January - February - March - Winter 2003
National Society for the preservation of Covered Bridges
Sunday, March 23 at 1 p.m. Meeting will be held at the Plymouth Church, 87 Edgell Road, Framingham MA.
Sunday, April 27 at 1 p.m. Meeting will be held at the Plymouth Church, Framingham, MA..
Dear Fellow Members,
Warm greetings from Westminster, where, at the present moment, December 9th, it is anything but warm.
As befits the season when this message is being written, may I also express the hope that by the time all of you read this, each and everyone of you shall have experienced the joys of a truly happy holiday passed with good friends and family.
In respect to our beloved Covered Bridges, there is quite a bit of news this quarter, so, rather than commencing by digressing, I had best get right down to it, so to speak.
The first item of business once again concerns the Historic American Engineering Record (H.A.E.R.) Covered Bridge project, a project funded by the Jeffords Covered Bridge Bill. As a part of this project, the National Park Service, of which H.A.E.R. is a division, wants to create a permanent "web site" concerning Covered Bridges. While it is yet to be decided exactly what information shall be contained on this site, certainly a listing of all authentic nineteenth and early twentieth century Covered Bridges will be at the heart of it. For awhile at least, the "web site" in question will likely be interactive; that is to say, for those of you who like me are not particularly computer literate, users calling up this site will be able to comment upon whatever materials are to be found there, to make suggestions as to what else ought to be included within a given listing, and finally, to offer corrections, should any data appear to be in error. Obviously, one of the principle sources of information for the above described "web site" will be the archives of the National Society, and of course the World Guide to Covered Bridges, which volume, as most of you probably already know, has been being published by us since 1956. As the National Park Service "web site" project begins to take on a more definite form, I will try to keep all of you informed concerning the specifics of the proposed "web site", and perhaps as well begin asking some of you for assistance in order to facilitate the work the National Society will undertake as an integral part of this project.
To change the subject somewhat, most of you will probably remember that in the fall President's Message I had once again cause to stress the importance of not "revising" a Covered Bridge out of existence during the course of an alleged "restoration". Little did I realize how timely these words were going to be. Shortly after the annual meeting of the Society, I learned that the Gilbertville Covered Bridge in Ware and Hardwick, Massachusetts, had been closed by order of Mass Highways. Many of you have probably visited this span, some of you most likely at the time it was being restored by Milton Graton, that is to say in 1986. Milton Graton in fact won a special preservation award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for amongst other things the outstanding work he did in bringing the Gilbertville Covered Bridge back to life. At the time this award was handed out, Mr. Graton was the only out-of-stater to be so honoured. He may still be the only out-of-stater to have received such an award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Be that as it may, and without going into a myriad of detail, the Gilbertville Covered Bridge is now closed. According to an engineering report furnished by a firm employed by Mass Highways, there is not much hope of ever reopening it again, because, according to the just mentioned report, at least as I see it, even if all the damage caused to the structure by gross overloads were to be repaired, the span would still have very little live load bearing capacity. (that were truly the case, how then has this structure managed to serve the traveling public so well over a period of more than a hundred years?) Various obvious solutions were proposed for the alleged difficulty; to mention but two: a new steel and concrete span, and a replica Covered Wooden Bridge. At present, there is talk of inserting two steel I-beams under the floor of the structure such that it would then be the I-beams which carried the live loads, not the bridge trusses.
Needless to say, some of the local folks in Ware and Hardwick are quite upset about these developments. In fact, one of the good citizens of Ware who, by the way, has been leading the charge for a more reasonable evaluation of the Gilbertville Covered Bridge, got in contact with me to ask me as president of the National Society whether I would support him in his efforts there. I of course said that I would. I penned a letter which was handed out during the course of a public meeting the subject of which was the fate of the Gilbertville span. The following extensive excerpts from this letter, only slightly retouched out of respect for the English language. I believe fairly sum up the Covered Bridge state-of-affairs in Massachusetts, and place the blame for what has been happening there squarely upon the shoulders of those parties who have been largely responsible for it, namely the engineers and administrators of Mass Highways:
Thank you ever so much for your note and for a copy of the report on the Gilbertville Covered Bridge. As both arrived just a few hours ago, I have not had a chance to do much more than read your letter, and to glance quite rapidly at selected sections of the report. I certainly cannot claim to have studied the latter in any depth or detail. The following remarks are therefore based primarily upon what I already know about Covered Bridges: the fact, in other words, and everything else being equal, that they are inherently robust, and, if not abused, capable of great longevity. An additional consideration underlying the following remarks, has been conclusions I have reached as a result of having observed Mass Highways in action, so to speak, over a period of quite a few years.
Regarding the inherent strength of Covered Wooden Bridges, one need go no further than to a paper read before the Boston Society of Civil Engineers on May 15th 1895 by Benjamin Wilder Guppy, then Assistant Bridge Engineer for the Boston and Maine Railroad. At the time, the Boston and Maine had over a hundred Covered Wooden Bridges on its lines, and the traffic going through them, both passenger and freight, was heavy. Mr. Guppy was thus able to accumulate more experience and more practical knowledge as to how to keep these structures in good trim than has any modern engineer. Consequently, whatever he has to say regarding the serviceability and maintenance of these spans is of great importance for all of us, but most especially for the engineering profession. (Would only that present day structural engineers understood this! Most unfortunately do not!!) Parenthetically, given Mr. Guppy's position and responsibilities with the Boston and Maine Railroad, it is extremely doubtful to me that he should have been any less concerned with public safety than would say a particular staff engineer down at Mass Highways in the Year of Our Lord 2002.
But let Mr. Guppy speak for himself:
Respecting the attitude of Mass Highways towards Covered Wooden Bridges, their recent record speaks for itself, in my opinion.
(A few years back, at the time the Gilbertville Covered Bridge was beautifully restored by Milton S. Graton, their philosophy was evidentially quite different.)
Up until 1994, the State of Massachusetts possessed four indigenous nineteenth-century Covered Wooden Bridges; namely, the Old Sheffield Covered Bridge in Sheffield, the Burkeville Covered Bridge in Conway, the Arthur A. Smith Covered Bridge in Colrain, and last but not least, the Gilbertville Covered Bridge in Ware arid Hardwick. In 1994, the old Sheffield span was arsoned, leaving but three of the above mentioned bridges still standing. At present, because amongst other things Mass Highways stupidly insists that wood, regardless of species, weighs fifty pounds per cubic foot, and wants at the same time to impose wind-load standards significantly higher than those of the local building codes, the Colrain span now languishes next to a cornfield where it awaits replication, not restoration, and the Burkeville Covered Bridge sits on its abutments without sideboarding and with a leaky roof. The latter span is allegedly going to be rehabilitated for foot traffic only, but from what I can understand, with much replacement of the historic fabric of the structure. None of the above constitutes true preservation. All of the above, in my opinion at least, is highly suggestive both of a contempt for wooden structures in general - - steel and concrete ones are better, are they not, because they are modern!? - - and a lack of knowledge of the virtues of the type of spans we have been discussing. If the Gilbertville Covered Bridge were now to receive similar treatment, then Mass Highways will have triumphed completely: in future, in other words, their shall no longer be a single real nineteenth-century Covered Wooden Bridge remaining in the State of Massachusetts, except of course for the import from Vermont, an import which is now being beautifully cared for by private parties at Old Sturbridge Village.
Another span which has been in danger of being "reformed" out of existence during the course of "restoration" is the Bath Haverhill Covered Bridge in Northern New Hampshire. The Society has in fact been so concerned about what has been proposed there that it has voted monies for an engineering study which will give us real data concerning the trusses and arches of this span. In the meantime, the following article drafted by James L. Garvin, Architectural Historian for the State of New Hampshire, ought to give all of you a very good idea of just what is at stake within the confines of the Towns of Bath and Haverhill. Quite literally, a great National Treasure is at risk up there. We must therefore not let this span go aglimmering, as indeed have so many other of its companions.
DISCOVERIES AT THE HAVERHILL-BATH COVERED BRIDGE
Recent discoveries have confirmed that the Haverhill-Bath Covered Bridge has spanned the Ammonoosuc River in New Hampshire since 1829, making it the oldest surviving example of the Town lattice truss in the United States. The structure retains an astonishing amount of original material and exhibits early framing techniques not previously identified in a covered bridge.
Long recognized as one of the oldest wooden spans in the United States, the Haverhill-Bath Bridge was included in a group of thirty covered bridges to be researched by the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) during the summer of 2002. HAER undertook its covered bridge documentary project under the sponsorship of the Federal Highway Administration, using funds for covered bridge preservation provided under legislation introduced by Senator James M. Jeffords of Vermont. Joseph D. Conwill, editor of Covered Bridge Topics, the journal of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, carried out the research.
Conwill established that the bridge was constructed in 1829, nine years after Ithiel Town patented the lattice truss system. Conwill also learned that town records reveal that Bath (and probably Haverhill as well) paid a claim of $84 in 1832, presumably as a penalty for utilizing the truss without securing a license from its patentee, a noted Connecticut architect.
Conwill noted that, "as the oldest existing example of a Town lattice truss, Bath-Haverhill Bridge is a treasure of national significance. "
During his inspection from ledges twenty feet below the bridge, Conwill noted an appearance of unusual age among the floor beams. Knowing that the entire floor system was slated for replacement in a proposed rehabilitation of the span, NHDHR architectural historian James L. Garvin carried out his own inspection of the bridge in August, accompanied by David W. Wright, president of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges.
Garvin and Wright discovered that an unanticipated amount of original or very early material had survived in the ancient bridge.
Despite the fact that the span stands over a dam and has been subjected to spray, high water, ice flows and even the impact of a large tree carried downstream in the legendary flood of 1927, most of its trusses, roof system, and even its roof sheathing appear to be original. All these elements, as well as the floor timbers that Conwill had noticed, bear the parallel marks of an "up-and-down" sawmill - probably Alcott's sawmill, which stood nearby in 1829. More over, many of the intersecting members of the bridge reveal hewn scars that are characteristic of the "square rule" method of framing, which was becoming commonplace in the 1820s. Evidence of "square rule" framing has never before been noted in a covered bridge. The bridge's granite abutments and central pier similarly reveal the marks of a method of stone splitting, that is characteristic of the 1820's. Together, both superstructure and substructure are a time capsule from the earliest years of covered bridge construction for which we have any physical evidence.
DHR is now working closely with the towns of Haverhill and Bath, the NH Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the consulting engineers for the bridge rehabilitation. Together, we will ensure that proposed repairs preserve the rich evidence and early materials that the span has miraculously retained for almost 175 years.
James L. Garvin
Sincerely, your President, David W. Wright
Nomination of officers for the year 2002-2003
President: David Wright, P. O. Box 171, Westminster, VT 05158
Vice President: No. 1 Engineering Consultant,
Vice President No. 3 Richard E. Roy, 73 Ash Street Apt 2, Manchester, NH 03104
Vice President No. 2 Custodian of the Eastman-Thomas Fund
Statutory Agent: Corresponding Secretary,
Financial Advisor: David Topham, 45 Village Way # 50, Rockport ME 04856
Director Expires 2003 Joseph Cohen, 130 Westfield Drive, Holliston, MA 01746
Director Expires 2004 Russell Whitney, 63 Baldwin Avenue, Framingham, MA 01701
Director Expires 2005 Pauline Prideaux, 143 Freeman St. Ext., Haverhill, MA 01830
Submitted October 20, 2002 at the Annual Meeting At the French King Restaurant in Millers Falls MA.
In July, 2002, this bridge was visited by Robert Spier, member Paula Spier's cousin. He was kind enough to forward these photos of the renovation taking place at that time. His visit was right after a period of heavy rain. He reports that the bridge was lifted to put new underpinnings under it. There was much heavy equipment in the area and underfoot was a sea of mud. Does anyone have an update to the renovation of this bridge?
New England College Bridge Declared Historic
Thirty years ago, Arnold Graton completed one of the first covered bridges to be built in New Hampshire since the first years of the twentieth century. The bridge that Graton completed in 1972 stands at New England College in Henniker. Although it was built as a pedestrian crossing, connecting two portions of the college campus across the Contoocook River, the Town lattice truss span was designed as a full-scale single-lane highway bridge, capable of carrying a fifteen-ton live load.
Recognizing that the span was the progenitor of a series of new covered bridges built in New Hampshire, mostly by the Graton family, the Division of Historical Resources declared the New England College Covered Bridge eligible for the State Register of Historic Places on October 9, 2002. Although structures must generally be at least fifty years old to qualify for the State Register, the Henniker bridge is clearly such a landmark and such an example of superb craftsmanship that the age requirement was waived.
President David Wright (left) with Fritz Wetherbee. Wetherbee was the guest speaker at the NSPCB Annual Dinner on October 20, 2002. Photo taken by Roland Routheir.
CORRECTION: On page 4 of the Fall newsletter, the location of the West Union Bridge was listed as Park County, Indiana. The correct spelling is Parke County.
Historic Preservation Training Center Announces a National Best Practices Conference on Preserving and Using Covered Bridges. The conference will take place at the historic Billings Center on the University of Vermont campus in Burlington, Vermont, June 5-7, 2003. Early registration for the conference is $210 if postmarked no later than February 28, 2003. For complete information, log on to http://www.uvm.edu/coveredbridges/
Public Works Magazine, June 2002. Covered Timber Bridge Sets Record. A new 200-foot bridge is located in Greenup, Illinois in Cumberland County. The project cost was $2.8M and was assembled originally by Sentinel Structures, Inc. at their Wisconsin plant, then disassembled and shipped to Greenup for reassembly. This bridge is said to be the nation's longest covered bridge without a posted load limit.
Electronic Consumer, Sept 2002, Paths to the Past. The cover story of this publication of Indiana's Electronic Cooperative Community discusses the new book, The Quiet Path: Covered Bridges of Indiana , by the father-daughter team of Marsha W. Mohr and Maurice Williamson. For the complete story and ordering information see http://indremcs.org/ec/article.php?sid=62
Birmingham Magazine , Sept 2002, Get Lost. To see details on a 6-acre cornfield in the design of the Alabama Covered Bridge, log on to http://www.comfieldmaze.com/sites.php?ID=username=allocustfork
The Union Leader, Sept 19, 2002, Covered Bridge Finds New Home. The covered bridge used previously to connect a crafts shop to a parking lot on Route 101A in Nashua, NH was relocated over the Nissitissit River after a 64-foot matching extension was added. It's open for walking traffic only.
The Des Moines Register, Sept 4, 2002, Madison County Bridge up in Flames. The Cedar Bridge, made famous in "The Bridges of Madison County" film was completely destroyed by fire. The Cedar Bridge, built in 1883 by Benton Jones, was 76-feet long and the only covered bridge still open to vehicles. It was renovated in 1998 at a cost of $128,073.
Ithaca Journal, Nov 8, 2002, Newfield Outraged by Bridge Fire. Wooden pallets were set on fire on the floor of the Newfield Covered Bridge early morning on Nov 1 St. The damage was limited to a depth of a half-inch of the floor. The bridge is the only remaining covered bridge in Tompkins County and was built in 1853.
The Weirs Times, Oct 3, 2002, Andover's Historic Covered Bridge Being Restored. The CilleyvilleBog Covered Bridge in Andover, NH, built in 1887, has been closed to even foot traffic since 1997. The restoration, which will preserve about 40% of the original structure, will be complete by the end of this year.
Argus-Champion, Aug 21, 2002, Newport Votes Against Covered Bridge. Even though estimates were close, the board of selectman decided to build a one-lane steel bridge on Pollards Mill Road rather than a wooden covered bridge.
Boston Globe, Nov 25, 2002, State's Covered Bridge Languish in Disrepair. Five of Massachusetts' seven covered bridges are now closed. The Eunice Williams Bridge in Greenfield was recently ordered closed after inspectors discovered it was warping and the structure was slowly being torn apart.
Bennington Banner, Oct 16, 2002, Bridge Petition Born. The Buskirk covered bridge, which connects Washington and Rensselaer counties, has been out of commission since mid-August after a major crack was found. Cambridge, NY Town Supervisor, JoAnn Trinkle, began a petition to have a new bridge built to relieve some of the traffic over the covered bridge. The Buskirk covered bridge is in the process of being repaired.
The Observer-Reporter, Sept 27, 2002, Arson Suspected in Blaze that Damaged Covered Bridge in Cross Creek Township. Wilson Mill Bridge, a historic 40-foot covered span at the brim of the Cross Creek State Park in Cross Creek Township, was damaged by an early morning fire. Damage was estimated at $2500.
Argus-Champion, Nov 6, 2002, Bridge Repairs Expected to Cost $1 Million. The Pier Covered Bridge, also known as the Chandler Station Bridge, which spans the Sugar River in Newport needs more than $1 million for repairs. An inspection on Oct. 22nd revealed several areas of the bridge rotting and decaying.
The Observer-Dispatcher , Sept 27, 2002, Grant to Help Strengthen Salisbury's Wooden Bridge. The Spruce Creek covered bridge is getting a $153,000 federal grant for restoration and repairs. The project includes adding beams for the bottom of the bridge for increased support, replacement of the roof, and a fire retardant spray. Work should be complete by next summer.
CONTRIBUTORS: G. Robert Salvi, Richard Sanders Allen, Trish Kane, Christine Ellsworth, James Garvin, John Baldwin, James R. Crouse, Dick & June Roy, Jan Shultz, Dick Wilson.
Stephen Lees of Abington, PA reports a new covered bridge. Smith's Bridge should be ready to view and photograph. This new Burr Arch construction, built of bongassi timber, is located over the Brandywine River near Granogue, Delaware. It's off Route 100 about 100 yards south of the PA state line.
Interesting new website by John Waldron to check out: http://www.pbase.com/ejohnw/covered_bridges
The following are items still available through the Society: All of the items below are available from June Roy, 73 Ash Street, Manchester, NH 03104-4906 or E-mail dickroycb1@Juno.com
The Book, Life in the Slow Lane is still available for $16.95 + $3.95
Shipping and Handling.
Books Available by Andrew Howard:
CB's of Madison County IA, A Guide . . . . . .$6.50
There is also an excellent book out on Vermont Covered Bridges called, "Spanning Time -- Vermon's Covered Bridges." You can get a copy by contacting Joseph Nelson, 2 Sugar Hill Road, Underhill VT 05489 or Visit >www.vermontbridges.com> Joseph Nelson is the President of the Vermont Society.
Both are now available on computer diskette in either Mac or PC format. Please specify your choice. The TOPICS index includes: Table of Contents for each issue, an index to subjects and authors, as well as more. The World Guide is kept up to date and in the regular format. The file on this diskett is compressed using the WinZip utility (www.winzip.com). Order your choice at $5.00 each from Joseph Cohen, 130 Westfield Drive, Holliston, MA 01746 from mid-April until mid-September. The rest of the year he is at 210 Wellington F, West Palm Beach, FL 33417.
THE BRIDGE KNOWS THE WAY
This will be a "coffee table" hardback book with photos of 100 covered bridges. Cost approximately $50. Sales sheet will be included with Spring 2003 Newsletter