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Tunbridge's Mill Bridge Lost to River Ice
Story by Euclid Farnham, Tunbridge Historian, Photos by Jackie Higgins

On March 4th and 5th Tunbridge lost an old friend when the Mill Covered Bridge was destroyed by ice. It was difficult for Tunbridge residents to comprehend why a bridge that survived the 1927 flood, the 1938 hurricane and numerous other floods succumbed this time, especially when no other river in Vermont was troublesome on those days.

Mill Bridge
Photo 1 of 4 by Jackie Higgins of Tunbridge
The problem actually began in the middle of January when the ice "went out" all the way from Chelsea to the Tunbridge fairgrounds. Here the ice pack jammed on the sharp river bends in back of the fairgrounds. On March 5th when more ice came down the river there was no place for it to go except under the Mill Bridge. The structure was pushed off its abutments and badly smashed. At the same time the old blacksmith shop (now used as an upholstery shop) was severely flooded. The employees working in the shop heard the ice roaring down the river and quickly left the building. Several other Tunbridge residents watching nearby also moved out of the way in a hurry.

The news quickly spread around town and the select board and many other residents gathered to see if anything could be done to save the damaged bridge. Experts were called in and a plan was devised to try and rescue the structure. Unfortunately, the necessary equipment was not at hand and it would require some time to move it to the site.

Friday morning found the bridge still resting partially on the ice and partially on its old abutments. It seemed that there was still a chance to save the old structure, but it was not to be. Soon after noon the ice jam began to settle and move carrying the bridge with it. A last minute rescue effort was attempted, but much of the needed equipment had not arrived and the bridge crashed into the ice and water. With it went 116 years of Tunbridge history.

Mill Bridge
Photo 3 of 4 by Jackie Higgins of Tunbridge

Arthur G. Adams built the bridge at this mill site in 1883. Adams was the local carpenter responsible for many of the covered bridges in the First Branch Valley. The bridge cost the town $532.93.This included a bill from the nearby sawmill owners Hayward and Kibby for 22,124 feet of lumber at a cost of $226.40. In 1883 the immediate area surrounding the bridge was the center of commercial activity in the village with a gristmill, sawmill, blacksmith shop and feed store nearby.

In recent years the Mill Bridge was the entrance to the north parking lot of the Tunbridge World's Fair. Arthur Adams (who probably never saw an automobile) would have stood in amazement at the sight of several thousand cars passing through his bridge.

The loss of the bridge was a traumatic event for Tunbridge people and more than one person shed tears over the tragedy. Immediately, however, the town pulled together and started to plan for a new Mill Covered Bridge. The select board voted for a new bridge and applications for bids have been sent out. The goal is for the new bridge to be in place by July 4, 2000 with a huge party of celebration.

In the meantime the select board has appointed a fund-raising committee and numerous exciting events are planned. Anyone interested in helping out may mail contributions to:

Mill Bridge Fund,
24 The Crossroad,
Tunbridge, VT 05077

Tunbridge Covered Bridge Replacement Status:
The Tunbridge Select Board has accepted a bid of $175,000 offered by the Daniels Construction Company of Ascutney, Vermont, said Euclid Farnham, Tunbridge Historian. "An engineer is currently drawing up plans for the construction of the new bridge, which will be using exactly the same truss as the old one. Every one in town wants the bridge to resemble the one we had as closely as possible."

The builder will start to accumulate the materials right away, said Mr. Farnham. "There is no definite date as of now on when construction will begin, but it will be as early as they possibly can start in the spring because we want the bridge done before the Fourth of July, 2000. We are going to have a big celebration that day when the bridge is pulled across the river with oxen."

Tunbridge Mail Box

From John Bicknell, Tunbridge Selectman: On March 4th around 11a.m. the ice gathered up against the bridge and shortly thereafter the chords broke and caused the bridge to move off the abutment. The weather turned much cooler in the afternoon and it was felt that the ice would freeze together. The Selectmen called a covered bridge engineer at once to see what could be done. The next morning, March 5th at 10a.m., the Selectmen held a meeting with this engineer along with the Director of Bridges in the VT. Department of Transportation.

The plan was to put every effort in saving the bridge. Two 100 Ft. I-beams were to be installed through the bridge. In the early afternoon while the I-beams were being loaded 40 miles away the ice jam began to settle and took the bridge with it. As soon as the bridge went down into the river work began to bring out the lumber (big pieces of floor, walls etc.). All that was remaining in the river were pieces of the roof. Ninety percent of the bridge was stacked and some pieces will be installed into the new bridge.

The fire of the night of the fifth of March burned all the remaining broken lumber, mostly from the roof. This was done because of a major snow storm coming the next day. The replacement bridge is just coming out of red tape. We will not be allowed to use native lumber on the new bridge. The bridge will be made from southern pine for better strength. We still are going to use native hemlock boards on the roof and wide pine boards on the side from the town property.

The bridge will have 30" walk ways on both sides of the inside of the bridge. The outside of the bridge will look like the old Mill bridge. We will be raising the Spring Road side abutment two feet this summer. Depending on the how long it takes to get the ordered lumber we still consider this project as on time for completion by July 4th, 2000.

From Phil Pierce: Hi Joe: Thought I ought to offer an update on the Mill Covered Bridge Replacement status regarding the engineering. The engineering firm that I work for (Shumaker Consulting Engineering and Land Surveying, P.C., Vestal, New York) was retained by Neil Daniels to provide engineering support for the replacement bridge. Our work has recently been completed and reviewed by Mr. Daniels (who is also a Professional Engineer). It is now under review by the Vermont Agency of Transportation and will be submitted to the Town of Tunbridge thereafter. Following their review comments, I will be able to provide a few details about the design and detailing. It was a joy to work with Mr. Daniels who, I am confident, will build a quality replacement. Phil Pierce

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

No part of this page may be reproduced without the written permission of Euclid Farnham or of Jackie Higgins
Text this page Copyright © 1999, Euclid Farnham, Tunbridge, VT
Photographs this page Copyright ©, 1999, Jackie Higgins, Tunbridge, VT
This file updated July 29, 2000