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A new bridge for a New Year

Bartonsville Covered Bridge slated to reopen Jan. 26

On the afternoon of Aug. 28, 2011, the Williams River’s swollen floodwaters slammed against the abutments holding the Bartonsville Covered Bridge.

When the 140-year old bridge uttered an “ungodly creaking sound,” resident Susan Hammond turned her Flip camera toward the bridge.

Seconds later, the village landmark slid into the rushing waters, another casualty of Tropical Storm Irene.

“I was really hoping the bridge would survive,” Hammond said.

Hammond said she expected to take footage of the bridge weathering the flood. Instead, she posted to Facebook and YouTube a 20-second video, intended for family and friends, of the bridge’s collapse.

The footage went viral — viewed more than 500,000 times on YouTube alone — and became one of the iconic images depicting Irene’s damage.

For over a year, residents of Rockingham (of which Bartonsville is a village), the state, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) worked to replace the covered bridge.

As 2012 closed, a crew moved the new bridge’s skeleton from a downstream staging area onto its new abutments.

Hammond said the village will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 26.

Cold River Bridges, the Walpole, N.H.-based contractor rebuilding the bridge, is working to complete its floor and install the oak treads on which cars will drive across, as well as finish the siding and roof, said Hammond.

Architect Ithiel Town developed his lattice-truss bridge design, used in the original Bartonsville bridge, with criss-crossed planks secured by pins and top and bottom cords. The design was less labor-intensive than other bridge designs of the era and eliminated the need for long, wide, expensive timbers.

According to Hammond, the Cold River crew “has done an amazing job” and has been “friendly and open and courteous” to all the people stopping to ask questions during construction.

The new covered bridge was designed by Phil Pierce at Clough Harbour & Associates, Albany, N.Y.

The Williams River whisked away the historic bridge, built by local bridge-builder Sanford Granger in 1870, carrying it downstream and finally dumping it in an unsalvageable heap.

According to Hammond, the Selectboard crunched the numbers and found that replacing the covered bridge would cost roughly the same as installing a modern concrete structure.

The town’s insurance would help cover a portion of the costs. FEMA agreed to pay 90 percent of building new abutments, installing a temporary bridge, and some of the construction costs not covered by insurance.

The state also agreed to cover 5 percent of the costs, according to www.bartonsvillecoveredbridge.com, the website dedicated to the effort to rebuild the bridge.

The town of Rockingham needs to pitch in an estimated $80,000 to $100,000 for abutments, the temporary bridge, and the new covered bridge, according to the website.

The town has a fund to accept donations at www.rockbf.org.

Built to withstand high water

Construction of the new bridge started last September, more than a year after Irene hit. The bridge will remain single lane, but other changes were made to the design.

To accommodate future high water, the new abutments were pushed further from the shoreline and reinforced with steel pilings, said Hammond.

As a result, the new bridge will be 17 feet longer than the original. It will also stand slightly taller than its predecessor to better accommodate fire trucks.

The town hopes to raise enough funds to hire a stonemason to cover the new concrete abutments with stones from the original abutments, she said.

According to Hammond, the engineer said that keeping the new bridge in the lattice-truss style as the original means contractors didn’t need to construct a center pier to accommodate the bridge’s longer span.

The new bridge is assumed to be the longest Town lattice truss bridge without a center pier in the state, she said.

In a twist of fate, the 1870 Bartonsville Bridge was constructed after the Great Flood of 1869 caused the Williams River to change course.

According to the Bartonsville Bridge website, prior to the flood, the Williams River powered mills in the village. The flood, however, caused the river to run through the village center, washing away six houses, the train depot, and railroad tracks.

‘Always meant home’

According to Hammond, after Irene, Lower Bartonsville residents wanting to travel south spent six months driving north nine miles, over muddy dirt roads, to Chester until a temporary bridge was installed.

But, she added, the nearby residents didn’t feel the bridge’s loss only while driving round Robin Hood’s barn to get home.

The bridge had served as part of the neighborhood’s routine. Neighbors walked across it to visit one another. Local kids would toss stones into the water from the bridge.

“It was really missed,” she said.

Hammond said she grew up across the road from the bridge.

“The bridge always meant home to me,” she said.

To her, Bartonsville without a bridge wasn’t Bartonsville. This vision of home has kept her committed to the long process of replacing the bridge.

She’s happy so many other people, like donors and the town Selectboard, agreed.

Hammond lost power during Irene shortly after posting the bridge footage to the Internet. She said she didn’t know the film went worldwide until later.

She said she wasn’t sure why the Bartonsville Bridge’s collapse captured people’s attention.

Maybe because it shows the power of rushing water, she said. Maybe because the footage showed Irene in action rather than after the flood.

“Covered bridges mean Vermont, perhaps,” said Hammond.

These bridges represent things like home, peace, and beauty, she continued.

“They represent what a lot of people wish they had, but we’re lucky enough to live here [in Vermont],” she said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #184 (Wednesday, January 2, 2013).

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