By Inga Browne, Contributing Writer
SACO – What makes Saco such a special community? Why have we chosen to live here? Perhaps it’s the schools and the strong family values. Perhaps it’s the city’s diverse geography and broad range of living experiences. These span from the oceanside community, the historic mill complex, the downtown with a real main street and in-town living, our rural, natural and agricultural landscapes – all of these attributes create one Saco and residents should be mindful not to create division, but to work pro-actively together for the common good.
Communities and their local governments must often work harder and smarter to protect unique physical and natural assets that embody a town’s history, legacy and sense of place. No one questions the local pride that stems from our inspiring City Hall or the enormous success of the preservation of the old fire station. Genuine excitement around the mills continues to grow. These are historic infrastructure investments that define our community for generations and tell our story through time.
The rehabilitation of the 168-year-old Stackpole Bridge on Simpson Road is equally part of Saco’s varied and rich history, and the community should work together to preserve this significant structure.
Surviving examples of stone bridges are rare – and even more rare in Maine since ubiquitous wood was the building material of choice. When Simpson Road patriarchs petitioned the town in 1847 to build a longer-lasting bridge, they set their sights on a stone design and presented the town with a price tag of approximately $700. How’s that for economy and getting your money’s worth?
On a personal note, I’ve been a high school teacher in Saco for the past 18 years and have come to know the families and young adults who define our town. We are hard workers who have grit, resiliency and a thirst for never giving up, even in the face of adversity. As I tell my students, the Trojans lost the Trojan War, but they battled it out, against all odds. This spirit of hard work and optimism can still be seen in how we support our local families through times of celebration and challenge. This very fact was notably celebrated in citizen feedback during the 2025 Vision process for our city. In participating in four of the small group meetings and the large community forum for the Vision project, I was bowled over by citizens’ pride and positive energy. Let’s not forget the spirit of that important initiative. We are one Saco.
The Friends of Stackpole Bridge advocate for thoughtful discussions with all community members, returning and new city councilors, and members of Citizens for Sensible Government group to develop a commonsense and economically smart solution that will modernize this unique stone bridge so that it will outlast any generic pre-formed concrete structure. In doing so, the city will save money over time, a win-win for all. Despite rumor or uninformed opinion, Stackpole Bridge is not universally defunct or structurally impaired beyond rehabilitation – three engineering firms in the past three years have said the structure is worthy of a modernization that will take it into the 22nd century.
One of those rehabilitation plans, by well-respected CPM Constructors of Freeport, is still an active proposal that the council can further explore and learn more about. In talking to bridge preservation engineers directly, the council could realize the distinct and broad benefits of saving the bridge and how the experts themselves view the structure.
The alternative is this: A council vote to demolish and replace Maine’s oldest bridge on a public roadway (a commendation confirmed by the state) against the proven engineering data would be a shortsighted and severely uninformed decision, blackening the city’s reputation and position as a leading community in southern Maine. I urge returning and new city councilors to come to the table with investigative energy and willingness to take the long view – not a hasty mentality that models instantaneous and “efficient” decision-making.
Saco citizens deserve their councilors’ very best intellect and careful consideration on issues that have resounding and long-lasting impacts on infrastructure and historical legacy.
The Friends of Stackpole Bridge have been working on educational and factual outreach about the bridge for eight years; our goal is to serve as a community resource, not a faction or political group stirring controversy. Many experts around the country have confirmed that the bridge exists on a national stage as a rare 19th-century example of stone masonry. (Please see the national Historic Bridges website at: http:// historicbridges.org/map_ me.php.) If local, regional and national history are not personally relevant to you, so be it, but please don’t forget that the broader community and society places a high value on education and knowing our past. Stackpole Bridge is symbolic of the grit and know-how of previous generations and its lasting engineering is a testament to those craftsmen.
The bridge does not exist in isolation. Most Saco residents support our local schools teaching some examples of classic literature – Homer’s “The Odyssey,” Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” come to mind from my own classroom, since these rich stories promote empathy and historic context for our current world. Stackpole Bridge is no different as a living historic artifact that embodies form and function in a rustic yet bold civil engineering landmark. It too tells an important story from our past.
For me, there is no blurred line between famous history and local history, and our students learn valuable and intangible lessons from the entire mosaic of history.
And let’s not forget, Stackpole Bridge is a city-owned structure, open and accessible to all – not a private historic home open to a select few. Bridge neighbors have been committed for eight years to improving public access to the bridge with safe parking, viewing platforms and community caretaking and cleanup days via local service groups such as the Boy Scouts. In working together, Saco can make the rehabilitation of the bridge a model project that other communities would reference and emulate.
Further connections also exist. Like many communities, Saco said yes to curbside recycling our plastics, glass and cardboard; our throw-away society has learned important and costly lessons over these past decades and the smart re-use of Stackpole Bridge with its long-lasting, indestructible granite stone is no less relevant or indisputable. Europe touts working stone bridges that are thousands of years old with daily high traffic volumes; surely here in Maine we too can capitalize on our own Roman-era inspired bridge, seeing its service life stretch for another century or two.
Citizens should know that a separate nonprofit, The Fund for Stackpole Bridge, has raised $28,000 in funds and pledges toward the rehabilitation of the bridge structure and continues to actively fundraise. Please see our website http://www.stackpolebridge.org/ or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ stackpolebridge.
For those who desire information, data and comprehensive facts, The Friends of Stackpole Bridge would be happy to participate in dialogue and sharing of pro-active ideas around this important city project. We have presented public lectures in local libraries and elderly housing locations and remain dedicated to education and outreach efforts to save Stackpole Bridge.
The Saco I know and love is thoughtful and savvy. We work together to overcome challenges in ways that make financial and policy sense. Taking the short view is all too easy; the long view is an intentional choice that requires all of us to tap into our creativity, our positive vision for the future, and our duty to make decisions that serve coming generations.
Inga Sandvoss Browne is a teacher and writer who lives in Saco. She is a member of The Friends of Stackpole Bridge and an advocate of historic preservation as a catalyst for community building.