• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #58: String Bridge, Exeter


A tougher climb than it looks.

There are two ways across the Exeter River in town. And yeah, I've got some love for the modestly named Great Bridge where the dam used to be (you know, the one they put our names on during the 2003 renovations), but the String Bridge is a far more interesting and romantic structure. Spanning the water where the Exeter becomes the Squamscott, the String Bridge has been through a variety of incarnations since the 1640s. I'll defer to town historian Barbara Rimkunas for her excellent (as ever) piece on the bridge. Give it a read for some fun tidbits on local history, including the real story of how the bridge got its name:

http://exeterhistory.blogspot.com/2011/12/how-string-bridge-got-its-name.html

I've always loved the slouching, careworn personality of String Bridge, the ultra-Yankee utilitarian pebbled cement surfaces, the stoic unapologetic grimy unattractiveness of it. This was a bridge that had seen it all, and didn't need your aesthetic validation. It wasn't there to look pretty, it was there to get you to the other side of the river. And it did its job, even as it sagged with age and fatigue here and there, with tired pavement and crumbling concrete railings. The view, too, is always something I've enjoyed there. You can gaze out toward the parkway or back up into the guts of the downtown: it was always the best place to look at the river. I haven't seen it since the dam removal, and I'm curious about how the character of the bridge has changed. I understand the bridge itself may be getting a facelift too - nothing too pretty, I hope.

One of my favorite stories from high school involves that bridge. In November of our senior year in 1992, three of us tried to cross the river on foot late one night (early one morning?). Halfway across we thought better of it, and instead ascended the bridge with the help of an adjacent tree. Two of us had made it, with the third clinging to the sheer edge of the bridge when an Exeter Police patrol car paid us a visit. Leaving our third member to play poor man's Spidey below, the two of us atop the bridge spun a yarn of teen paramours out for a stroll. The constable moved along with the halfhearted suggestion that we find our way home, and eventually we were able to help pull our friend up and over the railing. As adventures go, it's pretty mild. But it helped seal my affection for the town this Stratham kid would adopt as home for many years. And to this day, I can't cross String Bridge without thinking of Nate dangling from the side.

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