Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Indian Hole Bridge Repair

Indian Hole Bridge, Indian Well State Park
If you have ever walked out to the scenic falls at Indian Well State Park, or hiked the "blue dot" Paugussett Trail in that area, you've seen the large stone arch bridge over Indian Hole Brook. Indian Well Road runs across the top, but drivers cannot see the old stone arch below their cars.  The stonework was built from 1935-1937 during the Great Depression as part of the WPA program.

This stonework at the top of the bridge would be replaced with a concrete wall.
The bridge has been listed as deficient for some time now and in need of repair. The good news is that the state DOT is in the process of planning this repair, and intends to preserve the stone arches while making the bridge more structurally sound by placing a concrete slab under the roadway to better distribute the weight of vehicles crossing and by providing some drainage channels through the stonework.

Extensive retaining walls stretch into the distance
The bad news is that the stone "wingwalls" that you see on either side of the top of the bridge while driving over it will be replaced with concrete on the sides facing the road and capstones along the top. The bridge aesthetics will be degraded for people driving and walking over the bridge.

Indian Hole Bridge as viewed from the east
According to the DOT, the bridge was built in 1910, but this is incorrect. According to a 1936 report issued by the State Park and Forest Commission: "In the fall of 1935 the WPA workers took up the project of a stone-arch bridge, twenty-four foot span, on which they are still busy, with the prospect that it may be in use by next summer. This bridge will take the place of an old wooden one on the town road, which is in poor condition and due for retirement."

The Paugussett Trail runs below the retaining walls south of the bridge
The stonework along the road is extensive and typical for projects of the WPA (Work Progress Administration), a work program most active in the late 1930s.  WPA crews built 10,000 bridges across the United States during the depths of the Great Depression.  This particular WPA project was much more than an arch bridge. The stone retaining walls holding up Indian Well Road (but invisible by passing cars) are a good ten feet in height and continue for more than a quarter mile from the bridge. This was a massive undertaking.

Indian Well Road was a little-used gravel road leading to a Scout camp when the state purchased 157 acres in 1928 for the new Indian Well State Park (the cost was only $4,150). At that time, it was reported that "the approach to this park is unsatisfactory and parking space for cars is almost entirely lacking." But the park proved to be popular and by 1936 it had 150,000 visitors a year, including "11,400 camp days."  The WPA project was a necessity.

The best way to view the stone retaining walls is to park in the hiker lot across the road from the falls (a street sign points to The Maples). Venture through the woods down to Indian Hole Brook. In normal low summer flow, it is very easy to walk across the water here and go under the bridge. Cross the brook to see the long stone retaining wall heading off to the north. Then go back to the parking area and look for southbound blue trail blazes heading through the meadow and follow the blazes. After the trail enters the tree line, it turns right and then left again on old abandoned pavement. This used to be Indian Well Road before the WPA project.  As the trail follows the old pavement, a massive stone retain wall appears to the right, parallel to the trail. Eventually the hiking trail rises up to meet the stone wall, with stairs bringing hikers up to the current Indian Well Road.

Many people go under the bridge to explore
As an aside: The old road alignments from a 1934 aerial superimposed on a more recent aerial are interesting. Near the bottom of image, the old Indian Well Road went past some buildings. This part of the old road is now a section of the Paugussett Trail that has some old pavement under foot, and hikers can see the ruins of the old buildings under thick vines.  Heading north, the original road route rejoins the current route, but then veers to the east just before the location of the current bridge.

The red lines are road alignments from a 1934 aerial.
(Leavenworth Road and Indian Well Road were realigned after 1934)
The bridge is in the upper center portion of the image.
The road from the Maples used to go straight out to Indian Well Road rather than curving to the south like it does now, and it looks like the road had formerly continued across the road to join Leavenworth Road. In the 1934 aerial, there is an old trace visible through the forest (shown as a pale yellow line on the aerial below).  Route 110 was given a better curve subsequent to 1934.

Construction drawings: Here are some drawings from the DOT showing the existing and proposed work at the top of the bridge. This is from their application to the CT DEEP for a general permit for water resources construction activities (click images to enlarge):

Existing bridge (click to enlarge)

Proposal, showing stonework replaced with concrete wall 

"Twelfth Biennial Report of the Connecticut State Parks and Forests for the Fiscal Years July 1, 1934 to June 30, 1936" published 1936 by the State of Connecticut.

"Report of the State Park and Forest Commission to the Governor For the Fiscal Term ended June 30, 1928" published 1928 by the State of Connecticut and also the report for 1930 (both are available within a Google ebook that contains multiple reports).

DOT Project Info:  Project number 126-172 "Rehabilition of Bridge No. 01602." Contact is Kimberly C. Lesay, Transportation Assistant Planning Director, Bureau of Policy and Planning, CT DOT, 2800 Berlin Turnpike, P.O. Box 317546, Newington, CT 06131, (860) 594-2931

DOT Design Plans: 


  1. great research. can you share with historical society?

  2. Very interesting. The could use the sliced stone on the inside of the wing walls to get the same look for drivers and walkers.

    I wonder how they are going to divert traffic during construction of the replacement surface? Maybe a one lane bridge as the other side is replaced? No easy bypass options.

    1. They plan on the bridge being open to one lane during construction.