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The Commons
Town and Village

Ewald to talk about history of Vilas Bridge

This event is part of a series of events sponsored by the Friends of the Library that highlight the significance of the Vilas Bridge to surrounding communities. Refreshments will be served. For more information about this program and how to donate, call 802-463-4270, email or visit

Originally published in The Commons issue #416 (Wednesday, July 12, 2017). This story appeared on page 0.

BELLOWS FALLS—Architectural historian and author Richard Ewald calls the Vilas Bridge “a bridge for our time,” and will discuss the history of the Vilas and other Bellows Falls bridges at Rockingham Free Public Library on Thursday, July 13, at 7 p.m.

The free event is part of a summerlong fundraising effort by the Friends of the Library to acquire and permanently exhibit a large painting of the Vilas Bridge by the late, nationally-known local artist Jerry Pfohl. The large, evocative painting is already on display in the library.

“The Vilas was built in 1930 and is considered one of the most historically important and beautiful concrete bridges in New Hampshire,” Ewald said in a news release. “Part of what makes it nationally significant is that it stands on the same site as the very first bridge built anywhere on the entire 410-mile Connecticut River, a timber bridge erected in 1785.”

“One of the most distinctive features of the Vilas is the many cast-concrete urn shapes that form the balustrade, or sidewalls. Although we don’t normally consider that bridges have an architectural style, these clearly mark the Vilas as representing the Colonial Revival Style,” Ewald continued.

“That style evolved in the 1920s as an American response to millions of immigrants and refugees arriving from European and Eastern European countries.

“White paint was applied to houses in those days to evoke the appearance of pure and classical Greek and Roman buildings and sculptures. Similarly, the bright white concrete and classical urn shapes on the Vilas, to many Americans in the 1930s, embodied what might be called ‘traditional values.’ This response may sound familiar to us today.”

Ewald served the Town of Rockingham for nearly a decade as historic preservation coordinator and community development director. He was also the executive director of the Bellows Falls Area Development Corporation and the first executive director of the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance.

He is the author of Proud to Live Here, published in 2003, a regional history of towns in the Connecticut River Valley in Vermont and New Hampshire. The book issues a call for historic preservation and natural-resource protection as means to promote community development and strengthen local identity and pride.

After his talk, Ewald will autograph copies of the book, for sale at the publisher’s price of $20, half of which he will donate to the Friends of the Library fundraising effort.

“Bridges have a special role in our built environment as the only architecture that flies,” Ewald said. “It’s important to preserve and continue to use a variety of architectural examples from all periods of the past as living reminders of our history — of what changes and what remains the same.”

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