This bridge does not look like a bridge that was built in 1891. With a 26 foot wide deck, massive members, and riveted connections, it has more of a 1920s appearance. The only thing that makes it look as though it might be an older bridge is that it does not appear to conform to a state standard truss bridge plan. HistoricBridges.org double-checked the 1891 construction date on the plaque with some documents on the Internet, and this does indeed appear to be the original 1891 bridge. Assuming this bridge truly was built with riveted connections and pinned connections were not somehow converted to riveted connections at a later date, this is an extremely unusual and rare bridge. Riveted connections did not become popular especially in highway bridges until the early years of the 20th Century. Field riveting was difficult in the late 19th Century, and worse, the exact calculations needed for building the rigid trusses of a riveted connection truss was difficult, especially with a larger bridge that would undoubtedly tend to need to move and flex more as well. With its large Pennsylvania truss bridge spans, 1891 construction date, and riveted connections, the Willimansett is a very rare and significant bridge.
The bridge is currently programmed for a rehabilitation project. This is excellent news given the aesthetic qualities and historic significance of the bridge. As of 2008, the bridge had a 3% sufficiency rating. HistoricBridges.org (and apparently Massachusetts) both agree that this 3% sufficiency rating does not mean that rehabilitation is not possible, unwise, or unfeasible. Massachusetts has realized how often a sufficiency rating can be misleading and does not mean replacement is required. In other states where there does not exist a commitment to preservation, how many historic bridges have been needlessly demolished even with a much higher sufficiency rating such as 40%? Far too many!
R. F. Hawkins Iron Works of Springfield, Massachusetts was the builder of this bridge, and was named after Richard F. Hawkins.
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