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Thetford's Covered Bridges

Thetford Town was chartered in 1761 and settled by people from both New Hampshire and Connecticut. In the 1860s historian Isaac Hasford remarked that while the Connecticut River Valley town was above average in thrift and population, nothing had happened there to claim space in history. "We have, beside farming, a riotous mill stream, the Oompompanusuc, bisecting the town, giving life and power to three smart villages. It has, on occasion, [washed] half their bridges and sometimes their mills down to the Connecticut and the town below."

Charles Latham, jr. booklet           Along the course of the "mill stream" at that time were eight sawmills, four gristmills, a straw-board and paper mill, two flannel factories, a carriage shop and bedstead factory, and an edge tool and trip-hammer works.
          Contemporary local Historian Charles Latham Jr., in his A Short History of Thetford Vermont 1761-1870, refers to Thetford as a "River Town," an appropriate title what with the town situated on the banks of the Connecticut River and with the Ompompanoosuc River flowing through its heart: The first settlers arrived in the region's roadless wilderness by means of the Connecticut River; the Ompompanoosuc provided waterpower for grist mills and sawmills. And wherever a mill was established a village grew and roads were built, and with them, bridges.
          Latham wrote; "Several references indicate that a bridge was built in 1782 to carry this road over the Pompanoosuc at Union Village. . . .
          "A petition to the assembly in 1787 for a tax to build a bridge to Norwich on the road from the meeting house (perhaps at Union Village) mentions that `there are now seven large bridges in said town'. In 1788 and 1789 votes were taken to bridge the Pompanoosuc at Post Mills . . . .*
          "In 1800 the total expenses of the town were $260.52, of which $224 went to build a bridge near Waterman's Mill (near Union Village)."
Charles W. Hughes booklet           Charles W. Hughs of Thetford wrote in his The Mills and Villages of Thetford Vermont; ". . . there had been four bridges across the Connecticut at North Thetford: a bridge on piles, an open bridge, a covered bridge, and an iron bridge. The first bridge here was built in 1822 . . . . The covered bridge in 1864."
          Over the ensuing years bridges were lost to fire, flood, and modernization. In all, five covered bridges survived into the mid-twentieth century. A newspaper clipping kept by the Thetford Historical Society states that three covered bridges in Thetford were lost when the Union Village Flood Control Dam was constructed. Now there are but two.
(* The first bridges at these sites were probably open wooden bridges; few bridges in those years were roofed.. J.C.N.)
To read more about Thetford see the booklets: Thetford Center Covered Bridge , by Bob Brown; A Short History of Thetford Vermont 1761-1870, by Charles Latham jr.; The Mills and Villages of Thetford Vermont, by Charles W. Hughs. All are published by the Thetford Historical Society, PO Box 33, Thetford, VT 05074

Sayers or Thetford Center Bridge

The Sayers Bridge, believed to be a Haupt Truss span, is the only one of its kind in New England, and one of just three in the United States. While the names of the builders are lost, the truss designer is remembered by Civil War buffs as the colonel who built and ran the U.S. Military Railroad in the South for Union forces.

Sayers Bridge Photo by Joe Nelson, 1997

When the Sayers Bridge is viewed from the top of the falls, the scene is hard to equal. The truss used in the span is a unique adaptation of Herman Haupt's 1839 patent. The midstream pier was added in 1963.

          Herman Haupt graduated from West Point in 1835. He resigned his commission to become district superintendent and chief engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad. When the war began he was drafted to serve as superintendent of military railroads. He pushed his tracks through Virginia, building trestles out of found materials described by Abraham Lincoln as "bean poles and corn stalks."
          The Haupt design, as used here, resembles a multiple kingpost truss. It differs in that it is assembled from planks instead of square timbers and is joined with treenails rather than with mortise and tenon. The builder integrated the whole with a segmented plank arch.
Thetford Center Bridge Photo by Joe Nelson, Oct., 2000

The Sayers Bridge after the Winter, 1997 reconstruction. This view shows the new roofing.

          The bridge was restored in 1963 with a mid-span concrete pier and four steel I-beams supporting a new laminated deck. The work was estimated by the VAOT to cost about $30,000 with $6,000 the Town's share. The Town replaced the siding and roof as part of a community project.
          The Thetford Center Bridge underwent repairs again in 1997 after a dump truck driven by a local resident tried to drive through with its bed raised. He went part of the way, taking off two-thirds of the roof, wrote Bob Brown in his booklet: Thetford Center Covered Bridge.
          The Select Board voted to award the work to local craftsmen. Hemlock timber was cut and hauled from the town forest to replace thirteen tie beams. The accident occurred on Thursday, October 16. By December 16, the repairs were complete and the first car passed through the bridge.
          For a blow by blow story of the 1997 reconstruction with twenty color photographs of the work in progress, see Bob Brown's booklet.
          The Sayers Bridge is easily reached from I-91 Exit 14. Drive west two miles on Route 113, then take Tucker Hill Road south through Thetford Center. Sayers Bridge crosses the Ompompanoosuc River above a millpond. The river flows over a ruined dam and cascades down terraces of bedrock.
           Popularly known as the Tucker Hill Bridge, or as the Sayers Bridge after the furniture mill owned by the Sayres brothers that once operated here, the bridge was listed on National Register of Historic Sites on September 17,1974 as the Thetford Center Covered Bridge

Union Village Bridge

The Union Village Bridge is in the center of the village and has spanned the river here since 1867. With a truss length of 113 feet, it is the longest multiple-kingpost span in the state--the average truss length of multiple-kingpost bridges in Vermont is fifty-four feet. An attempt was made to stiffen the structure with what has been called a kingpost arch. The Agency of Transportation bridge inspectors found that the long inverted " V" bracing has been lending little structural support "due to lack of substantial connection to the trusses."
Union Village Bridge Photo by Joe Nelson, 1997

The Union Village Bridge, the state's longest multiple- kingpost span, has been defying gravity for more than 130 years.

          The timber deck was replaced and the unmortared stone abutments capped in the 1970s, and the east abutment was faced with concrete. Except for the addition of distribution beams tie-bolted under the deck beams and the "kingpost" arches, the span remains as it was originally designed.
          Unfortunately, the bridge is in trouble. The camber has reversed, so that, instead of arching upward at mid-span, the old bridge is sagging. The Agency of Transportation has recommended that the Union Village Bridge be closed to traffic and bypassed or rehabilitated with a self-supporting roadway.
          Find Union Village by returning to Route 113 from Thetford Center and driving east to Thetford Hill and Academy Road. Go south 2.5 miles to the bridge. Union Village Bridge stands in the Ompompanoosuc River valley in the shadow of the Union Village Flood Control dam.
          The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites as Union Village Covered Bridge 9/17/1974

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Joe Nelson, P.O Box 267, Jericho, VT 05465-0267,

No part of this web site may be reproduced without the written permission of Joseph C. Nelson
Text Copyright © 2000, Joseph C. Nelson
Photographs Copyright ©, 1997, Joseph C. Nelson
Illustrations Copyright ©, 1997, Joseph C. Nelson
This file posted December 14, 2000, revised December 17, 2000