Vermont is a strange state. Something of a cross between Switzerland and Kentucky, is a mass of contradictions. Home to rich and poor, hippie and reactionary, mud and scenery, Vermont is famous for being an odd little corner of America. It’s also famous for its covered bridges and home to most of my family, and this is a story about both of those things.
When I lived in Massachusetts, I would often drive 3 hours north to visit my family who live in the mountains around Rutland, Vermont. Although home to just over 17,000 people, Rutland is the second largest city in Vermont and is located centrally on the western side of the Green Mountains. Vermont is somewhat challenged in terms of transportation, with few high-speed roads.
The quickest route from Boston to Rutland doesn’t touch either of Vermont’s 2 Interstate highways. Instead, one cuts across New Hampshire to Route 103 through the Green Mountains. This route passes directly in front of the second, touristy Vermont Country Store (“Vermont Disney Land” as one local put it), home to Bag Balm, penny candy, and cheese samples.
103 clings to the side of the hills above the small but quick Williams River. Down in the valley is Lower Bartonsville Road and the old Green Mountain Turnpike, once one of Vermont’s main routes. This is a lazy, unlined road passing in front of muddy farms and over the river on a single lane covered bridge.
Sometimes, when I was not in a hurry on my journey between home and Rutland, I would hop off 103 just to enjoy the drive, the corn, and the Bartonsville Covered Bridge. This 140-year-old structure was very like the nearby Worrall’s Bridge, built a few years earlier by the same man, Sanford Granger. It allowed the little town of Bartonsville to exist, and many residents feel that bridges like these are still the root of their existence.
Both bridges are built in the “town lattice” style, featuring diagonal planks bolted together to form the walls. Covering a bridge with walls and a roof greatly enhanced its durability, especially in the rough conditions of Vermont. In fact, just about the only way to destroy a covered bridge is to undermine its footings or drive a loaded dump truck through it!
In March of 2006, on the way home from Rutland, I stopped to take photos of a few bridges and other sites along the route. It was late in the day, and my girls were tired by the time we reached Bartonsville, so they stayed in the car while I quietly walked across the covered bridge. I stopped to take a few pictures and to read the plaque posted there. It was cool in the river was slow.
Many covered bridges sit high above the river in hilly Vermont, but these two lie in the flats along the river bed and this would prove to be their undoing. Earlier this week, Hurricane Irene pounded the East Coast of the United States. Although well inland, Vermont was inundated with rain, swelling the steep rivers that run through the mountains there and flooding the plains.
The Williams River bed was unable to contain itself and carried away the Bartonsville Covered Bridge. It was utterly destroyed, and the Worrall was heavily damaged. The town is now raising funds to replace the bridge, but it will never be the same. I suppose this is life in the river bottoms, that I will miss that old bridge.
The photo I took on that March day lived on, however. I uploaded it to Wikimedia and it remains the sole illustration used in the Wikipedia article about the bridge. In the days after the hurricane, my snapshot has appeared on numerous websites and publications. I’ve misplaced the original image now, so I guess it’s good that it will be preserved forever online!