westford.celebratBack to Work Begins.
by Caroline Brown
Westford's covered bridge is one of about 100 left in Vermont. It is one of two that were located in the town center. The "sister" bridge burned during a fire that started in a nearby creamery around 1910. An iron bridge was then built, that was taken out in the "Flood of'27". Our bridge survived the great flood!
The bridge is a multiple kingpost truss with Burr arch, built 1837/8; it's 20' x 97' and weighs 40 tons. The Browns River bridge is the second oldest in the state of this arch type.
On November 22, 1836, Westford voters resolved to build ". . . a single arch bridge where the old one stands near Halbert's Store (now the Westford Market), calculated to be fourteen feet wide and built on the old abutments." This new bridge was originally to be constructed by July 1, 1837, at the cost not exceeding $600.
The covered bridge was used until 1965 when a steel and concrete bridge was built along side it. By 1975, the then 137 year old bridge had been greatly neglected. The first Westford Historical Society was formed in July of '75 and along with help and supervision of the U.S. Navy Seabees from the Reserve Mobil Construction Battalion 09-27 in Burlington, the necessary repair work was done.
By 1987 the bridge was once again in need of major restoration work. The Westford Historical Society was regrouped that year. The Society contracted with Milton Graton to do the restoration work.. In October of that year, the bridge was moved up the hill to the Town Garage property, awaiting its restoration work. Work also needed to be done on the broken wing wall of the east abutment.
Years of applying for grants and holding fund-raisers went by. In 1991, federal grant money became available (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 - "ISTEA"). Kathlyn Robie wrote the grant, which was received in 1995, she also obtained the needed permits, part of the process before we could go out to bid.
In 1999, a second ISTEA grant was applied for to cover the estimated project cost. The bidding process and project manager were handled by Caroline Brown. In June of 2000, Phil Pierce, PE., was hired. The project was awarded to Renaud Bros., Inc. from Vernon, Vt, the following November.
Renovations started in March of 2001, the abutment work was done in June.
Friday, July 20th finally came after almost 14 years off the river site! Renaud Bros. along with help from Messier House Movers from East Montpelier and Richard Mathieu of Westford rolled the bridge back to the river. On Saturday the bridge was lowered into the abutments. The final boards were installed on July 30th.
Some of the restoration work included seven kingposts being replaced, the whole top chord on the south side was replaced. All bottom check braces between the kingposts were replaced. Eight kingpost braces replaced. Approval was given to install a standing seam roof as the wooden roof shingles were rotting. This roof will better protect the old & new bridge timbers. Eighty-three yards of concrete went into the abutment repairs.
Now, back in place, the 163 year old bridge is being used for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the river.
Return of the Browns River Covered Bridge to its site
Photos courtesy of Warren Baker, Editor of the Essex Reporter.
*Text and photos taken from dedication booklet with the permission of Caroline Brown.
President, Vermont Covered Bridge Society
Congratulations to Westford from the Vermont Covered Bridge Society. You have preserved a link to your community's past. Keeping this bridge in its original setting is a celebration of your forebears, your town, and your communal roots. This bridge has been serving your community since 1838. Over 160 years ago. There is history here of the people and families that grew up knowing this great bridge.
Because of the caring people of Westford and the good work done here by the Westford Historical Society past and present, the Town leaders, and Bridgers Mike Renaud, Phil Pierce, Milton Graton, and the team of skilled craftsmen, many more generations will have the opportunity to know and love this bridge.
Caroline, in recognition of the work done here, please accept this donation to the Westford Historical Society library, a copy of Spanning Time, Vermont's Covered Bridges.
Also, in recognition of your leadership of this project over the past 14 years, please do us the honor of accepting this Honorary Life membership in the Vermont Covered Bridge Society.
My involvement with the Brown's River Covered Bridge is due to a fortuitous inquiry of Gil Newbury - a valued friend for many years. I saw the announcement on Joe Nelson's web site that Gil was going to provide engineering assistance for this worthy and long-delayed project. So, a generally innocent e-mail inquiry was appropriate - Gil, do you want or need any help?
One thing led to another and I became the engineer to help tackle that aspect of the project. Funding was limited and I enjoyed the challenge of attempting to do some quite expensive engineering investigation without the time normally available. Gil continued to offer valuable behind the scenes support and consultation.
Fortunately, Caroline Brown became my boss for the project - she has been a real trooper and I have admired her tenacious and enduring commitment to making the project work and seeing it to its successful conclusion.
I must recognize and applaud the extra efforts of Mike Renaud and his fine team of skilled craftsmen. They have performed admirably under very unusual circumstances and managed to restore the bridge to good health without the engineering guidance that they deserved. Yet, their experience and persistence has been rewarded with this wonderful monument to early American bridge building.
I also wish to commend the able efforts of Norman Messier and his crew for their skill in carefully transporting the bridge back to its rightful resting place over the Brown's River.
For me personally, this has been an especially rewarding experience. I continued to learn more about the nuances of covered bridges. This is the first modified Burr Arch and the oldest covered bridge for which I had some meaningful and more intimate involvement.
Now, back to Caroline Brown. Caroline, please come join me.
I volunteered to serve as spokesman to provide a small token of our appreciation for Caroline's hard work on this project. While it has obviously taken the support of countless individuals to make this project happen, in our opinion, the success of this project was not assured without her leadership and commitment. Accordingly, several of us directly involved in the project and three covered bridge societies; Vermont, New York, and National, have pooled our contributions to enable the casting of a bronze plaque on her behalf. A plaque that is to be mounted here at the bridge. Its inscription reads:
"In grateful recognition to Caroline Brown for her determination and tireless efforts from 1987 to 2001 in the rehabilitation of the Brown's River Covered Bridge. From her friends in the Covered Bridge Community."
Photo by Joe Nelson
The Westford Historical Society would like to thank the following individuals and agencies for their support and abilities over the years! If we have inadvertently omitted someone from the list, please accept our sincere apologies.
This file posted October 7, 2001