East Putney Brook Stone Arch Bridge

East Putney Brook Stone Arch Bridge

Site: V04-15
Municipality: Putney, VT
Location: River Road, East Putney
Site Type: Bridge
Vt Survey No: 1313-20
UTMs: (Zone 18) E: 706325. N: 4762150.


National Register Nomination Information:


The East Putney Brook Stone Arch Bridge carries a former town highway (River Road) across East Putney Brook, 3.9 miles northeast of Putney village. Beyond the partly wooded margins of the brook, the site of the bridge is generally surrounded by large open fields used for agriculture. A mason and intuitive engineer from nearby Townshend, Vermont named James Otis Follett constructed the bridge in 1902 at a cost of $1,500. One of eleven extant stone bridges built by Follett, the East Putney Brook bridge remains unaltered and structurally sound. However, owing to its one-lane width and location on a curve, the bridge was bypassed in circa 1965 by the reconstruction of the road on a less curved alignment immediately to the east.

The East Putney Brook Stone Arch Bridge consists of a single span supported by a stone segmental arch. At its base, the arch extends about 30 feet; it rises about 11 feet above the surface of the brook. The overall width of the arch between faces is 16.5 feet, giving the roadway only one travel lane for modern vehicles. At its corners, the arch is abutted by wing walls which flare outward from both faces.

The arch itself is built of large, mostly rectangular blocks and slabs of granite, which are roughly pitched and mortared into somewhat irregular courses. The keystone on each face of the arch projects slightly beyond its vertical plane. The spandrels of the arch are infilled with irregularly shaped granite blocks and rubble mortared into irregular courses. The single deck course, which rests directly atop the arch, is laid with rectangular granite slabs, over which is laid the gravel road surface. The wing walls are built in the manner of the spandrels.

A unique juxtaposition of arched structures exists in proximity to the East Putney Brook Stone Arch Bridge. The reconstructed River Road crosses the brook immediately to the east on a corrugated metal culvert whose form follows closely,that of the stone arch bridge. Immediately again to the east of the River Road culvert, the Boston and Maine Railroad crosses the same brook on a mortared stone arch culvert which shares the form of the adjacent structures. The railroad culvert, which probably dates from the late nineteenth century, displays quoined corner courses on random ashlar; more recently it has been reinforced with massive concrete buttresses applied to its faces.


The East Putney Brook Stone Arch Bridge holds primary significance for being the work of an intuitive engineer, a farmer and mason from nearby Townshend, Vermont named James Otis Follett. The masonry arch applied by Follett in 1902 to carry a town highway across East Putney Brook represents a highly unusual structure among rural secondary road bridges in Vermont, especially for having been built after the turn of the twentieth century when iron and steel had almost completely displaced wood and stone in bridge construction. The East Putney Brook bridge together with nine other extant stone bridges and culverts built by Follett in Putney and Townshend constitute probably the largest group of such related structures in the state. (An eleventh bridge built by Follett--and the only one with two arch spans--survives in Walpole, New Hampshire.)

Born in East Jamaica, Vermont in 1843, James Otis Follett lived and worked most of his life on a farm in Townshend. Among other public activities, he served that town for several years as road commissioner, being responsible for the maintenance and improvement of its public highways. During the 1890's, Follett seems to have shifted his vocational emphasis from farming to masonry. The first known entry of payment to Follett for the construction of a "stonebridge" appears in the Townshend town records in 1894. Thereafter, Follett built one or two bridges almost every year until his death in 1911, creating substantial yet inexpensive structures to meet the needs of at least three small rural towns. Additionally, he constructed foundations for buildings and abutments for wood covered bridges, including in 1900 a center pier for the famous Holland Bridge (demolished in 1952) across the West River in Townshend.

The total number of bridges built by James Otis Follett is not known definitely. A grandson, Robert Follett of Ascutney, Vermont, estimates that he may have built about forty bridges. Entries in the Putney and Townshend records list payments to Follett for a total of about twenty bridges and culverts built on public highways in those two towns. The Putney records list payments for seven structures between 1902 and 1908; three arch bridges, including the East Putney Brook bridge (which is also the earliest of the seven structures), and one culvert are known to survive.

Although Follett lacked formal training in engineering, apparently he did consult a popular engineering text of the period, A Treatise on Masonry Construction by Ira Osborn Baker. A copy of the ninth edition, published in 1899 and apparently used by Follett, remains in the possession of the Follett family. The book describes methods of constructing stone arch bridges; however it is not known to what extent Follett actually depended on the book in his work, for he built at least four bridges in Townshend prior to the publication of his copy of the Baker text.

Whatever the source of his skill, Follett succeeded in building durable and handsomely crafted bridges. Some of them now carry truck loads which Follett could not have imagined, yet it has not been necessary to alter or reinforce them significantly. None of his bridges is known to have failed structurally; floods have destroyed some of them by undermining their foundations. Complementing their structural integrity, the Follett bridges possess distinctive aesthetic qualities in their individual variations of the arch form and stone material,

Currently the greatest general threat to the surviving Follett bridges is inadequate maintenance, both of the active and disused ones. The East Putney Brook bridge displays perhaps the finest architectural design among the Follett bridges built of cut stone blocks, yet active maintenance of the bridge has ceased In the case of a bridge across Fair Brook in Townshend, actual demolition is now being considered rather than repair of its somewhat deteriorated structure. The indifferent treatment of the Follett bridges derives partly from their inconspicuous locations on back roads, which tends to keep them from becoming more widely known and appreciated by the public.

Taken together, the surviving bridges constructed by James Otis Follett constitute a highly representative and intact record of the work of an extraordinary native builder. At the same time, the bridges belong among the first structures of their kind in Vermont. In response to the outstanding nature of these historic resources, the Historic American Engineering Record plans to conduct field surveys and systematic recordings of the remaining bridges. The Follett bridges deserve immediate public recognition and careful preservation to ensure the continued survival of this unique legacy from late nineteenth century rural Vermont.


Derry, Anne. James Otis Follette (sic), Bridgebuilder. Unpublished manuscript prepared for Graduate Program in Restoration and Preservation of Historic Architecture, Columbia University, New York, New York, 1975.

DeWolfe, Edith, Lura H. Frost, Edith I. Gassett, et al. eds. The History of Putney Vermont 1753-1953. Putney, Vermont: The Fortnightly Club, 1953.

Notes from interview of Robert Follett, Ascutney, Vermont by Michele Fromme on 9 July 1976.

FORM PREPARED BY: Hugh H. Henry, Historic Sites Researcher, Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, Pavilion Building, Montpelier, VT Tel: 802-828-3226. Date: September 20, 1976.

DATE ENTERED: December 12, 1976.
(Source 127)