Covered bridges represent a link with our past. They stand as monuments to builders who had the vision and the ability to design and construct engineering masterpieces of wood. Men such as Ithiel Town, Stephen Long, James Tasker, and more recently, Milton Graton have left a lasting impression on the landscape.
The romanticist might see that covered bridges represent a more relaxed time, free from the stress of modern age. These structures evoke images of a slow horse and buggy ride to church on a quiet Sunday, a stolen kiss under the cover of the bridge, or the peacefulness of fishing from a seat on the edge of the bridge, line in the water yet indifferent as to whether or not a fish bites. The historian might see in these spans the development of truss types still in use today, the original attempts to understand the strength of materials, and the analysis of stress on complex structures. Everyone can agree that these bridges were essential to progress by replacing dangerous ferry crossings, reducing the isolation of rural areas, increasing travel speed, and aiding commerce.
Because of their obvious antiquity and their visual appeal, covered bridges have long been appreciated. New Hampshire's wooden bridges were highlighted in W. Edward White's 1942 booklet, Covered Bridges in New Hampshire, and in any subsequent articles and books. Because of such advocacy, covered bridges became the first type of historic structures specifically protected by state law in New Hampshire. The Laws of the State of New Hampshire, 1963, Chapter 96 pertain to the preservation of these bridges. The law recognizes that wooden covered bridges are of historical interest and are desirable to retain. These bridges are eligible for state aid for their rehabilitation, and a public hearing is required when such bridges are proposed to be demolished.
In reading the stories of the fifty-four covered bridges in this book, remember that these are what remain of almost four hundred covered bridges that once stood in New Hampshire. Many of these structures were destroyed by flood or fires. A greater number were doomed by neglect. The appendix offers a partial listing of the covered bridges that have disappeared.
Remember too, each covered bridge is captured at a moment in time. These stuctures will change. Some will disappear, succumbing to the ravages of time and the carelessness of man. The outward appearance of some bridges will change in the future as they are rebuilt. Many bridges will appear to grow stronger as everything around them ages while others will appear ancient in their modern surroundings. Each bridge however, contains a character and an individuality all its own.
Obviously, there was not room in these pages to present the entire history or the accumulated folklore associated with each of these covered bridges. Many would require a book of their own to exhibit their full story. This publication is intended to present an accurate account of the status of all remaining historic covered bridges in New Hampshire for the public's use and information. It is hoped that this book will inspire an initiative to delve further into the rich histories of these bridges.
This is the first of a two-volume effort to present the results of New Hampshire's historic bridge survey. The survey was conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, The New Hampshire Department of Transportation, and the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources in response to Section 123(f) of the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987. By this law, Congress "declares it to be in the national interest to encourage the rehabilitation, reuse, and preservation of bridges significant in American history, architecture, engineering, and culture. Historic bridges are important links to our past, serve as safe and vital transportation routes in the present, and can represent significant resources for the future." The 1987 law requires each state highway agency to complete an inventory of all bridges, determine their significance and to address the "retention, rehabilitation, adaptive reuse, and future study of historic bridges."
Like the federal transportation law of 1987, The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 also recognizes the importance of history. This landmark law sets aside ten percent of a states apportionment under the Surface Transportation Program for "Transportation Enhancement" activities. These activities specifically include "historic preservation" as one of the ten uses for these funds.
A "historic" bridge is any bridge that is listed or determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and administered by the National Park Service under the Secretary of the Interior, the National Register is this country's basic inventory of historical resources.
This book includes only those bridges that have been assigned both a World Guide number by the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges and a New Hampshire Covered Bridge number. At the request of private owners, several of New Hampshire's covered bridges have remained unnumbered.
Thirty-three of the bridges in this book are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sixteen are considered eligible and five have not yet met the 50 year age criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
New Hampshire also has a number of "non-authentic" or "romantic setting" covered bridges that do not meet National Register criteria as a historic resource. Interesting in themselves, such bridges could be the subject of another book.
During the preparation of this book, three covered bridges in New Hampshire were destroyed by fire: the Smith Bridge (Plymouth), the Slate Bridge (Swanzey), and the Corbin Bridge (Newport). All three incidents are thought to be the result of arson. These bridges have been included in this book since it is the intent of the communities to replace the structures with new covered bridges. Under the leadership of the New Hampshire Fire Marshall, a committee is exploring the use of various warning and protective systems including fire suppression, fire retardation, electronic alarm, neighborhood surveillance, and public education.
Funds provided to New Hampshire through the Transportation Enhancement program were used for the publication of this book. Proceeds from the sale of this volume will be returned to the transportation enhancement program for future enhancement projects.
The second volume deriving from New Hampshire's historic bridge survey will include the best examples of the state's rich legacy of steel trusses, masonry arches, and concrete spans.
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New Hampshire Bridges