Railroad Station.
The railroad came to Woodsville in 1853 and the town was a thriving railroad hub until the mid 1960’s. The building, now a commercial establishment, was built in 1921 after the original depot was damaged by fire.
Standing opposite the railroad station at the junction of Rtes 135 and 302 is the 1890 Opera Block Building. The southern end of the block was the Opera Hall with a stage, scenery, and opera chairs with a seating capacity of 600! It has been home to banks, stores, medical and law offices, the railroad YMCA and the post office.
At this junction turn left on Rte 135 north. Then take the first turn right, quickly followed by the first turn left. Park and walk down to the Haverhill/Bath Covered Bridge.
Reputed to be the oldest covered bridge in the United States, this 1829 bridge has never been destroyed and rebuilt unlike many other such structures. It was closed in recent years because it was impossible to take fire and ambulance equipment over it to serve people on the other side of the bridge. Funds are now being raised to ensure the bridge’s preservation.
From your parking spot, retrace your route back to Rte 135 where you will turn left (heading back toward Woodsville and the major intersection). Go across the intersection, staying on Rte 135. Almost immediately on your right, just past the post office , is the Old Grafton County Court House. It was built in 1889.
Turn around and return to Rte 302 and turn right. Rte 302 through Woodsville is known as Central Street and runs parallel to where the railroad tracks once ran. Before the construction of the railroad in 1853, there were only a half-dozen dwellings, a sawmill and gristmill, a blacksmith shop, and a store. Continue approximately 1 mile to the junction of Rtes 302 and 10. Turn right and drive for about 1.1 miles. Be prepared to pull off on the ample parking space to the right to examine the Rogers’ Rangers Historic Marker. The marker tells the tragic sequel to the Rogers’ Rangers’ destruction of St. Francis, Quebec in 1759.
All tour information provided by Larry Coffin. Check out his In Times Past blog.