fb-pixel Skip to main content

New life for a beloved, old covered bridge

An emblem of New England suffers damage, but is being reopened.

Workers cleaned up after repairs with green skylights filtering the illumination, the interior takes on a greenish hue. After damage sustained in a vehicle strike closed access, the Lincoln Covered Bridge over the Ottauquechee River in Woodstock, Vt. underwent repairs.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

WOODSTOCK, Vt. — Like kaleidoscopic autumn leaves, the snow-flecked mountaintops of Maine, and the pounding summertime surf on Cape Cod, they are cherished emblems of New England.

Beloved old bridges that, despite modern-day traffic, are portals to a past enshrined on picture postcards and worthy of Norman Rockwell’s wonderfully nostalgic paintbrush.

The wooden covered bridge is a regional touchstone that carries schoolchildren, soccer moms, truck drivers, and memories that stretch back to the days of the Model T, the souped-up hot rods of the 1950s, and those classic big-finned convertibles enshrined in the technicolor movie magic of Hollywood.

So, when one of these iconic structures is damaged, laid low by a modern-day motoring mishap, a community rallies and the repair work becomes the talk of the town.

Advertisement



“It’s very representative of the aesthetic of this area,’’ Kathleen Duffy told me recently as she worked at the Collective, an artisan-owned craft gallery on Main Street. “It fits this town. It fits what people want to see.’’

Precisely right.

The Lincoln Covered Bridge just south of US Route 4 in West Woodstock, was damaged last September when a truck towing heavy equipment — and exceeding the posted height limit of 10 feet — struck overhead beams.

And wounded the psyche of this small town.

“People love that old bridge,’’ David Green, the assistant town manager, told me the other day, wearing a Woodstock fire jersey, fitting for a guy who is also the town’s fire chief.

Workers removed construction materials from the road after repairing the bridge. Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Because Woodstock is short a town manager right now, he does that job, too, when needed.

“That bridge has been in Woodstock forever,’’ Green said. “Actually, there’s a lady who comes in here almost every day. And her great-grandfather was the person who pulled that bridge across with horse and oxen.’'

According to local history, the bridge was built in 1877 by R.W. Pinney and B.H. Pinney some 30 years after the so-called Pratt truss was patented.

Advertisement



The single-span bridge is 136 feet long and rests on concrete and stone abutments. It’s 18½ feet wide with a roadway width of 14 feet.

It’s supported by two arch trusses — and by just about the entire population of this slice of Vermont, by community members who cherish the old bridge like a kindly old neighbor.

The bridge was originally built for $1,732. The repair contract now totals almost $90,000, according to Joe Poston, a Vermont native who is senior project manager and co-owner of Wright Construction, which is repairing the bridge.

A worker dismantled equipment under the bridge after repairs.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

“What happened is somebody with a 1-ton, pulling a trailer with an excavator on the back of it, came on that south side of the bridge and the boom hit that first crossbeam,’’ Poston told me, pointing to the point of impact.

“And the bridge shook real bad and the guy freaked out, thinking that the bridge was going to collapse. He flat-footed it, went right through here and took out several beams.’'

Poston said the bridge was probably originally made from hemlock.

“But the wood we use now to repair the bridge is Douglas fir,’’ he said. “It’s stronger. It’s more readily available.’’

He paused to take in the scope of the project.

“This is pretty cool,’’ he told me. “We’re predominantly in construction. But a niche of what we do is restore these covered bridges. There are only about five companies around that do that.’’

Advertisement



When I spoke with him, he and his crew were getting ready to reopen the bridge.

“As soon as we pull the barriers, people will be going across it again,’’ he said. “All the structural work is complete. They put in the last frame this morning. They’re putting siding on today. When we get to the other end, you’ll see what we work off of: the platform they stand on to do the work.’’

And so that’s what we did. We walked across the old bridge as the sounds of hammering echoed off its timbers.

“Every bridge we work on, we get lots of visitors who want to see the work and ask us when we’re going to be done,’’ said Poston, 39. “But bridges are big. People drive around the country looking at bridges.

After damage sustained in a vehicle strike closed access, the Lincoln Covered Bridge over the Ottauquechee River in Woodstock, Vt. underwent repairs.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

“So, there are people who stop who are doing a bridge tour and they’re like, ‘Oh look! You’re working on it!’ Yeah, it’s cool.

“A long time ago people were able to build this over the river without cranes and things like that. So, it’s cool. We’ve got some tools that make our work a lot easier than it was back in the 1840s.’’

He’s working on a piece of history. And he knows it.

“There are only so many of them left in the world,’' he said. “And they’re not making new ones. And if they did make a new one, it replaces an old one.’’

Advertisement



As he surveyed the bridge’s repair work the other morning, Poston squinted into spring’s late-morning sunshine and offered this hopeful declaration:

“As long as somebody doesn’t hit it again,’’ he said, “it should last for 50 years.’’

That’s enough for two more generations to place it on the pages of their scrapbooks, and enshrine it on their psyche.

“It’s such an icon,’’ said Thistle Cone, 61, the chief customer officer of Discovery Bicycle Tours. “We watch it through the seasons. We’re just hoping it isn’t going to get wrecked again.’’


Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.