Bartonsville Bridge To Be Rebuilt

11/02/11 7:04AM By Susan Keese

AP/Jim Cole
What's left on what used to be the Bartonsville Covered Bridge over the Williams River in Rockingham.

(Host) Vermont's covered bridges fared relatively well in Tropical Storm Irene. The state has about 100 of the wooden spans. More than a dozen suffered serious damage.

Only one covered bridge was destroyed -- the Lower Bartonsville Bridge in Rockingham. And town officials voted Tuesday to rebuild the 141-year-old icon.

VPR's Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) No one knows how many people saw the 20-second video of the Bartonsville covered bridge collapsing almost gracefully into the Williams River.

Bartonsville native Susan Hammond, who shot the tape, says she posted it on YouTube for her neighbors to see.  Soon Hammond - who works for an international non profit -- started getting e-mails from CNN, the Weather Channel.

(Hammond) "A lot of people saw that video. In fact I was over in Vietnam just recently and people said, ‘That's your bridge!? We saw that video.'"

(Keese) Hammond's great grandfather traveled back and forth across that bridge. She says it was a gateway to Lower Bartonsville - a mile-long stretch of road with 25 or 30 homes.

(Hammond) "I mean it was like watching a friend wash down that river."

(Keese) The neighbors who gathered to watch the bridge fall vowed there and then that it had to be rebuilt.

Rockingham Town Manager Tim Cullenen says most townspeople agreed.

(Cullenen) "You know, some communities have greens, gazebos. For Bartonsville and for most of Rockingham this was a symbol of the community."

(Keese) Cullenen says things might have been different if replacing the covered bridge meant a major new tax burden for the town. But the bridge was insured.

And an engineer hired to study replacement alternatives reported this week that a new, single-lane covered bridge wouldn't cost much more than a two-lane concrete and steel replacement.

Town officials also learned that a covered bridge would likely last twice as long as a modern one.

Scott Newman is a historic preservation expert with the Vermont Agency of Transportation. He considers Vermont's covered bridges an engineering marvel:

(Newman) "The bridges were covered for two primary reasons. One was to connect the trusses at the upper part of the bridge, adding to the stability and rigidity of the feature. And the other was to protect the bridge from its number one threat, which is water."

(Keese) Newman says concrete bridges are particularly susceptible to weather damage in Vermont.

Newman says only a handful of the covered bridges that were damaged remain closed. And as far as he knows, plans are in the works for all of them to be restored.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

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