Article by Carla Charter at Chairside New England History
Covered bridges dot the New England landscape. Their beauty is only outweighed by the unique history that they carry with them.
Bridges were first covered as a matter of practicality, to reduce the cost of bridge repair and maintenance. According to Bill Caswell, President of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, they were first covered to protect the structure supporting the bridge. Without this protection timbers supporting the bridge would decay and eventually collapse Covered from the weather they would stay dry and thus would last much longer. The red color of many of the bridges too, were a matter of economy. The pigment was made from red ochre which was inexpensive and readily available
The first covered bridge, the Permanent Bridge was completed in 1805, in Philadelphia. It carried High Street (now Market Street) over the Schuylkill River, according to Caswell. Although built in Pennsylvania this bridge had a New England connection. It was designed by architect Timothy Palmer of Newburyport Massachusetts. it was widened in 1850to accommodate a railroad connection with the Columbia and Pennsylvania Railroads. It was destroyed by fire in 1875.
The term historic, when referring to covered bridges, varies from state to state, Caswell continued, but is considered to be the time when covered bridges were built for nostalgic rather than economic ones, generally in the early to mid-1900’s. Using this definition, he said, the last New England historic bridge built was the Kelly’s Falls Bridge in Manchester New Hampshire. It was built in 1915 and burned in 1941. The last historic bridge still in existence would be the Columbia Bridge over the Connecticut River between Columbia New Hampshire and Lemington, Vermont
The society’s main purpose is the preservation of historic covered bridges, Caswell said. As part of their mission the society is currently working to convince officials to save the Grange City Bridge in Fleming County, Kentucky and the McGuire Covered Bridge in New Brunswick.
In New England, the society is managing a project to construct a new Pony Truss Bridge which will be used on the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway in Maine. This bridge will be completed in next few weeks but will not go into active service for a couple more years.
As for newer covered bridges constructed in New England and New York, Caswell continued, two covered bridges were built in 2012 to replace ones lost to tropical storm Irene in 2011. These were the Bartonsville Bridge in Vermont and the privately owned Tuscarora Bridge in New York. A replacement for the Blenheim Bridge in New York which was also lost during Irene is presently under construction. A 60 foot long privately owned covered bridge was built in Norwich, Connecticut in 2015 and the Blackwell Brook or Levi’s Mill Bridge in Connecticut in 2010.
There have been some replacements for deteriorated structures such as the Longley Bridge in Vermont which opened to traffic last month, the Comstock Bridge in Connecticut in 2011, the Pepperell Bridge in Massachusetts in 2010 and Williamsville Bridge in Vermont in 2010 .
For more information about the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, you can visit their website at www.coveredbridgesociety.org
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