My dad packed the family up one day in what I remember was our old Green Packard and took us to see the Hammond covered bridge in Pittsford, Vermont. My mom filling a wicker picnic basket with peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, polished apples and oatmeal cookies. We were promised a soda pop that we would get along the way, a rare and delightful treat.
The Hammond Bridge was of great interest to my dad. It seems that this bridge was a victim of a huge flood in Otter Creek in 1927. It drifted off its foundation and landed a mile downstream in a corn field. His father — my grandfather — was summoned to help in the rescue and retrieval of this important part of country living.
It was unclear to me why my grandfather was brought from New York to be part of this project, but he was an engineer. This 139-foot structure, built in 1842, was put back in place that very winter, dragged back through the snow and icy water. My dad remembers the talk about the many teams of horses and a pair of oxen used in this enormous task. Dozens of barrels helped float the bridge upstream. Although bulldozers were just making their debut, none were available for this project. Determination, some come-a-longs, hardworking men and beasts worked in the cold of winter to replace this essential passage.
Though the bridge was still standing when our family visited, vehicular traffic on it was no longer possible. My father took me and my brother by hand, and we waded into the creek to view the underside of the historic overpass. I don’t remember the discussion, but I am sure my dad told us all about how these most interesting crossings were built. We learned the whys and wherefores of it all.
There were originally over 300 covered bridges in New York State. Only 23 still exist. They are considered historic.
Covered bridges crossed rivers like the Mohawk, the Delaware and even the Hudson (at Waterford). Others crossed smaller creeks and streams. They dotted the state from Ossining to Massena, from the east at Granville to Buffalo.
Many have been lost to flooding and disrepair. Thankfully, private organizations have taken up the banner to repair and preserve many of these great icons of history.
I visited twelve bridges last summer, and expect to renew the trail again this year. My goal is to visit all of them in the state. Some are not easy to access, as they are on private property. But I am told that asking permission usually brings a favorable response.
I became interested in visiting covered bridges when I learned that there was one very near where I had gone to school. The Ashokan or New Paltz campus bridge, built in 1889, spanned the Esopus. A pedestrian-only bridge, it was a must-visit located in a cool glen with Jack in the pulpits, a favorite from my childhood. It was a huge temptation for me to dig up a couple and bring them home, but I knew they are protected, so I just admired them and the old crossing. I walked away reluctantly.
Some bridges I visited were ones you could drive over. Others had parking areas. Some had signs, warning one car at a time or setting a three-mile-an-hour speed limit. One warned that only walking speed was allowed. I met a few people who like me found these hundred-year-plus structures provided a look into a past when walking speed was fast enough.
My dog loved the outings and even a beaver encounter at Fitches Bridge in Delaware County.
The Downsville Bridge, the last on my list the previous summer, provided a most interesting happening. When I got there, I could hear music playing. A man with a guitar and amp was sitting in a gazebo on the bridge property. He apparently drove around doing impromptu concerts at covered bridges in the area. He did not ever have a tip can, and refused the coffee money someone offered him.
I was his only audience for the better part of an hour. We exchanged emails and hoped we could find time to reunite again one day. I sent him this poem as a thank-you for this entertaining afternoon.
Once upon a journey
A historic covered bridge to find
Around a twisted turning reservoir, I did wind.
I found it, what a pleasure, this ancient of the past
Restored to its full glory, a structure unsurpassed.
As I explored this relic, a tune I was to hear.
It was a voice beguiled, it was rather near,
I happened upon a gentleman with guitar, a music man was he.
His fingers like magic, at once enchanted me.
The essence of that moment, wound through the air.
I was transfixed, and held untethered there.
So to that stranger, by the name of Nick
Thanks for those moments, that went by too quick.
My hope is we meet once again on the trail
Near a bridge, a river or some delightful vale.