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Dummerston bridge: Repairs done at long last

Town officials past and present hail reopening of historic iron bridge

DUMMERSTON—After 15 years, 17 different Selectboard members, three governors, and $2.8 million in repairs, Dummerston got what it wanted — the preservation and restoration of the historic green iron bridge over the West River.

The bridge has been in use since last September, but town officials decided that the completion of the long-delayed restoration project deserved a special ceremony.

So on the afternoon of March 27, past and present members of the Selectboard gathered at the bridge for a ribbon-cutting.

Alhrough the ribbon was a thin strip of orange safety tape that had to be moved occasionally to let cars cross the bridge, and although the scissors doing the cutting were brought from someone’s office desk, it was the thought that counted.

Master of ceremonies Paul Normandeau, a former Selectboard member, said the iron bridge “represents a lot of what Dummerston is all about.”

The gathering also was a salute to the amount of effort that the town spent, in the words of current Selectboard member Tom Bodett, to “poke, prod, and cajole the state to fix it up.”

It was also a salute to the contractors of the project, Renaud Brothers of Vernon, who had to rebuild the bridge twice. The first time, they had it almost finished in the fall of 2010 when it was discovered that some key upper support members of the bridge had rusted through, and they had to spend nearly another year redoing the repairs.

Ultimately, Renaud Brothers replaced about half of the steel in the bridge, along with about 13,000 wrought iron rivets.

“Mike Renaud kept this bridge out of the river,” said Bodett.

The 198-foot quadruple intersection Warren Truss iron bridge was built in 1892 by the Berlin (Conn.) Iron Bridge Co. for $5,600, Normandeau said. It is the fourth-oldest metal truss bridge in Vermont, and one of the few bridges of its kind still intact. Many of them were lost in the 1927 flood, which destroyed about 1,200 bridges in Vermont.

In the mid-1990s, the bridge was closed, and it was threatened with removal by the state. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. In its nomination information, the bridge is said to have used a design normally used for railroad bridges so it could support the large blocks of granite that were being quarried from the nearby George E. Lyon Granite Co., which also supplied the stone for the bridge abutments.

Receiving National Register status was a key step in helping to save it, Normandeau said. The state considered making it a bicycle/pedestrian-only bridge, but the town held out for a full restoration.

Eventually, in 2000, the Vermont Agency of Transportation issued a Historic Bridge Preservation Easement, where the state would agree to rebuild the structure, while the town would be responsible for its subsequent maintenance and preservation. Still, it took until 2009 for the state to appropriate the money to restore the span.

“Now, we have a beautiful, beautiful bridge,” said Normandeau.

And, a functional backup for the town’s other main crossing over the West River, the West Dummerston Covered Bridge, which is due for some repairs later this year to the stone wing walls that help support that historic 1872 structure.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #150 (Wednesday, May 2, 2012).

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