Joseph Ross Ipswich MA Joseph Ross (1822-1903) began his working life as a house carpenter in Ipswich, his native town. He is best known for designing the first movable span bridge in the country, which he patented in 1849 at the age of 26. According to his obituary, “he has been engaged in some of the largest engineering enterprises in this section of the state.” At the time of his death, his firm was completing the Cooper Street Bridge in Wakefield which still stands today.

The horizontally folding drawbridge designed by Joseph Ross became the most common railroad bridge type in the Greater Boston in the 19th Century. The movable span was a truss hinged on one end so that the bridge could be raised slightly before swinging them to one side to clear the marine channel. The 1835 Boston and Lowell’s Charles River bridge built in 1835 was designed on this principle, and the Mystic River drawbridge #7 continued in service through the 20th Century. The drawing shown below accompanied the specifications for Draw # 7. Ross built several of his bridges for the Eastern Railroad, later acquired by the Boston and Maine Railroad Company, and by 1858, at least ten horizontally folding draws were in service in the immediate Boston vicinity. The design was well adapted to railroad use because it was capable of carrying heavy loads safely.

Joseph Ross was succeeded by his sons in the business. In the book Commercial and Financial New England Illustrated we read,

“Joseph Ross Corporation organized under the laws of Massachusetts in 1905, succeeded to the business of Joseph Ross & Sons general contractors, which was established in 1850. The president of the corporation is Joseph F. Ross treasurer, Fred G. Ross and the directors are the above named officers and George R. Humphrey. The office is at 28 School Street, Boston. The corporation is prepared to build wharves, concrete bridge piers, concrete walls and abutments and to do similar contracting work of a general nature. The high standing of the concern in the business community is naturally in part due to the ability and character of the late Joseph Ross, father of Joseph F. and Fred G. Ross who was in business in Boston for about fifty years up to the time of his death in 1903.Among the contracts carried out by the concern in recent years were building the sea wall at Winthrop Beach, the improvements to the Providence Terminal, the elimination of part of grade crossings of the Boston & Albany Railroad in the different districts of Newton, building of the archway at Middlefield, rebuilding of Battery building of approaches of Cove Street Bridge, abolishing grade crossings in Haverhill, street stone and work of the Newburyport Bridge,abolishing street grade crossings in Somerville, and erecting foundation of large new roundhouse of the Boston & Maine in Cambridge.”

Photo of Joseph Ross while serving on the Massachusetts legislature.
Photo of Joseph Ross while serving on the Massachusetts legislature.

The New England Lace Manufacturing Company’s failed factory on High Street was purchased by Joseph Ross in the middle of the 19th Century, and he converted the building into the “Ross Mansion.” In the late 19th Century he built a fine Victorian home across the street, which is now the Whittier-Porter Funeral Home. Joseph Ross became a partner in a group that in 1863 purchased land next to the newly constructed County St. bridge and erected a water-powered yarn mill, later adding machinery for the production of hosiery and knitting. The Great Fire of Boston destroyed a warehouse where much of their product was stored. Insurance companies were unable to cover the immense losses, and the business eventually succumbed. That building no longer stands.

Joseph Ross served as a town selectman, state representative from Ipswich, founder and president of the Ipswich Savings Bank, and trustee of the Ipswich library.

Mystic River Drawbridge # 7
Mystic River Drawbridge No. 7, Spanning Mystic River at Boston & Maine Railroad Eastern Route, Somerville crossing to Everett, photo 1968. The bridge no longer exists.
The County Street bridge in Ipswich was designed and constructed by Joseph Ross in 1861.
The County Street bridge in Ipswich was designed and constructed by Joseph Ross in 1861. Photo credit: Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber2008
Joseph Ross was a partner in the woolen mill on County Street, just above the bridge that he constructed in 1860.
Joseph Ross was a partner in the woolen mill on County Street. It sat just above the bridge that he constructed in 1861.
The Built 1894By: Joseph Ross of Ipswich, Massachusetts and Charles A. Putnam of Salem, Massachusetts
The Green Street bridge in Ipswich was built in 1894 by Joseph Ross of Ipswich and designed by Charles A. Putnam of Salem.
Cooper Street Bridge is significant as a very early example of reinforced concrete arch construction, notable for its substantial size, asymmetrical profile, and use of an unusual type of deformed rod for reinforcement. It is one of only two concrete-arch bridges of its age spanning more than 50' that are known to survive in Massachusetts. Although the designer of the bridge is unknown, the contractor, Joseph Ross, was one of Boston's leading builders of wharves and bridges.
The Cooper Street Bridge in Wakefield was built in 1903 and is significant as a very early example of reinforced concrete arch construction, notable for its asymmetrical profile and use of deformed rod for reinforcement. It is one of only two concrete-arch bridges of its age spanning more than 50′ that are known to survive in Massachusetts. The contractor was Joseph Ross, Joseph Ross, one of Boston’s leading
builders of wharves and bridges.
The South Union St. bridge in Lawrence was awarded to Joseph Ross & Sons of Boston by the Boston & Maine Railroad, April 27, 1903.
The South Union St. bridge in Lawrence was awarded to Joseph Ross & Sons of Boston by the Boston & Maine Railroad, April 27, 1903.
Rocks Island Bridge
The Rocks Village bridge that connects West Newbury with Haverhill was built in 1883, rebuilt in 1914, and again in 2008. Joseph Ross was contracted for the stone work, dredging and timber work, which included a new circular stone pier and a stone side pier. The builder was Boston Bridge Works.
The Moshassuck River Provider Channel in Providence, constructed by Joseph Ross. The course of the old channel of the Moshassuck River in Providence, RI was diverted so that it joined the Woonasquatucket River below the end of the train shed The work underlying the railroad location was done by the railroads under contract with Joseph Ross of Ipswich. The granite wall channel was 14 1/2' hi, 45' wide and nearly 700' long, spanned with steel girders and covered with an iron plate floor upon which tracks were laid.
The Moshassuck River Provider Channel in Providence, RI. The course of the old channel was diverted so that it joined the Woonasquatucket River below the end of the train shed The work underlying the railroad location was done by the railroads under contract with Joseph Ross of Ipswich. The granite wall channel was 14 1/2′ hi, 45′ wide and nearly 700′ long, spanned with steel girders and covered with an iron plate floor upon which tracks were laid.
A view of the Benjamin Grant house on County St., early 1900's.
A view of the Benjamin Grant house on County St., early 1900’s. It was known at that time as the Joseph Ross house, and may have been his first home, or the home of his parents. Joseph Ross constructed the nearby County St. bridge and was a shareholder in the large woolen mill on the other side of the bridge which no longer stands.
Joseph Ross converted the old lace factory on High Street into the
The New England Lace Manufacturing Company’s failed factory on High Street was purchased by Joseph Ross in the middle of the 19th Century. The converted building was known as the “Ross Mansion.” It was torn down in 1930 and was replaced by the brick home presently at that location.

 

The Joseph Ross house at 6 High St. is the Whittier-Porter Funeral home
In 1890 Joseph Ross built the house at 6 High St. that is now the Whittier-Porter Funeral home

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One thought on “Joseph Ross, 19th Century Ipswich bridge builder

  1. This is an absolutely fascinating story. I have worked with bridge designers and builders all over the country from California to DC to NYC and Boston, and they would love this story. I’m forwarding it to them.
    Thanks!

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