Preserving the past: Lyndon leaders look to save two covered bridges

Covered bridges are an iconic fixture, found in nearly every county in Vermont.
Published: Jan. 4, 2023 at 5:57 AM EST
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LYNDON, Vt. (WCAX) - Covered bridges are an iconic fixture found in nearly every county in Vermont, but time, weather, and even cars, are taking a toll on some of these historic structures.

There are around 100 covered bridges in the state, six of them are in Caledonia County and five sit in the Lyndon area. The Sanborn Covered Bridge, built in the 1800s over the Passumpsic River, is in need of some major repairs. Town leaders said they’ll do whatever it takes to keep it standing.

“If we got flooded this upcoming spring of 2023, you might see this image go away. It’s really that pressing,” said Nicole Gratton with the town of Lyndon.

She says it almost fell into the river in 2013, but a national organization provided funding to fix it. That still wasn’t enough repairs to sustain the test of time. “It sits so low to the river, some of the things in the bottom that actually lift the bridge up have broken off. And so that’s a big part of it. We also just see deteriorations -- it’s 153 years old,” said Gratton.

Sanborn Bridge is one of the only Paddleford truss bridges in the state. Gratton also says it’s 118 feet long, making it the longest over a river without any middle support. Restoring the bridge would cost the town $1.5 million, which leaders hope to pay for with grants and donations.

And the Sanborn Covered Bridge isn’t the only one in Lyndon that’s in need of repairs. The Miller’s Run Bridge has become infamous for being damaged by big box trucks time and time again. “We are putting in truck blockers -- I don’t know like these little rail systems -- that like if a truck comes by, it’s going to hit that before it hits the bridge. Just to keep the bridge safe,” said Gratton.

Vermont Covered Bridge Society Founder Liam McKone said in addition to wear and tear, threats to covered bridges include flood, fire, and for around 50 bridges -- traffic. “There’s always a concern about keeping them up in good shape. We’ve got a program of fireproofing. The last two that we lost, were lost to fire,” McKone said.

At one time, he says there were as many as 500, but preservation efforts really didn’t begin until 50 years ago. Now, many Vermonters keep an eye on the bridges. McKone says they hear from people all over the state when there’s a bridge threat like an ice jam or branches down. “What’s more iconic than the covered bridge in Vermont? I wish I had a nickel for every photo that’s taken,” said McKone.

In Lyndon, some revitalization is expected to begin in 2024 with the money raised so far. That will pay for work to redo the front-facing panels on the bridge. Gratton said the actual bridge revitalization would likely be two or three more years out, noting that the timeline is actually fast for a project of this size.

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