NEW SHARON – The dynamite charges went off but the old iron bridge didn’t budge Thursday.
It took more than three hours of an excavator with a jackhammer attached to bring it down shortly before 5:30 p.m., Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. said. Deputies will provide security at the site overnight, he said.
People had gathered to see the bridge built in 1916 topple into the Sandy River.
Onlookers had to be at least 500 feet away from the bridge site. Some walked along a snowmobile trail that runs by the Town Office off Cape Cod Hill Road. They left the trail to trudge through deeper snow to get a position on a cliff overlooking the river.
One person had a lawn chair, another a 5-gallon bucket that was tipped upside to use as a seat. The others sat in the snow to watch.
The Maine Department of Transportation notified New Sharon town officials last year that the old bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is in imminent danger of failing.
Selectmen made a decision Nov. 13, 2013, to allow the state to remove the bridge. Otherwise the town would have to pay for the costs if or when it was removed. The town did not have the money to pay for removal, selectmen Chairman Maynard Webster said at the time.
The bridge used to carry traffic from the old Route 2 but was closed to motor vehicles due to cracks in an abutment more than a decade ago. The bridge built in the 1950s runs parallel to the iron bridge.
Franklin County sheriff’s deputies and Maine State Police were in the area Thursday to keep people a safe distance away and to stop traffic on Route 2. Firefighters were also on hand.
Representatives of contractor CPM Constructors of Freeport, the Maine Department of Transportation, and Maine Rural Water Association were up on the cliff to watch. The tap-water line runs under the river. Maine Drilling & Blasting did the blasting.
DOT Project Resident David Doucette said explosives were set up on the northern and southern abutments. They had an excavator with set of shears ready to cut the bridge up once the abutments were blown from underneath it.
The plan was for the bridge to tip away from the Route 2 bridge and fall into the river.
CPM Safety Officer Bill Marquis said an access road was built so the sheers could get down to the bridge. Holes had been drilled to put the dynamite and caps into the abutments.
Preparation work to remove the bridge began last week.
People sat and waited. It was about 1:30 p.m. when a blast sounded. The whistles that people thought they would hear signaling 5 minutes, 1 minute and then all clear could not be heard from the cliff.
Marquis looked through a pair of binoculars to check out the site. He then used his cellphone to call down to workers.
All the shots went off but nothing happened, he said.
“The concrete is so soft they think it rifled back on them and blew old concrete out,” Marquis said. “The blast went off but it didn’t work.”
One young boy who sat and watched with family yelled, “Try it again.” That brought laughter from those around him.
“I walked back and forth to school across the bridge from kindergarten to sixth grade,” Pam Yeaton, who grew up in New Sharon, said. She lives in Wilton now but family members still live in town.
“We don’t have a walking path,” she said. “The other bridge is not safe to walk on,” referring to the traffic on busy Route 2.
When Julie Bartlett first moved to New Sharon she used to walk across the bridge with her dog.
“It was lovely to look at the river,” she said.
The iron bridge provided for the community a safe place to walk across to get to the downtown, post office and Town Office, Michelle Wynn of Chesterville said. The Post Office and the Town Office have since been moved from that area. The little downtown used to be used more, she said.
“When they actually put the barricades up, it was a sad day,” Bartlett said.