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.”
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 Library of Congress
- Historic American Engineering Record: patent application with full description, by Joseph Ross
- Historic American Engineering Record, Cooper St. Bridge
- Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Thomas Franklin Waters
- Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society
- Historic Bridges: Essex County, Massachusetts
- Library of Congress: Bellows Falls Arch Bridge
- Bankers Obituary Record
- At the General Assembly of the State of Rhode-Island and Providence, Part 1
- MACRIS (County St. Bridge)
- Bridgehunter: Joseph Ross & Sons
- Historic Bridges: Rocks Village