Canton Viaduct: Wikis


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Canton Viaduct
A west side view of the Canton Viaduct looking south with the former Revere Copper Mill in the background, April 1977.
Official name Canton Viaduct


  • The Great Wall of Canton
  • Canton's Great Wall
Carries 2 tracks (standard gauge) presently serving:
  • Canton River (Mill Pond)
  • Canton River Valley
  • Neponset Street
Locale Canton, Massachusetts

Norfolk County
USA United States

Maintained by Amtrak (owned by the MBTA)
ID number

Chief Engineer: William Gibbs McNeill

Design Blind arcade cavity wall
Material Bridge - Granite

Deck - Reinforced concrete

Piers in water 7 (15 on land)
Total length 615' (built on a one degree horizontal curve)
Height Varies due to valley contour, built with a stepped foundation.
  • 4' above ground level at southern end
  • 60' above river level
  • 70' maximum height (from foundation to capstones)
Longest span 2 at 28' (granite/concrete deck arches over the granite roadway portal)
Number of spans 71 total:
  • 21 at 4' long (cavity ceiling slabs)
  • 6 at 6' long (river portals)
  • 1 at 18' long (concrete roadway portal added in 1953)
  • 1 at 22' long (granite roadway portal)
  • 40 at 24' long (granite/concrete deck arches)
  • 2 at 28' long (granite/concrete deck arches over the granite roadway portal)
Load limit Unknown,[1] currently carries Amtrak's 100-ton Acela Express up to 125 MPH[2]
Vertical clearance Approximately 21' from top of rails to contact wires of the catenary system
Clearance below
  • 23' under the granite roadway portal
  • 18' under the concrete roadway portal
  • 6' under the (6) river portals
  • Trains passing over = 106 / day (November 2004) Freight traffic not included.
  • Motor vehicles passing under = 16,400 / day (2005 traffic study)
  • Watercraft passing under = 0; watercraft are not allowed on this section of the Canton River
Beginning date of construction April 20, 1834 (foundation stone laid)
Opened July 28, 1835 (first regular passage)
Preceded by None, the Canton Viaduct was the first and only bridge to cross the Canton River Valley.
Followed by None, the bridge has been in continuous service since 1835.
Heritage status
Canton River Valley at the intersection of Neponset St. and Walpole St.
Coordinates 42°09′32″N 71°09′14″W / 42.15889°N 71.15389°W / 42.15889; -71.15389Coordinates: 42°09′32″N 71°09′14″W / 42.15889°N 71.15389°W / 42.15889; -71.15389
Canton (Massachusetts)
Canton, Massachusetts
Canton Viaduct 1835.ogv
Video of the west side of Canton Viaduct sweeping from north to south - no sound

(other videos)

Canton Viaduct is a unique stone railroad bridge in Canton, Massachusetts, (USA) erected in 1835 by the Boston and Providence Railroad Corporation (B&P) 0.3 mile (0.5 km) south of Canton Junction for their mainline service between Boston, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island. It was the final link to be built on the 41-mile railroad between the two cities,[3] and is the only blind arcade cavity wall bridge ever built in the United States. It was the longest and tallest railroad bridge in the world when it was built and it is the oldest railroad bridge of its kind in the world. It has been in continuous service for 174 years and now carries high-speed passenger and freight rail service. The viaduct is located on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor at milepost 213.74,[4] reckoned from Pennsylvania Station in New York City, and at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's (MBTA) milepost 15.35, reckoned from South Station in Boston.



A partial isometric elevation of the Canton Viaduct with the deck removed showing its continuous cavity wall; there are 21 cavities between the buttresses.
Lego model of wall section with deck removed
Model of wall section with deck and dirt removed

The Canton Viaduct was erected in 1835 by the B&P, one of the first New England railroads, shortly after its 1831 founding. Thomas B. Wales, one of the original families of Boston, and owner of the T.B. Wales & Co. Shipping Company, was the first president of the B&P, The Taunton Branch Railroad, as well as the Western Railroad Corporation. Due to his friendship with prominent New England families, including the Revere family, they were able to bring the Canton Viaduct to fruition. The T.B. Wales & Co. clipper ships brought raw materials for manufacturing companies from its dock (Wales Wharf) and Counting House (Long Wharf) to various areas in New England. Without the influence of individuals such as Thomas B. Wales, Joseph Warren Revere, owner of the Revere Copper Company and major stockholders (whom most were Board members), the Canton Viaduct would not have been built. There were better routes through other towns for the location of the railroad line from Boston to Providence. However, building the railroad through Canton placed the line close to Revere's mill, where a half mile spur (using strap rails and horse power) connected the mill to Canton Junction and undoubtedly gave a boost to Revere's copper business. The other influencing factor that caused the Canton Viaduct to be built was a fatal accident in 1832 on the Granite Railroad, which used inclined planes to cross a valley.[5] The original plans called for the use of inclined planes to cross the Canton River Valley but were changed after the inclined plane accident and a bridge was built instead. This unique bridge was designed by a US Army Corps of Engineer officer - Captain William Gibbs McNeill a West Point graduate; he was assisted by other West Point engineers, Major George Washington Whistler (McNeill's brother-in law), Major General Isaac Ridgeway Trimble and General William Raymond Lee. The bridge was built by Dodd & Baldwin (Pennsylvania). Around this time Russia was interested in building railroads so Tsar Nicholas I sent workmen to draw extensive diagrams of the Canton Viaduct. He later summoned Whistler to Russia as a consulting engineer to design the Moscow–Saint Petersburg Railway, on which two bridges were modeled after the Canton Viaduct. A scale model bridge of similar design is on display at the Oktyabrsky Railroad Museum in St. Petersburg.

Design & construction



The bridge resembles an ancient city wall built from rusticated stone, supporting a train deck about 60 feet (18 m)[2] above the Canton River, the east branch (tributary) of the Neponset River. The stream pool passes through six semi-circular portals in the bridge, flowing to a waterfall about 50 feet downstream. The bridge is an archetype due to its blind arcade and cavity wall combination - the first and possibly only time these two elements were used in bridge design. The structure is often referred to as a "multiple arch" bridge but the deck arches are not the primary support system. Although the deck arches appear to extend through the bridge to the deck arches on the opposite side they do not; each deck arch is independent and only four feet deep. The only arches to penetrate the walls are six river portals and two roadway portals. Since bridges are classified by their primary support system, the Canton Viaduct is more accurately described as a blind arcade cavity wall. The walls support the majority of the deck with stone slabs spanning the cavities; the deck arches only support the outer limits of the deck (beyond the walls); they are tied to the walls but do not penetrate them. The coping is supported by 42 segmental deck arches (21 on each side) that join the tops of 22 buttresses tied to the continuous walls internally and externally. The walls are five feet thick with a four foot gap between them joined with occasional tie stones. More construction details are available in the original specifications. When the bridge had a single set of tracks the rails were placed directly over the walls as the cavity's width is less than standard gauge. When the bridge was double tracked in 1860 the inside rails were placed directly over the walls and the outside rails were over the deck arches. The Thomas Viaduct (Maryland, 1835) and Starrucca Viaduct (Pennsylvania, 1847) are classic examples of multiple arch viaducts as their primary support system consists of semi-circular arches on piers without any walls.

Canton Viaduct foundation plan and west elevation


The Canton Viaduct contained 14,483 cubic feet (15,800 perches) of granite, which weighs approximately 66,000,000 pounds (33,000 short tons) prior to its concrete redecking in 1993. Each stone has a Mason's mark to identify who cut the stone. Each course is 22" - 24" high and laid in a pattern closely resembling a Flemish bond. Exterior stone for the walls, buttresses, wing wall abutments, portals, deck arches, coping, parapets and the foundation stone are riebeckite granite[6] mined from Moyles quarry (a.k.a. Canton Viaduct Quarry) located on the westerly slope of Rattlesnake Hill in Sharon, MA; now part of Borderland State Park. This type of granite was chosen because it does not stain as it weathers, but retains its original color. Interior stone for the foundation, walls, buttresses, wing wall abutments, binders, stiles, deck and the cornerstone are of a different type of granite mined from Dunbar's quarry in Canton, Massachusetts.

Bridge -

  • Granite (two types from two local quarries)
  • Mortar (except interior of the wing wall abutments which were laid dry)
  • Reinforced concrete (roadway portal and deck arches)

Deck -

  • Reinforced concrete (new deck and cross ties)
  • Waterproof cement (on coping stones)
  • Iron (fence/railing and rails)
  • Galvanized steel (walkway grating and catenary system)
  • Rubber (ballast mats under tracks for noise reduction)
  • Lean concrete (longitudinal troughs fill)
  • Crushed granite (track ballast)
  • Wood (original longitudinal sleepers, cross ties, fence/railing and curb)


The majority of the viaduct is over land (71%), while 29% is over water. In addition to the six river portals, one roadway portal was originally provided; the distance between the buttresses at this section is wider than all the other sections of the bridge. The overall length is 615 feet (187 m), built on a one degree horizontal curve creates two concentric arcs making the west wall slightly shorter than the east wall. Originally unnamed, it was referred to as "the stone bridge" and "the viaduct at Canton" before it was eventually named after the town. In 1840 the road under the viaduct was known as "the street leading from Neponset Bank by Elisha White's to near Joseph Downes'", sometime after it was known as Rail Road St. and in 1881 it was finally named Neponset St. after the river; it serves as a major artery in Canton connecting its main street (Washington Street) to Interstate 95.


A random sample of Canton Viaduct Mason's marks; there are thousands of stones in the structure and each has a symbol to identify who cut the stone.

The Canton Viaduct cost US$93,000 to build in 1835, which equates to $2.4 million in 2009 dollars. Construction took 15 months, 8 days from laying of the foundation stone on April 20, 1834 to completion on July 28, 1835. An excerpt from an article in the Providence Journal on June 6, 1835 describes the bridge prior to its completion. As reported by the Boston Advertiser and The Providence Journal. "Whistler" was the first engine to pass over the entire length of the road. The engine was built by Robert Stephenson in 1833 in England and named by William Gibbs McNeill in honor of his brother-in-law George Washington Whistler. The trip from Boston to Providence cost $2 one way. The first and last buttresses (adjacent to the wing wall abutments) are half the width of all other buttresses. The wing wall abutments are 25' wide where they meet the bridge; they increase in width and decrease in height as they as they spread out; they were built by William Otis using his first steam shovel. The two major groups of men who built the Canton Viaduct were Scottish and Irish. The stonecutting and finish masonry was performed by Scottish (Operative) Freemasons who camped at Dunbar's Quarry. The Scotch were considered artisans and most likely belonged to the Rising Star Masonic Lodge in Stoughton, MA. The rough masonry and construction of the gravel roadbed was performed by Irish workers who camped at Dunbar's ledge. The bridge was 'substantially complete' in June 1835 from various accounts of horse-drawn cars passing over it during that time. Charlie, the old white horse who had hauled the empty railcars back to Sharon, Massachusetts (4 miles), was placed upon the flat car and hauled across the viaduct by the workers, thus becoming the first 'passenger' to cross the structure.
The bridge was built before the advent of construction safety equipment such as hard hats and fall arrest devices. Surprisingly, no deaths were recorded during the construction but deaths have occurred at the bridge since completion; mainly from people crossing the bridge while trains passed in opposite directions.
Aside from seasonal vegetation control and occasional graffiti removal, the bridge requires no maintenance other than periodic bridge inspections from Amtrak.


The Canton Viaduct was constructed in the following sequence:
Planning (B&P) -

  • Design and specifications

Preconstruction (unknown) -

  • Site preparation, mobilization, surveying, excavation and cofferdams

Construction -

  • Wing wall abutments - foundations and walls (Otis)
  • Temporary train platforms and embankment staircases at abutments (B&P)
  • Bridge (Dodd & Baldwin):
    • Foundations - the foundation stone was laid on April 20, 1834 (northeast corner) with ceremony
    • Continuous walls, portals and buttresses
    • Deck arches
    • Spandrels
    • Deck (with longitudinal troughs) and coping
    • Parapets - the cornerstone was laid in the bridge (southwest end) with ceremony

Post Construction -

  • Track installation (Otis) - longitudinal sleepers, cross ties, track and ballast - the first 'passenger' was Charlie the workhorse
  • Site clean up and demobilization
  • Opening ceremony - July 28, 1835 the first train, "Whistler" passed over the Canton Viaduct at approximately 5:00 PM EST

Foundation stone

The Freemason Square and Compasses would most likely be carved in the foundation stone.

The foundation stone was laid on Sunday April 20, 1834 with a Masonic foundation stone ceremony to give the structure a "soul" and ensure its stability. This day may have been chosen to coincide with Revere's Copper Mill founding in 1801 or the election of Jacques de Molay in 1292, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. The majority of the B&P's Board of Directors were Freemasons, including President Thomas B. Wales and Joseph W. Revere. President Wales was very involved in Freemasonry and gave three of his clipper ships Masonic names: Morning Star, Hesperus (Evening Star) and Templar. According to Masonic tradition, foundation stones are located in the northeast corner of structures with inscriptions such as the Masonic emblem (square and compasses) and the date, and would most likely contain a time capsule. Freemasons use Fibonacci numbers in their structures and there are examples of these "golden ratio" numbers in the Canton Viaduct:

  • The inscription on the back of the cornerstone is recessed into an 8-sided octagon
  • The original roadway portal was built through the eighth cavity from the south end
  • There are 13 voussoirs in each river portal
  • There are 21 voussoirs in each deck arch
  • There are 21 deck arches on each side of the bridge
  • There are 21 cavities in the bridge


The Canton Viaduct cornerstone now rests in Canton Viaduct Park on a curved wall (see gallery) over a symbolic keystone made from original stones removed during the 1993 deck replacement. The keystone is symbolic in Freemasonry and the Canton Viaduct contains 77 keystones. The front inscription reads reads: "This Viaduct Erected by the B. & P. R. R. Co. Directors T.B. WALES. Pre.(sident) W.W. WOOLSEY. P.T. JACKSON. J.W. REVERE. J.F. LORING. C.H. RUSSELL. C. POTTER. J.G. KING."
Canton Viaduct cornerstone back inscription reads: "FOUNDATION STONE LAID APRIL 20. 1834." The Operative or Craft Freemasons' calendar year was 5834 A.L. (Anno Lucis - In the year of Light)
The Canton Viaduct cornerstone was originally laid in the west parapet, south end. Select this image twice to see the latest version due to thumbnails and images not updating.

Operative Freemasons laid the cornerstone (the final stone in the structure) in the south end of the west parapet. According to Masonic tradition this location was selected due to it being the farthest distance from the foundation stone located in the northeast corner. There are no Mason's marks on the front, back or sides of the cornerstone but there may be some on the other surfaces.

The cornerstone is actually two stones now held together with two iron straps on each side; the overall dimensions are approximatrely 60" long x 36" high x 18" wide (golden ratio) and it weighs approximately 3,780 lbs. The cornerstone was about 1" taller than it is today, due to its breaking in 1860; the damage obscured two directors' names, W. W. Woolsey and P. T. Jackson. Woolsey was also a Director of the Boston & Providence Railroad & Transportation Co. (B&P RR&T Co.) in Rhode Island (incorporated May 10, 1834) which owned the Rhode Island portion of the Boston and Providence rail line. The B&P RR&T Co. merged with the B&P on June 1, 1853.

Railroad track

During the 1993 deck renovation two 18" deep troughs were discovered recessed into the granite capstones running the entire length of the viaduct spaced at standard gauge width (56-1/2"). The troughs contained baulks or longitudinal sleepers and were part of the original construction. The baulks supported the rails with transoms between to maintain the gauge. A 1910 photo taken atop the viaduct shows dirt between the cross ties and tracks, so this material may have been used before traditional gravel ballast.

Baulks were used to support strap rails or bridge rail; these early rails would have been replaced with flanged T-rails by 1840. These photos[7] show baulks at Canton Junction in 1871. An 1829 report from the Massachusetts Board of Directors of Internal Improvements describes how the railroad from Boston to Providence was to be built. The report states, "It consists of one pair of tracks composed of long blocks of granite, about one foot square, resting upon a foundation wall extending to the depth of 2-1/2' below the surface of the ground, and 2' wide at the bottom". The report also calls for using horse drawn wagons and carriages at 3 MPH on the rail line, not steam locomotives.


A west side view of the Canton Viaduct with its waterfall in the foreground.

Spillway Dam at Neponset St. - a.k.a. Canton Viaduct Falls impounds Mill Pond; it is a weir or low head dam that is owned by the MBTA. The 16' high by 90' long granite dam was built in 1900 and currently (2009) averages 78 cubic feet/second annual discharge. Water power was supplied to nearby businesses via water wheel from the canal starting at the waterfall's enclosed plunge pool and continuing about 200' under the Neponset St. bridge. There were also two channels located between the viaduct and the waterfall (one on each side) referred to as sluices, headraces and flumes in various maps; they were filled in sometime after 1937. US Army Corps of Engineers's National Inventory of Dams No. MA03106

Renovations and repairs

An east side view of the Canton Viaduct looking north shows some repairs in a 1906 postcard.
Canton Viaduct's USNGS survey marker (Permanent ID: MY0489) is located on the west side of the concrete roadway portal, south end.
A west side view looking south shows the viaduct's new cantilevered concrete deck and original iron fence from 1878 (restored).
A south view from midway atop the Canton Viaduct. The new concrete deck can be seen with refurbished iron fence/rail, 4' walkways, catenary system, concrete ties, continuously welded rail and safety rails. The electrical substation is shown in the background off to the right.
An artist's rendering of the 1941 proposed renovations (west side) with pedestrian portals, sidewalks and rebuilt roadway portal. This plan is on display in the Planning Board office in Canton's town hall (Memorial Hall).
An artist's rendering of the 1995 proposed renovations (west side) with rebuilt roadway portal.
  • 1860 - 25 years after its construction the increased traffic between Boston and Providence made the need for double tracking necessary. The roadbed was built wide enough to accommodate two sets of tracks, but only one set was originally installed. To accommodate the second track the 3'-8" high x 18" wide granite parapets were removed; the cornerstone was tossed off the viaduct and lay broken in a field for 18 years. The cornerstone was the last known remnant of the parapets; it is not known if any stones fell into the river during this renovation. These stones may have been used in railroad projects or as mile markers or building foundations and walls in Canton. The granite parapets were replaced with a heavy wooden fence fastened to transverse wooden floor beams; a hard pine curb was bolted to the tops of the walls to retain the new ballast. The deck troughs and baulks were abandoned at this time and the troughs were filled in with stone. The timber approach structures would have been removed at this time to accommodate the double tracking.
  • 1878 - The wooden fence was removed and replaced with a heavy cantilevered iron fence from the Edgemoor Iron Company for $12,000. The new fence also used transverse floor beams (but made from iron) and was built to carry an 18" cantilevered footwalk but it was not installed. The ends of the fence were flared to guide trains on to the bridge if they derailed before reaching it. The cornerstone was repaired by squaring off the broken stones and adding iron straps to hold it together, it was then raised to the top of the viaduct at the opposite (north) end facing east.
  • 1887 - Safety tracks are placed on the viaduct on April 15[8] to prevent a derailed train from hitting a passing train and/or falling off the bridge. The addition of the safety tracks was in response to the recent disasters at White River Bridge and Bussey Bridge. Many guard rail configurations have been used on the viaduct over the years.
  • 1897 - This photo shows the mill pond water level lowered to expose the bridge foundations for workers to make repairs. Another photo shows missing foundation stones that were replaced and all joints were filled with waterproof cement.
  • 1906 - Heavy timbers are supporting a work platform in this post card dated October, 15. Deck arch 13E is being repaired and suggests the deck arches were not strong enough to handle the ever-increasing loads or were deteriorating. This is the same arch that would later be opened to allow a second roadway passage in 1953.
  • 1909 - A stone in deck arch 10E dropped out of place and the arch was badly cracked; stonemasons began repairing it on Sunday, December 19. An article titled, "More Trouble with the Viaduct at Canton Junction" in the December 24 edition of the Canton Journal describes this as the second arch to have given way within a month.
  • 1910 - Reinforced concrete arches (42 total, 21 on each side) were added under each deck arch; the repairs took almost 2-1/2 years to complete. A report from this year describes the first known interior inspection.
  • 1912 - An interior inspection at arch 7 occurred in late October; a large stone was removed to allow access and three platforms with ladders were erected inside to facilitate inspection of the walls and underside of the deck. There were no broken or cracked stones and all joints were still full of good hard mortar. A photo from the inspection shows the formation of stalactites under the deck indicating water penetration which may have caused the deck arch problems from freeze/thaw cycles resulting in frost disintegration.
  • 1914 - Four wooden "jump-out" platforms (approximately 6' long x 4' deep) were attached to the iron fence for people to seek refuge upon when trains passed. The platforms were staggered every 154' and cantilevered over deck arches 5W, 9E, 13W and 17E. The jump-outs were installed after the death of Canton Junction section foreman, Wilbert H. Jerauld who was on the viaduct when two trains converged and was unable to escape.
  • 1953 - 118 years after its construction a concrete roadway portal was cut adjacent to the original roadway portal in arch 13 to accommodate northbound traffic on Neponset Street. The $40,000 renovation took place in March and the cost was split by the town of Canton and the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Co. This roadway portal is much smaller due to its segmental arch design and shorter width between buttresses. The cavity at arch 13 and foundations would have been inspected at this time.
  • 1963 - After years of Canton River flooding, the Army Corps of Engineers built the Canton Local Protection Project. The project's main purpose was to protect businesses along the river and prevent scouring of the viaduct's foundations during flood season and hurricanes as seen here during the Long Island Express hurricane of 1938.
  • 1965 - A USCGS benchmark (F31) was placed on the west side of the concrete roadway portal.
  • 1995 - The MBTA and Amtrak rehabilitated the bridge for high-speed Acela Express train service. The main objectives of this $10 Million dollar project were to widen (13' track centers), strengthen and lengthen the bridge with a new cantilevered, precast, prestressed concrete deck, replace the concrete deck arches and institute electrification via catenary lines. Voltage for the 25 kV AC lines is provided by the electrical substation at the south end of the bridge. The original iron fence was also removed, refurbished, and attached to the new deck. The new deck was 8' wider, with 4' walkways on each side that eliminated the need for the jump-out platforms. The concrete roadway portal was refinished and the USCGS benchmark was replaced.

Project challenges - It was necessary to maintain the historic fabric of the structure so all work was consistent with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Treatment of Historic Structures. The viaduct is located within Massachusetts DCR's Fowl Meadow and Ponkapoag Bog ACEC(Map Tile 7g) so protecting endangered species in the nearby wildlife refuge presented a challenge. Working in and over the Canton River required extensive permitting and close monitoring by environmental watchdog groups. The project was also located in a designated National Environmental Study Area.

An excerpt from the September 1998 Railway Track & Structures article reads, "It was initially believed that the top of the viaduct was composed of solid granite blocks (originally carrying a single track). After the track and ballast were removed from the structure, troughs were discovered recessed into the granite capstones. The 18" deep troughs ran the entire length of the viaduct and were spaced approximately 56-1/2" apart (standard railroad gauge). In some locations, the trough contained a solid piece of oak, including some abandoned spikes. It is believed the troughs held wooden sleepers for the original single track railroad. These loose materials were removed from the deck and lean concrete was placed to fill the voids. Archival photographs of the sleepers were taken and their remnants will be turned over to the local historical commission. At the approaches to the viaduct, a series of granite walls were uncovered running perpendicular to the tracks. These walls were approximately 7' on center and it was thought that they might have carried a timber approach structure. The locations of the walls conflicted with new abutments for the PPC beams and they made it difficult to install sheet piling for the contractor's support of excavation system. The walls were left in place undisturbed beneath the new track structure. HDR redesigned the abutments to minimize their depths, eliminate the conflicts and reduce the loading of the temporary support of excavation system."

When the railroad was complete except for the viaduct, trains ran to the bridge abutments, where southbound passengers would exit and descend the embankment. Passengers crossed the river on a hand-operated cable ferry, boarded horse drawn carriages on a temporary wagonway to cross the valley, then ascended the embankment to board a waiting train at the south abutment. The perpendicular walls supported temporary covered train platforms to which wooden staircases were attached. These wooden staircases led from the train platforms to stone abutment staircases (with railings) for passengers to descended to the valley floor. A photo from 1871 may have captured one of those walls (bottom left), at the north end, west side of the viaduct.

Many capstones were discarded during the deck replacement project; they were placed in the field behind the viaduct; some Canton residents recovered smaller stones from the massive pile before it was hauled off to an unknown destination. Portland Cement Association's Historic Canton Viaduct case study has more project details.

Three interior inspections were performed in the winter by two structural engineers using rock climbing equipment to scale the interior walls. The inspectors noticed small, insignificant cracks in the walls and larger cracks in the deck stones that eventually lead to the deck being replaced. The stones of the viaduct were placed in such a way as to allow interior access at just three locations. Occasional tie stones connect the walls with some having large, loose stones placed on them, the purpose of which is unknown. The local film crew noticed rock crystal formation taking place, associated with the moist air inside and a rotting wooden platform. They also noticed some thin wood or iron pieces connecting the walls; it is unknown if these pieces or the platforms were used during construction or inspection. Stone stiles protrude into the airspace but do not reach the opposite side; it is presumed the stiles were used to support planks instead of traditional scaffolding due to the narrow space between the walls.

Proposed renovations

  • 1941 - Canton's Planning Board proposed the addition of a matching roadway portal, two pedestrian portals with sidewalks and widening the roadway. The road was widened and a concrete roadway portal was eventually added in 1953. The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Co. rejected the addition of pedestrian portals and sidewalks.
  • 1993 - The MBTA rejected a proposal to raise the height of the smaller roadway portal by replacing the segmental arch with a semi-circular arch and replacing the concrete with granite to match the original roadway portal. This proposal would have restored the historical integrity of the viaduct while preventing large trucks from colliding with the bridge.
  • 2000 - The MBTA rejected a proposal by the town of Canton to provide a third opening in the bridge for pedestrian passage.

Over the years the town of Canton has proposed the addition of pedestrian portals to provide safe passage under the viaduct but bridge owners have consistently rejected these proposals.


  • 1834—1888, B&P
  • 1888—1893, Old Colony Railroad Co.
  • 1893—1969, New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Co.
  • 1969—1973, Penn Central Transportation Co.
  • 1973—present, MBTA

Critical infrastructure

  • World War I - A detachment of the 9th Regiment National Guard arrived in April 1917 to guard the viaduct from sabotage, via sentry duty.
  • World War II - Canton's Civil Defense Corps and railroad employees guarded the Canton Viaduct against sabotage since the train line is part of the direct link between Boston and New York City. The structure is a critical transportation link between the two cities and had extra protection as a result.
  • War on Terrorism - Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the Canton Viaduct was guarded by various security entities until the U.S. threat level decreased.

In a letter to Canton's Board of Selectmen on February 27, 2002, former Police Chief Peter Bright noted that Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency training for worst-case situations highlights the destruction of the Canton Viaduct for its disruption of the national railroad system; the Federal Government also considers the bridge a high-risk target.[9]

Public safety

An east side view of the viaduct's roadway portals. The safety shelf is located on the south end of the granite roadway portal. Damage to the smaller roadway portal from frequent vehicle strikes is clearly evident. This photo was taken before the 1993 renovations.
A west side view of the viaduct's roadway portals. This is where Neponset St., Walpole St. and the electrical substation road converge. The USNGS survey marker is located at the west side of concrete roadway portal, south end. This photo was taken after the 1993 renovations.
A map showing sidewalks near Canton Viaduct.

The Canton Viaduct is a congested, high volume traffic area with an average of 16,400 motor vehicles passing under the bridge each day. There are many safety issues with the Canton Viaduct and surrounding area:

  • Sidewalks - Neponset St. is an arterial road in Canton and has 3' sidewalks except in the viaduct area. Pedestrian passage under the viaduct has always been a dangerous undertaking due to the confined space under the bridge. The northbound lane has no sidewalk and the southbound lane has a narrow safety shelf (a.k.a. the runway) which is not intended for pedestrian use. This passage is not ADA compliant. For pedestrians to travel safely from the west side of the bridge to the east side would require taking a circuitous route approximately 2.3 miles long, that would take the average person about 45 minutes to walk. The direct route under the viaduct is a matter of only 14 feet.
  • Crosswalks - A northbound pedestrian must cross Neponset St. to access the safety shelf in the southbound lane; once through the bridge the pedestrian must cross the electrical substation road, Walpole St. and Neponset St. A southbound pedestrian must cross Walpole St. and the electrical substation road to reach the safety shelf. Many northbound pedestrians increase their risks by jumping into the road and running under the bridge rather than crossing Neponset St. to reach the safety shelf in the southbound lane. There are no crosswalks in the Canton Viaduct area to facilitate safe pedestrian road crossing.
  • Lighting - Neponset St. has sharp (90 degree) curves before and after the bridge, causing poor forward visibility especially at night due to inadequate street lighting and lack of any bridge lighting.
  • Signage - There are no traffic signs in the area to warn drivers of the sharp curves before and after the bridge, to slow down when approaching the bridge, or to watch for pedestrians. The only speed limit sign (30 MPH) in the area is located between Canton Viaduct monument and the waterfall on the northbound lane of Neponset St., where drivers are traveling away from the bridge. There are also no structure gauge signs to warn drivers with large vehicles of potential collisions with the bridge.
  • Roadway - The speed limit is 30 MPH in this area and the road lanes narrow under the bridge, leaving little margin for error, especially when slippery road conditions exist. Four roads converge at the Canton Viaduct: Neponset St., Walpole St., Neponset Place and the electrical substation road. There is also a residential driveway adjacent to the bridge on the east side at the concrete roadway portal and the main entrance to a condominium complex is located on the west side just north of the Neponset St. and Walpole St. convergence (directly across from Canton Viaduct monument), making this area the most complex intersection in town.
  • Clearance - The concrete roadway portal was designed for straight-through passage of semi-trailer trucks, but the sharp curves before and after the bridge require serpentine turning to navigate the portal resulting in truck/bridge collisions. Over the past 57 years the bridge has been struck thousands of times causing damage to vehicles and the bridge at its most vulnerable point. Unsuspecting truck drivers easily pass through the larger portal but on their return trip are faced with tighter turns and a smaller portal. Northbound truck drivers who do not heed the height limitation often get stuck in the smaller portal due to their vehicles' large wall-to-wall turning circle, resulting in major traffic delays while rescue crews extract the wedged vehicle. When trucks get stuck under the bridge they also block access to Neponset Place, a residential driveway and a business. Some truck drivers avoid the northbound passage by waiting until there is no traffic in the southbound lane, then hastily driving the wrong way through the larger portal, creating a potential hazard to oncoming traffic.
  • Resources - Between 1953 and 1999 at least three trucks per day were stuck in the bridge;[10] after the Neponset St. improvements in 1999 the frequency was reduced to one truck every other day. Over the years these incidents have cost the town millions of dollars for emergency response and caused reduced public safety availability.

A Curb Cuts/Sidewalk Variance was submitted by the town of Canton to the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety's Architectural Access Board in February 2000 requesting the exclusion of a wheelchair ramp and replacement of a paved sidewalk with gravel to actively discourage pedestrian travel under the viaduct. The board's decision was to grant the variance due to potential vehicle/pedestrian conflicts. The wheelchair ramp was not added; however, the paved sidewalk was not replaced with gravel as approved. The board also ordered, and the town agreed, to post signage on both sides of the viaduct indicating the area is dangerous to all pedestrians; this signage was not installed.

The lack of sidewalks, crosswalks, signage and lighting, plus the narrow roadway, limited lines of sight and low clearance makes the Canton Viaduct a dangerous crossing for pedestrians and vehicles.

Additional safety issues

  • Parking and visiting - Land east of the Canton Viaduct is owned by residents and a private business, land south of the waterfall (Canton Viaduct Park) is owned by the MBTA and land north of the waterfall is owned by a private business. Canton Viaduct Park is open to the public all year but it is only accessible by foot with no sidewalk, guardrails or public parking. There are no parking spaces provided on the nearby streets and parking at businesses to visit the park is prohibited.
  • Passing over - Although the new deck provides much needed safety improvements, with 4' walkways on each side, only railroad and public safety personnel are allowed to walk across the viaduct.
  • Utility bridge - The concrete utility bridge crosses the Canton River about 100 yards east of the viaduct; it is only 12" wide, with no railings. Known as the "catwalk", it is a popular location for taking pictures of the viaduct. However, only utility and public safety personnel are allowed on it.
  • Vandalism - The Canton Viaduct has been spray painted by vandals many times over the years. The most recent graffiti attack took place in April 2009.[11]
  • Watercraft - No boats of any kind are allowed in the area due to the narrow and low clearance of the river portals, the close proximity of the waterfall and the potential for acts of terrorism.
  • Fishing - A fish consumption advisory is in effect for this section of the Canton River due to heavy metal (lead and copper) and high PCB levels.
  • Swimming - The section of the Canton River between the viaduct and the dam is fenced off; no swimming is allowed due to the close proximity to the waterfall and poor water quality.

Current Events

  • The Canton Viaduct will celebrate its 175th anniversary (demisemiseptcentennial or quartoseptcentennial) on Wednesday, July 28, 2010. A committee was established in 2009 with members of the Canton Historical Commission and Canton Public Library Trustees to plan the anniversary celebration. Ideas for the event include:
    • A lecture program where a panel of speakers discuss the bridge's historical importance.
    • Dedication of a Masonic monument honoring the bridge builders.
    • Other ideas under consideration.
  • A computer-generated 3D model is currently (2010) being developed to show how the Canton Viaduct was built and each renovation.
  • In 2009 a proposal was made for the installation of webcams on both sides of the bridge. The east side webcam will capture truck/bridge collisions and avoidance measures. The west side webcam will look south and include the waterfall and passing trains.
  • Borderland State Park is open to the public and offers the free program, "How Borderland Helped To Build The Canton Railroad Viaduct" which includes tours of Moyles Quarry (a.k.a. Canton Viaduct Quarry) and lectures on Canton Viaduct with video.
  • A 2009 article in the Canton Citizen states, "The state has narrowed the field of five alternatives to expand commuter rail service from Boston to Fall River and New Bedford down to three options — and one of them includes additional trains through Canton and Stoughton. Kristina Egan of the state’s Executive Office of Transportation told selectmen Tuesday night that another option, which involves expanding rail service from Readville through Canton Junction to Attleboro, will likely not be approved due to its estimated price tag of $2 billion. Egan said that expansion would have added 38 new trains through the Canton station, as well as a new 700-foot bridge next to the historic Canton Viaduct." Engineers conducted a survey of the viaduct area in March 2009.
  • Local health officials are considering posting fish consumption warning signs at Canton Viaduct Falls.
  • A violation of the Architectural Access Board's order to post signage at the bridge is currently (2009) being investigated.
  • A formal ADA complaint was filed in October 2009 and is being reviewed by the United States Department of Justice.

In June 2004 the town of Canton developed a Master Plan that identifies what should be preserved and enhanced to meet evolving needs and improve the quality of life. Items from the Master Plan related to Canton Viaduct include:

  • Create the Viaduct Revitalization District.
  • Incorporate elements of Canton’s history into school curriculum such as the viaduct to be documented and studied.
  • Existing cultural and historic resources and activities should be more heavily promoted and more events should be considered.
  • Develop the Canton Riverfront Trail for pedestrians and bicycles adjacent to the viaduct and increase river access. This trail could connect with the Warner Trail.
  • The former Plymouth Rubber site would be redeveloped and in doing so preserve scenic views of the viaduct.
  • Due to the "stuck truck in the viaduct" problem, add signs on approaches to the viaduct directing truck traffic to/from the town center to use Chapman St. as a by-pass route.
  • Explore an additional connection through the viaduct to the town center via Revere St. large enough to accommodate truck traffic to/from the town center.
  • Include the viaduct in Canton’s Historic Resources Inventory, Historic Preservation Plan and a Historic District.
  • Develop wayside exhibits and other educational materials and methods to explain the history of the viaduct.
  • Build a museum of Paul Revere’s copper rolling mill and surrounding area.

Some of these items have been implemented and others are in the planning stages.


This B&P stock certificate was issued two months after the viaduct was completed, signed by B&P President William W. Woolsey. Canton Viaduct was depicted in the vertical vignette (east side) on all B&P stock certificates for 115 years (from 1835 to 1950). The bridge is shown with a fence/rail instead of stone parapets for an unobstructed view of the train. The center vignette shows a paddle steamer (side wheeler) with a 24 star American flag. The B&P also owned shipping lines as part of their transportation business.
B&P stock certificate from 1950. The design has undergone many changes, but the image of the viaduct remains the same.
The B&P named the last locomotive to be built in its own shops (in Roxbury, MA) "Viaduct" (No.45) and it served the railroad for 20 years (1863-1883). The engine was built and named by master mechanic George S. Griggs; it was an inside connecting locomotive with 17x22" cylinders, 66" drivers and weighed 62,700 lbs.
Canton Viaduct Park monument prior to the placement of the commemorative plaque, south of the cornerstone.
Canton Viaduct commemorative plaque reads: "Canton Viaduct Constructed in 1835 National Register of Historic Places Placed by the Canton Historical Commission Dedicated on July 4, 1993 National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark (blue shield logo reads:) American Society of Civil Engineers 1852 Designated by the American Society of Civil Engineers Dedicated in 1999 The Canton Viaduct is one of the two oldest surviving multiple arch stone railroad bridges still in active mainline use in the United States"
  • The Canton Viaduct was depicted in the vertical vignette on all B&P stock certificates for 115 years (from 1835 to 1950).
  • The B&P named locomotives in honor of the people and places that contributed to the railroad's success, such as Canton, Lee, McNeill (No.35), Neponset, Revere (No.29), Stevenson (No.28), Viaduct (No.45) Wales (No. 3) and Whistler.
  • The Canton Viaduct was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.[12] (NRHP nomination form)
  • The viaduct has been designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1998 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. (ASCE nomination form) It is "one of the two oldest surviving multiple arch stone railroad bridges still in active mainline use in the United States". The Thomas Viaduct is older (completed two weeks prior) but the bridges are not comparable since their main support systems are different. The Thomas Viaduct's main support system is open arches and the Canton Viaduct's main support system is solid walls.
  • In 1999 Canton Viaduct Park was created, it is located south of the waterfall over the old channel on land taken via eminent domain by the MBTA in 1997. A monument was built with discarded capstones from the 1993 deck renovation project. The curved wall was built in the shape of a segmental arch - the same shape as the bridge's deck arches including a symbolic keystone. Atop the monument sit the cornerstone and commemorative plaque, serving as the last stop in the cornerstone's journey. A brick walk with a granite bench (also made from discarded capstones), leads to the monument. Without public parking, sidewalks or crosswalks in the area, park access is difficult, and many people can only view the park as they drive by.
  • A scale model of the bridge was built by a former Canton resident (Ed Costanza) using Legos; the model is on display in the Canton Public Library's Reference room.
  • For the town of Canton's 175th anniversary (1972) commemorative silver and copper medals were created with the Canton Viaduct engraved.
  • For the Boston Society of Civil Engineers' 150th Anniversary a commemorative pen and ink limited edition print was commissioned featuring 13 significant design and construction achievements in Massachusetts between 1804 and 2002. The Canton Viaduct is shown at the bottom right corner of the print.
  • The Canton Police Department honors the Canton Viaduct on their uniform patch.
  • The bridge is the most photographed landmark in Canton, and many local businesses have used the Canton Viaduct's image and name throughout the years. Most recognizable was an image of the bridge used in the Canton Journal's masthead for many years.
  • The bridge is featured in many civil engineering, bridge and railroad magazines and books; it has also been the subject of many artists' paintings and postcards.
  • The Viaduct has been the subject of documentary films such as "Viaduct" by George T. Comeau, (1987) and "Inside The Viaduct" (1995) by Canton's Cable television.


See also


  1. ^ The load limit of the structure itself is unknown. Granite, the principle component of the support structure, has a compressive strength that ranges upward from about 200 x 106 N/m2.
  2. ^ a b American Society of Civil Engineers article - Rebuilding History
  3. ^ Not the current distance, due to route changes.
  4. ^ Milepost at north end of the bridge
  5. ^ Plan of the Granite Railroad inclined planes
  6. ^ Borderland State Park Geology
  7. ^ Canton Historical Society: Canton Junction
  8. ^ Canton Journal index (1876 - 1890)
  9. ^ Former Canton Police Chief Bright's letter is public record, available at the Canton Police Department [1] and Canton's Board of Selectmen.[2]
  10. ^ Non-scientific 2009 collision frequency estimate provided by Kessler Machine & Fabricating, located at the Canton Viaduct's roadway portals since 1936.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 

General references

Further reading

  • Galvin, Edward, D. (1987). A History Of Canton Junction. Brunswick: Sculpin Publications. ISBN - none
  • Fisher, Charles, E. (1917). A Little Story Of The Boston And Providence Railroad Company. ISBN - none
  • Herrin, Dean, A. (2002). America Transformed: Engineering And Technology In The Nineteenth Century: Selections From The Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service. Reston: American Society of Civil Engineers. ISBN 978-0784405291
  • Cleary, Richard, L. (2007). Bridges. W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 978-0393731361
  • Canton Bicentennial Historical Committee. (1997), Canton Comes Of Age 1797-1997: A History Of The Town Of Canton, Massachusetts. Canton: The Town of Canton ISBN - none
  • Comeau, George, T. (2009). Canton - Postcard History Series. Mount Pleasant: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0738572031
  • Toy, Sidney. (1985). Castles: Their Construction And History. Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0486248981
  • Cox, Terry. (2003). Collectible Stocks And Bonds From North American Railroads: Guide With Prices. Arvada: TCox & Associates. ISBN 978-0974648507
  • Boothroy, Stephen, J. (2002). Down At The Station: Rail Lines Of Southern New England In Early Postcards. Cranberry Junction. ISBN 978-0971496149
  • Jackson, Donald, C. (1988). Great American Bridges And Dams. Wiley. ISBN 978-0471143857
  • Barber, John, W. (1844). Historical Collections, Being A General Collection Of Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, etc., Relating To The History And Antiquities Of Every Town In Massachusetts, With Geographical Descriptions, Illustrated By 200 Engravings. Heritage Books. ISBN 978-1556134630
  • DeLony, Eric. (1993). Landmark American Bridges. Little Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0821220368
  • Middleton, William, D. (1999). Landmarks On The Iron Road: Two Centuries OF North American Railroad Engineering. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253335593
  • Gould, Robert, F. (2005). Mason's Marks. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-1425366605
  • Ruddock, Ted. (2000). Masonry Bridges, Viaducts And Aqueducts. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0860787518
  • Kirkland, Edward C. (1948). Men, Cities And Transportation - A Study In New England History 1820-1900 Volumes I-II. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN - none
  • National Park Service. (1995). National Register Of Historic Places 1966 To 1994. Wiley. ISBN 978-0471144038
  • Solomon, Brian. (2008). North American Railroad Bridges. Voyageur Press. ISBN 978-0760325278
  • Adams, Charles, F. (1878). Railroads: Their Origin And Problems. Ayer Co. Publishing. ISBN 978-0405137648
  • Hayward, Richard, M. (1998). Russia Enters The Railway Age, 1842-1855. Boulder: East European Monograph. ISBN 978-0880333900
  • Harlow, Alvin, F. (1946). Steelways Of New England. New York: Creative Age Press, Inc. ISBN - none
  • Cook, Richard, J. (1987). The Beauty Of Railroad Bridges: In North America - Then And Now. San Marino: Golden West Books. ISBN 978-0870950971
  • Rogers, Robert. (1952). The Canton Viaduct. ISBN - none
  • Parry, Albert. (1938). Whistler's Father. Foster Press. ISBN 978-1406775945

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The A west side view of the Canton Viaduct looking south with the former Revere Copper Mill in the background, April 1977.


  • The Viaduct at Canton, though yet unfinished, is a stupendous work. A view of it, many times repays the trouble of passing around. The excavation and embankments in Canton are also worthy of minute attention; they testify in strong language to man's domination over nature, and his ability to overcome any obstacle to any undertaking that is not morally or physically absurd. The project of cutting through these rocky heights and crossing the valley of the river by the Viaduct was a very bold one. A hesitating mind would have surmounted this by a stationary engine or some less formidable way. But any other would have detracted very much from the facilities which give value to such a road. The road has been constructed under the direction of Major McNeill, and it will stand for ages an enduring monument of the high talents and high attainments of its accomplished engineer.

  • It is a splendid work, which might in the days of yore, have done honor to the enterprize of an emperor.

  • The viaduct or railroad bridge, over one of the ponds and river at this point is conceded to be the most elegant and massive structure of masonry in the United States.
    • Hayward's Gazetteer of 1845

  • The viaduct at Canton, by the way, the bold conception and fine construction of which exited so much admiration in the minds of the excursionists, really was a most creditable piece of work. When they did build, they built better in those days than they now do, and the passage of forty years of constant use has developed no greater need for repairs on the Canton Viaduct that it has on the pyramids of Egypt.
    • Adams, Charles, F. (1878). Railroads: Their Origin And Problems. Ayer Co. Publishing. ISBN 978-0405137648


Canton Viaduct on Wikimedia Commons

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