A MESSAGE FROM YOUR
Dear Fellow Members, Greetings!!
As I look out my window today, that is to say on the Ides of March, I am somewhat
discouraged. Though the snows of a fairly long and cold winter had mostly melted away here in
Westminster, melted away to the point where there was much bare ground, even some green grass
to be found down where I live in the Valley of the Connecticut. I see that the white flakes are
once again falling. Ugh!! Drat!! Double drat!! Triple drat, plus many other expletives none of
which ought ever to grace the pages of our Newsletter!!!! Oh well, and in the words of an old
Victorian Adage, "What cannot be changed, must be endured." Spring will come some day, of
that I am sure, and with it, the start of the Covered Bridge visiting season.
Speaking of Covered Bridges, there is some interesting news this quarter. Because of the
press of much other business -- figuring prominently on his list of present obligations, your
President is currently hard at work at drafting additions and revisions to the text of a new addition
of the World Guide -- I am going to have to be fairly brief here and only summarize certain
matters which, by their inherent interest and importance, ought ordinarily to merit a much fuller
treatment. With no further ado, therefore, to the bridges and various other related subjects.
The Bissell Covered Bridge in Charlemont, Massachusetts: Those of you who have
visited the Bissell Bridge, and are fond of it, will be pleased to learn that this span was accepted
for listing on the National Register of Historic Places as of February 26th 2004.
And now a bit of history.
The present Bissell Bridge is actually the second Covered Span to have occupied the site, and was
erected in the years 1950 and 1951. It replaced an 1880 Town Lattice Truss Bridge which had,
for whatever reasons, been allowed to fall into a state of advanced decrepitude. Some of you may
have read the poem composed during the last days of the first Bissell Covered Span, by Selectmen
Clyde H. Churchill, William D. Pierson, and Charles E. Streeter, of Charlemont, a poem which in
the view of these Selectmen, accurately described the then current condition of the 1880
structure. This 'poem begins:
"Listen dear voters, and you shall hear,
From a board of Selectmen crazed with fear,
That in the dead of night, with a mighty roar,
The Bissell Bridge will be no more."
As a piece of polemic, the above poem was apparently quite effective. William F. Callahan,
Commissioner of the Department of Public Works at the time, replied as follows:
"Struck by the setting's natural beauty,
The Commissioner said 'twas the State's duty,
To save that lovely, rustic view,
And save the State some money too,
For it seems the wood bridge can compete,
And still be cheaper than concrete,
The Town, of course, will play its part,
To gladden every tourist's heart."
And so the present Bissell Covered Bridge was duly built.
The official opening of the new Bissell Covered Bridge occurred on Saturday, September
22nd 1951, and was marked by an impressive parade, at least judging from contemporary
newspaper accounts of the event, as well as by the presence of many local dignitaries, and by
much "speechifying." Both Massachusetts Governor Paul A. Dever and State Commissioner of
Public Works, William F. Callahan were in attendance for the occasion, and both presumably had
something to say. Very likely, a good time was had by everyone that day, and in all probability,
most folks who had been there present imagined that the new Bissell Covered Bridge, successfully
launched as it had been, would continue to serve the traveling public well for many years to come.
Serve the traveling public well for many years to come the Bissell Covered Bridge has indeed
done. In fact, it is only within the last decade that anyone has been even the slightest bit doubtful
as to its performance, the most notable critic of the Bissell Bridge during this period having been
As attentive readers of the Newsletter will already know, alas, alas, alas, the new Bissell
Covered Bridge is now closed. It has been by-passed by some sort of a single-lane Bailey
structure, traffic over said structure being controlled by many attendant stop lights, as many stop
lights as one might encounter say in the middle of New York City at some major intersection.
(And how much exactly has the installation of all these traffic lights cost the Massachusetts
Given their druthers, Mass. Highways would most certainly demolish the Bissell Covered
Bridge, and replace it with what they would probably descri13~ as a "replica" span, though just
how closely this "replica" would mimic the structure for which it had been substituted is a matter
of some legitimate doubt.
Fortunately, many townspeople in Charlemont have objected to the removal of the Bissell
Covered Bridge, so for the moment, this span still stands. Its future preservation is anything but
certain, however, even inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places will not, in and of
itself, prevent demolition, though such inclusion does oblige Mass. Highways to jump through a
few additional hoops. Fans of the Bissell Covered Bridge should therefore keep their fingers and
toes crossed, and hope for a successful outcome to the present controversy, i.e., one which is not
'preservationally challenged.' Further developments respecting the Bissell Bridge will of course be
reported in future President's Messages.
The Bath-Haverhill Covered Bridge: Concerning proposals or schemes for the
stabilization and repair of the Bath-Haverhill Covered Bridge, there are no recent developments to
report. Presumably, our engineering friend and his associates have been hard at work drawing up
their plans for the structure, but until these plans have been completed, and subsequently passed
around to other consulting parties, of which, as most of you will already know, the National
Society is one, there is, as I have already said, nothing to report.
Concerning prospective financing for a stabilization and repair scheme, however, there is
some news, albeit of a rather negative sort. This news is the following: from what I have been able
to determine, and I have looked into the matter seriously, there is simply nowhere near enough
money formally committed to the Bath-Haverhill project for anyone to be able to claim that this
span will be repaired and stable by a particular date, or to announce any sort of construction
schedule according to which the Bath-Haverhill project shall allegedly proceed.
This having been said, it would be well, I think, to list those monies which are known to be in
the Bath- Haverhill till, so to speak:
1) Some $152,000 from the State of New Hampshire, a sum allocated to the towns of Bath
and Haverhill in lieu of demolition of the Bath-Haverhill Covered Bridge. (Members not familiar
with the Bath-Haverhill Covered span may not know that this bridge has recently been by-passed.
Were it not the great national treasure that it is, this structure would likely have been taken down
soon after the completion of the new bridge now replacing it, which operation, according to the
State of New Hampshire, would have cost $152,000, hence the amount of the above cited sum.)
2) An I.S.T.E.A. grant for $250,000, which grant requires a 20% match, i.e., $50,000 from
the two towns. (I presume this match has been committed to the project by Bath and Haverhill
out of their own funds.)
To the best of my knowledge, there are no other monies formally committed to the
Bath-Haverhill project at the present time.
In light of the above, let us now do a few sums:
$152,000 plus $250,000 plus $50,000 equals $452,000. So far, so good, except that as of last
September, the Towns of Bath and Haverhill had already spent some $72,000 for emergency
repairs to the Bath-Haverhill span, and for engineering. $450,000 minus $72,000 equals
$380,000, a nice, tidy little sum, as I am sure most of you would agree, but one which is
unfortunately vastly inferior to what will ultimately be required to repair and stabilize the
Bath-Haverhill Covered Bridge.
Our engineering friend, for example, in his much discussed report, estimates that these repairs
will cost in excess of one million dollars, including engineering, and it is conceivable that he is a
bit short of the count. Even if the bill for the repairs in questions were not to exceed one million
dollars, $1,000,000 minus $380,000 still leaves a short fall of $620,000, which sum the Towns of
Bath and Haverhill are probably not in a position to raise by themselves, making use only of their
own resources. Put another way, until such time as funds more or less commensurate with the
charges that will be incurred in repairing and stabilizing the Bath-Haverhill Covered Bridge have
been formally committed to this project, there is no project, or at least no project that amounts to
much. It is just as simple as that: without proper funding in place, no bids can be accepted, nor
any contracts let, period, hence there is no project, as has been said.
Respecting funding for repairs to the Bath-Haverhill Covered Bridge, this issue has become
confused because, several years back, then Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, secured a
grant of $650,000 for the Bath-Haverhill project. The money in question was supposed to have
come through as an outright grant to the two communities, but instead arrived with the
requirement for a 20% match. 20% of $650,000 is $130,000, a sum much in excess of what the
Towns of Bath and Haverhill feel they can invest themselves in the Bath-Haverhill Covered
And there, for the moment, the matter rests, at least as far as I have been able to determine.
Senator Smith, before he left office, was not able to get the 20% matching funds requirement
removed from the $650,000 grant which he did secure for the two towns. Though the two towns
have requested special legislation so as to be able to obtain the additional funds they will require
in order to repair and stabilize the Bath-Haverhill Covered Bridge, neither Representative Bass's
office, nor the offices of Senators Gregg and Sununu, are at present actively pursuing such
legislation. The Bath-Haverhill repair and stabilization project therefore bears watching closely by
all of us. Needless to say, but I shall say it anyway, further developments regarding this span shall
be fully reported on future pages of the President's Message.
Sincerely, Your President,
David W. Wright