Brownsville, Vt. October 6 - Robert Allen, Vermont Covered Bridge Society (VCBS) Life Member reports that the Smith Covered Bridge (45-14-17) in Brownsville was taken down by a micro-burst. The bridge collapsed in three sections; the two trusses, and the roof. The wreckage is blocking the roadway, a self-supporting bridge-deck rated for 30 tons, and has spilled into the stream. A crane will be needed to clear the road, Allen said.
Photos above by Jim Smedley, Covered Bridge enthusiast from Baltimore, Maryland, taken around 1 p.m. on October 7, the day after the bridge blew down.
Work still to be done, explains Jan Lewandoski, owner of Restoration and Traditional Building, is the replacement of some broken timbers in the Burr Arch on the down-stream side and some work on the walkway. There has been a delay in the work on the arch until the right timber was found.
"We replaced several joists that had become rotten, mostly from moisture condensing or traveling down the spikes and lags,"said Lewandoski."To replace the broken arch segments I had to find a large spruce timber with the right natural curvature for the task, but I have it now. I blame the failure [of the arch] on the cantilevered snow loads applied by the walkway added in the 1940's.
"I am also going to rectify the relationship of the floor and roadway at the east end, by jacking the joists and truss slightly, to reduce impact loading.
"This is a remarkable bridge considering the heavy traffic, relatively long span, great age, and largely unaltered form."
The four photos directly above were taken by "Bridgeman" David Guay when he and Marika Guay visited the site in late October. The Town had cleared the wreckage from the stream and set it aside. The historic Garfield Bridge truss is lying directly on the ground unsupported and without covering. Already rotted in places, the old truss will not survive long under this treatment. The town has closed the bridge-deck as unsafe.
The roadway is sole access to 17 households for emergency vehicles, said Allen. However residents are opening an abandoned trail to the highway.
A few weeks ago Mr. Allen requested assistance in finding a grant to the restore the bridge, which was in need of renovation. A VCBS team began working on the problem of finding funds
Several in the community served by the bridge would still like to have the covered bridge, Allen said. It would help that cause if the trusses could be salvaged intact. The trusses belonged to the Garfield Bridge (45-08-05) built in 1870 in Hyde Park. Vt. before they were erected in Brownsville by developer Thurston Twigg-Smith.
The two forty-foot "Smith" bridges were assembled in 1973 by the Cummings Construction Company from plank-lattice trusses salvaged from the 100-foot Garfield Bridge, one span in Pomfret (45-14-18), the other in Brownsville.
The Garfield Bridge was built in the 1870s over the Green River in Garfield Village in the Town of Hyde Park. When work began in 1946 on the Green River Reservoir project upstream, the old bridge was strengthened to handle construction traffic. It was abandoned in 1965 when the town bypassed it with a culvert. J.P. Rich, president of a local surveying firm, purchased it in 1971 to ensure it would be preserved.
Thurston Twigg-Smith Jr., of ASA Properties Vermont, Inc., a real estate development company based in Hawaii, bought the Garfield Bridge to provide access to two of the corporation's properties. The trusses were taken down, cut in half, and trucked to the building sites. The two bridges were never formally named, but the developer referred to them as the Pomfret Bridge and the Ascutney Bridge.
Lacking bed rock, the abutments of the Pomfret bridge were built on six wooden pilings driven thirty-two feet into the stream bank. It features extended gable-ends with sides left open to display the lattice truss. The roof is finished with shingles imported from Australia. The deck is braced with girders.
ASA Properties did not complete its development project in Pomfret. The subdivision was challenged by strict zoning codes.The land was bought by the Suicide Six Ski Resort's parent company.
The Smith Bridge in Brownsville stands over Mill Brook in the valley below Mount Ascutney where it crosses Mill Brook south of Route 44 and two miles west of Brownsville. It is similar in appearance to the half in Pomfret, also with imported shingles. It differs in that it has been altered to support construction trucks: Large rectangular pieces of the portals have been cut out and the upper bracing system changed to increase passage height. Also, the floor system was beefed up with two large steel beams supporting the timber deck. A sign on the gable-end says: "13 ft 40 ton."
*Details of origin based on an unpublished manuscript by Robert L. Hagerman available in the Vermont Historical Society archives.