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Slayton: Repairing The Bartonsville Bridge

09/13/11 7:55AM By Tom Slayton
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AP/Jim Cole
Teo Campbell stands on what used to be the bottom of the Bartonsville Covered Bridge over the Williams River in Rockingham.

(HOST) In the aftermath of the storm, Commentator Tom Slayton has been giving some thought to the spirit of Vermonters and their tireless efforts in putting the state back together.

(SLAYTON) Perhaps the most striking single image of the massive body blow that Hurricane Irene dealt Vermont was Susan Hammond's 20-second video of the Bartonsville covered bridge being washed away.

(Public Post: Read Rockingham Town Minutes from Sept. 6, 2011)

That historic old bridge groaned and creaked as it was battered by the raging Williams River, which it has spanned since 1870. And finally, it gave up, slipped gracefully into the racing brown current, and was gone. Once again, it seemed that Vermont's rich past, which every Vermonter loves, was being stripped away.

People who say "It's only a bridge," don't get that point, Hammond declared. She told Susan Smallheer of the Rutland Herald, that the bridge represented the culture of Vermont.

 And she was right. Beloved old structures like covered bridges, traditional barns, old town halls and historic churches are part of the fabric, woven of the past, that makes Vermont what it is today. They are a big part of our sense of place.

The hurricane that rampaged through Vermont tore several big holes in that fabric. It also damaged or destroyed more than 700 homes, blew out roads, and isolated some 13 communities across central and southern Vermont.

But now, more than a week after the event, it is evident that Irene may have been big and bad, but it hasn't crushed Vermonters' spirits. The culture of Vermont took a hit, but quickly proved it is strong and resilient. The bridges may be gone, but the culture that built them lives on.

You could see it in the dozens of volunteer workers who turned out to help restore downtown Moretown. You could see it in the trays of sandwiches local restaurants and diners made for the flood recovery workers throughout Vermont. You could see it in Rochester, where townspeople held an emergency town meeting in a local church to decide what to do, and the local supermarket gave away perishable food. You could see it in Pittsfield, where residents isolated by the flood helped each other to cope, and a group in town for a wedding pitched in.

You could see it in the National Guard workers and Norwich cadets who worked long and hard to dig out Northfield and other flood-ravaged towns.

And you could see it in Bartonsville, where Susan Hammond and others made plans to rebuild their covered bridge. There's a replacement fund, and town officials found the wreckage of the bridge downriver and made plans to salvage what they could. Parts of the lattice truss that was the core of the bridge were still intact. Perhaps they will find their way into the replacement bridge.

My guess is the bridge will be rebuilt, and so will Vermont. And the living culture that first constructed that bridge 140 years ago will continue to live as that bridge and this state are put back together.

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