Residents celebrate reopening of Lower Bartonsville Covered Bridge

ROCKINGHAM — Despite temperatures dipping into the teens, more than 100 people gathered on Jan. 26 to celebrate the opening of the new Lower Bartonsville Covered Bridge.

The new bridge is a replica of the original single-lane, lattice-truss span that was built in 1870 and swept away by the Williams River during record-breaking flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 28, 2011.

The widely viewed YouTube video of the bridge's collapse became an international symbol for the devastation that Irene caused in Vermont.

But on this day, the pain of that loss was replaced by the joy of Lower Bartonsville residents getting their beloved bridge back after nearly 17 months.

The new covered bridge, constructed by Cold River Bridges of Walpole, N.H., is longer and slightly wider than the original and was built with an eye toward withstanding a future flooding of similar magnitude.

But other than minor adjustments to size and the plaque that states the new date of construction, the bridge remains true to its original form, something that was extremely important to the residents of Lower Bartonsville.

To these community members, the bridge represented something more than just a more convenient way of heading south and held memories that were harder to wipe away.

Sue Hammond, the Lower Bartonsville resident who caught the bridge collapse on video, glowed with excitement.

“I did not anticipate that a year and a half later, we would be celebrating a new covered bridge. This is just fabulous,” she said.

She noted that the Cold River crew did a “fabulous job,” and called the new span “gorgeous.”

“It's not the same, and there will be differences we'll have to adjust to but, in just a few more minutes, I'll be able to hear my tire treads hit the wood and go across it once again,” she said.

Hammond also participated in the cutting of the ribbon with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, and architect Ithiel Town.

“For six months, we [residents] had to drive nine miles on a gravel road to go south,” Hammond said, “and we had a very warm winter last year, so we experienced mud season in January when it normally happens in March or April. But now we have our road back!”

Hammond was one of many residents fighting to have the structure replaced by a covered bridge.

“We knew when we were standing here and saw that big gaping hole, our covered bridge was gone. Immediately, we turned to each other and said we are not going to have a regular bridge in Bartonsville, we are going to build another covered bridge and almost immediately after the flood, that's what we did,” she said.

“We all worked together to convince the town that a covered bridge has always been in Bartonsville and [should be] what will always be here,” she continued. “The covered bridge is the character of our village.”

After some words from the dignitaries, residents and attendees of the ceremony were invited to follow Hammond and her father over the bridge for the first time.

Afterwards, all were invited to MacLaomainn's Scottish Pub in Chester for further celebration, where the local covered bridge club offered a decorated cake, and area residents shared memories of the original bridge.

“I grew up in this area,” said resident Tom Anderson. “I saw the collapse [of the original bridge] on YouTube, but it is just awesome to see this new bridge.”

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