New England’s Romantic Covered Bridges
What could be more romantic than a covered bridge? New England (especially Vermont) has them by the score. Some are just for walking across a river; others are also for cycling. A surprising number are on roads, providing motorists with a brief “back in time” experience. As to why covered bridges were built, some reckon that the roofs protected the beams from rotting, or from freezing in bad weather. Others say that, since these bridges look like barns, animals would cross without fear. Whatever the reason, these distinctive crossings are a much-loved part of the New England landscape.
In 1781, on his way to meet French forces, George Washington had an accident near Kent. Crossing the Housatonic River, the General’s horse fell into the raging waters and had to be rescued. The cost was recorded by Washington in his diary: “getting a horse out of Bull’s Bridge Falls, $215.” Bull’s Bridge, built in 1842, provided a much easier crossing — Find it just off Route 7. Other photogenic bridges include West Cornwall, to the north, off Route 7, and Comstock, on Route 16, not far from East Hampton.
Maine still has nine covered bridges. The most photographed is also the most painted: the 1872 Artist’s Covered Bridge. Near Newry, four miles northwest of North Bethel (off Route 26), this 87-foot (26m) bridge is no longer open to traffic, so it is a quiet spot to set up a tripod or an easel. By contrast, the shortest bridge in the state is Lovejoy; off Route 5, it is just 70 feet long and crosses the Ellis River at South Andover.
Only a handful of covered bridges survive in Massachusetts, but those that do still evoke the past. A short drive north from Greenfield, Pumping Station Bridge is a 95-foot (29m) span of the Green River. Among the many historic buildings at Old Sturbridge Village, you can see the covered bridge that once stood in Dummerston, Vermont before being dismantled, transported, and re-erected here.
Among New Hampshire’s 54 covered bridges is the world’s longest two-span covered bridge. Shared with Vermont, the Cornish-Windsor Bridge stretches for 450 feet (137m) across the Connecticut River. You can drive through it on Route 12A, which links Cornish, N.H. and Windsor, Vt. The oldest covered bridge still in use in New Hampshire is photogenic Bath-Haverhill Bridge. Built in 1829, it crosses the Ammonoosuc River, off Route 302.
Rhode Island has only a few covered bridges, but the Swamp Meadow Covered Bridge was a real labor of love. A replica of an early 19th-century structure, it was built by volunteers back in 1994. The timber was logged from nearby forests and the 40-foot-long bridge straddles Hemlock Brook, north of the small town of Foster, just off Route 94. Even newer is the bridge in Lincoln Woods State Park, inaugurated in 2005. Drive through it as you enter the park, in the Blackstone Valley.
Not only does Vermont boast a whopping 106 covered bridges, the Vermont Covered Bridge Museum is the world’s first and only museum dedicated to this kind of structure. Find it at the Bennington Center for the Arts, near the town of Bennington. The museum features everything from bridge designers and build-your-own bridges to artwork and movies about covered bridges. And, Bennington County itself has five bridges that are still in use.
Open to vehicles and pedestrians after 130 years, the Warren Covered Bridge (pictured) crosses the Mad River in Warren, in the heart of the Green Mountain state.