The Westford Historical Society successfully competed for another Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act (ISTEA) grant through the Vermont Agency of Transportation this past spring, said Caroline Brown, society president.
"This 80/20 matching grant was in the amount of $60,000," she said. "The Historical Society was able to apply for this amount because of a generous donation made to the society. The Society is in the process of putting together a request for bid proposal and is looking at a late fall or springtime return of the bridge to the Browns River abutments, weather and river conditions permitting."
The story of the bridge began when voters in Westford resolved in 1836 to build a single arch bridge over Browns River for a cost not to exceed six hundred dollars. The bridge was originally part of the Vermont Market Road ordered built by the Vermont Supreme Court in 1827. Workers finished construction of the bridge in 1838, but the road project as a whole was never completed. The story of the saving of the bridge had its beginnings in 1987.
In February 1987, Westford residents called a special meeting to save the bridge. The Westford Historical Society was formed. Graton Associates of Ashland, New Hampshire was selected to do the restoration. The Gratons advised that the bridge should be removed from the river before winter, it being in danger of collapse.
Work began in October 1987. Graton raised the bridge on timber cribbing and built false work under it. While residents stood in rain and mud to watch, a team of oxen pulled the bridge off the river on log rollers. Then Graton used his tractor-trailer truck and the town's bucket loader to move the bridge uphill to the town garage property The National Geographic Society filmed the operation for a documentary on Milton Graton's life as a bridge restorer. Also filming the event was a crew from the America-How-Are-You TV series.
The bridge was restored where it stood next to the town garage. There it remained when the project went on hold waiting for funds.
WESTFORD - November 9, 1992 - The Brown's River covered bridge at Westford is ready to return to the river from where it came. However, funds are required to repair the abutments at the original site on Brown's River, and to move the bridge from the town garage property where it was situated for the restoration work. When the bridge is back on its abutments, the three inch thick floor planking will be installed, said Westford Historical Society President Caroline Brown. "When the curve of the bridge is back in place after being set on site, the side boards will be trimmed."
The ninety-seven-foot span was in service until a concrete and steel bridge replaced it in 1965. After 127 years of continuous use, the old bridge could no longer handle modern traffic. In 1976, after years of abandonment, the townspeople and the reserve Seabee battalion from Burlington repaired the bridge for the National Bicentennial. The repair work did not include fixing the wooden arches, rotted where they met the stone abutments, so the old bridge sagged noticeably in the years following. It was closed to foot traffic in May 1987.
WESTFORD - March, 1995, - The Westford Historical Society has received a $36,000 grant from the Agency of Transportation through the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act (ISTEA) to complete the project by replacing an abutment, moving the bridge back over the river, and landscaping the area.
The grant paid for 80 percent of the completion costs. The balance of the funding was raised by the Historical Society. The society worked four years to raise money to restore the bridge without cost to the town government--the moving of the bridge and the restoration, the first phase of the project, cost $50,000. Funding came from community fairs, ham suppers, grants and private donations.
October 1, 1998 - The Bridge still stands on the hill next to the Town Garage overlooking the vacant abutments. Much has happened since the autumn of 1992. Progress was halted by the need for state permits, then the passing or moving on of key people in the project, and now, higher costs. Caroline Brown is still working toward the goal of putting the bridge back where it belongs, asking for bids from contractors to complete the work.
WESTFORD - November 12, 1998 - The Browns River Covered Bridge stands alone in the tall grass on the hillside overlooking the village.
Ready since the fall of 1992, Westford's covered bridge has been standing in the town garage lot where it was restored. The project is on hold awaiting funds to move the old span back over the river.
"It's not just sitting up there forgotten," said Caroline Brown, Westford Historical Society president. "It is being worked on through paperwork. It's a project that the town folk would really like to see finished up."
Asked what has held up progress in completing the project, Brown replied that it has been the long process of writing the grant, assembling the bid proposal paperwork, getting the abutment design and then getting the packages out to the contractors. "We thought completing the project was going to cost roughly $45,000, using the original grant money then, when we went out for bid proposals from the people who do the work, we found out we didn't have nearly the amount of money needed."
The Historical Society received a $36,000 grant in 1995 from the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act (ISTEA) through the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VAOT), and the state is currently holding this money. The grant was applied for by Kathlyn Robie, then the society's treasurer, said Brown. The $36,000 is 80 percent of the total amount of the 80/20 matching grant of $45,000.
The Historical Society is currently preparing an application for a second ISTEA grant to get the balance of the funds needed to repair the abutments and move the bridge back over the river. Grants are awarded in March.
"It's a project the Historical Society committed to years ago and the town has had a lot of patience," said Brown. "We pledged that we would not ask the town for any money through taxes, so it has taken a while. We were very fortunate to get the first ISTEA grant, we'll be doubly fortunate to get the second one, so we can finish this up and get the bridge back on site."
The Society has worked since the Fall of 1988 to raise money to restore the bridge without cost to the town government--the moving of the bridge and the restoration, the first phase of the project, cost $50,000. Funding came from community fairs, ham suppers, grants and private donations. Currently working on the project with Brown are Historical Society members David and Lynn Gauthier, Daniel Jackson, and Lois Reynolds.
Westford, August 25, 2000 - I think it is official that the Town and Historical Society have accepted the bid of Renaud Brothers to rehabilitate the bridge and foundations and move it back on the abutments. It is unclear about the schedule, but will be done by the middle of next year; maybe much sooner. A synopsis of the work to be done:
The Town must provide some matching funds (equivalent work) and the final distribution of who will do what is somewhat up in the air. The Town will at least do the final site finishing work and may install a timber plank deck.
Westford, March 29, 2001 - With Renaud Brothers Construction on the job it looks very much like the old bridge is beginning its final lap on the journey back to its rightful place; over Browns River where it was built 165 years ago.
The journey began in February, 1987 when Westford residents called a special meeting to save the bridge and the Westford Historical Society was formed. Fourteen years ago! One can only wonder at the tenacity and dedication with which Caroline Brown and her team pursued their dream to restore this historic bridge. Congratulations! Now my fingers are crossed, and they will remain so until the day arrives in the not too distant future when the bridge sits again on its abutments where it is meant to be.
Work has sterted on Westford's Browns River Covered Bridge. Notice the "K" frame brace. The gable end sheathing has been removed to access the upper chord and bracing.
Scaffolding has been installed to facilitate the replacement of the upper chord. The internal lateral bracing has been tightened with new wedges. The "K" frame braces will prevent racking during repairs.
Westford, Wednesday April 18 - This day found the south side of the roof raised and the upper chord lifted out and placed on saw horses on the ground beside the bridge. Two modern-day timber framers, Phil Pellerin and John Ferlin, were hard at work duplicating the joinery used by the builders of the bridge back in 1838.
"We do timber framing down in southern Vermont," said Pellerin. "We team up with Mike [Renaud] whenever he gets a bridge."
Pellerin and Ferland had worked with Renaud on the Hopkins Covered Bridge in Enosburg and on the West Dummerston Covered Bridge. Both use the Town lattice truss. Westford's bridge uses a multiple-kingpost truss with a Burr Arch.
Westford's Bridge, also known as the Browns River Bridge was long thought to be ready to move back over the river after repairs were made to the abutments. However, when Phil Pierce was hired as project engineer, he found other problems. See the story Bid to Rehabilitate The Browns River Bridge Accepted for details.
The plan is to replace the upstream upper chord and some other members, repair the abutments, then move the bridge over the river in July of this year. "Yup," said Pellerin, "We'll put it on two trailers, move it down the road."
The original chord is laid beside the new timber while John Ferland (left) and Phil Pellerin transfer measurements and cut the mortises and splices into the new chord.
A close-up of the cut away end of the original timber. Holes drilled by powder-post beetles are evident, some of them indicated by the arrows.
The new chord will duplicate the original chord which consisted of three timbers spliced together. Note the "compression" splice in the end of the new piece. The splice on the original timber has been cut to reveal the rot in the center.
In the foreground a new king post is being prepared. The plywood device perched on the end of the new chord-timber is a pattern used to dimension the cuts for the joinery. A new tie beam can be seen in the right background.
Westford, Friday April 27 - A week and one-half has elapsed since the last visit to the site and the cord sections and timbers that were being crafted on the ground next to the bridge had been completed and installed into the truss. The plan had been to move the bridge back to the river in July. The work has been going well enough, it is possible the move may begin in June, Mike Renaud said. The planned repairs to the abutments, which will be subcontracted, still need to be done.
The upper chord is in position above the kingposts. The tenons at the top of the kingposts can be seen waiting to be set into the prepared mortises.
A brace is being fitted between a kingpost and a tie beam. The ends of the tie beam are lapped to seat on top of the chord. All of these joints are fastened by mortise and tenon. The timber below the tie beam is temporary bracing.
The mortise in the chord end is ready to receive the tenon at the top of the end-post. Notice the rafter seats.
The chord is now seated onto the kingpost tenons and secured with hardwood pegs, also referred to pins, dowels, or treenails. The cluster of pins in the side of the chord between the leftmost kingposts mark the compression splice joining the chord-members.
The roof system is braced high so the upper chord can be worked on. The crossed members between the tie beams are part of the bridge's lateral bracing system.
Westford, Monday May 7 - With the upper chord work completed on the east side and those new kingposts installed, work has begun on the north side. There, the roof has been lifted to allow the installation of a kingpost and part of the upper chord.
The roof is raised and a rotted section of the original chord has been removed. The carpenters are installing a new kingpost.
The new upper chord section has been readied for lifting into place. Note the large timber below the lower chord. This is a bolster beam. When the bridge is on its abutments, the bolster beam is placed on top of the bed timbers and projects beyond the face of the abutment out over the stream, "bolstering" or reenforcing the parallel chord trusses, shortening the clear-span.
This view of the installation of a new kingpost shows the lapped lower end of the vertical timber as it is fitted into its recess in the lower chord. Note the vacant bolt-holes in the arch member and in the lower chord. The carpenter's hand grips the top of the post next to the tenon that will fit into the mortise in the bottom of the new chord-section.
The new upper chord section is fork-lifted into place.
The Upper chord and two new kingposts have been installed on the south side of the bridge. Notice that the braces have been fitted into the seats or steps cut into the top and bottom of each kingpost. Notice the bottom of the right-most post extends beyond the bottom of the lower chord. This is called a knob, necessary on a tension member. The new bolts can be seen at each kingpost station, through the arch-members, lower chord and bolster beam. A new "kick brace" can be seen at the top of the left-most kingpost.
Westford, Monday May 14 - With the roof system back down onto the top chords, work on the roof sheathing begins.
Off with the old: making ready for the new roofing.
Stripped of the shingles, light shows through the purlins.
Stripped to the purlins, the roof is prepared for its new covering.
The destination, the north abutment awaits repairs.
Westford, Wednesday May 16 - As the carpenters put the finishing touches on the bridge, work begins on the abutments.
The roof is prepared for sheathing while the planking on the portal is renewed. Work continues on the bridge floor system.
Work on the north abutment begins with excavation.
Back view of the excavated abutment.
Westford, Friday May 18 - Almost there!
West portal with new sheathing.
A good start with the new 24 gauge sheet-steel standing-seam roofing.
7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
The roof is finished at 2:30 p.m.
Westford, Friday June 1 - Abutment Work Underway!
Asked for the date of the BIG MOVE, Caroline Brown replied: "I don't have a date yet, I'll let you know ASAP. Now with all the wet weather ...the abutments have to be done, my guess at this point will be late June or July for the move...the concrete has to set a bit."
Excavating continues around the broken down-stream wing-wall of the north abutment.
A piece of the broken concrete wing-wall is hauled aside.
The forms for the new wing-wall footings are under construction. The south abutment is in good shape. According to contractor Mike Renaud, all that is needed there is a new cap.
Westford, Wednesday June 6 - Wing-wall Poured! Hallelujah!
As the newly poured concrete begins to set, other preparations for the move of the Browns River Bridge can begin.
The wing-wall footing has been cast and the forms removed. The form for the wing-wall itself is being assembled.
What we have been waiting for: the Big Pour begins.
The wing-wall forms are assembled and nearly ready for the pour.
Westford, Tuesday June 12 - With the abutments nearly ready the date for the BIG MOVE is soon to be set!
The new wing-wall on the north abutment has been cast and the forms removed.
The forms are prepared for casting the new cap on the south abutment. The north abutment will require a cap as well.
Westford, June 28 - Final pouring, west abutment
Westford, July 2 - The abutments are finished!
Finished east abutment, side view
West abutment finished
Finished east abutment, end view
West to east abutments
East to west abutments
Westford, Tuesday July 17 - The bridge is up on cribbing ready for transfer to wheeled conveyance. Looking good!
Westford, Wednesday, July 18 - The bridge has wheels!
Westford, Friday, July 20 - Westford's Bridge Has Returned to River!
Starting at 8 a.m., the bridge will be moved down the hill and across the existing concrete bridge and raised on timber pilings to clear the rails and rolled across on I-beams to another set of pilings.
The Bridge is up on wheels and is being prepared for towing
The big move is underway as the bridge caravan inches its way down hill to the crossing place.
View of east end of bridge as towing arrangements are being completed.
Standing on the highway bridge, the bridge is being transferred off of the wheels and onto "I"-beams in preparation to move it sideways toward the prepared abutments. The bridge stood on the "I"-beams half-way to the abutments overnight. One lane of the highway bridge was opened to traffic.
Westford, Saturday July 21 - starting at 7 a.m., the bridge will be lowered into place on the abutments.
ROAD CLOSING: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Cambridge Road will be closed from Rt. 128 to Old #11 Road. No traffic from Huntley Road onto Cambridge Road until the bridge has passed. Hope to see you all there! - Caroline Brown
The bridge, still on the "I"- beams, is positioned over the abutments. Phil Peirce, P.E. the Consulting Engineer and covered bridge specialist on the project, watches the work in progress from the highway bridge rail.
With "I"-beams removed, the bridge stands high over the abutments on cribbing alone.
The Messier House Moving team and the Renaud Brothers contractors team work together smoothly.
Caroline Brown, Westford Historical Society president, enjoys the "big day." She has been working toward this event for fourteen years.
The bridge is lowered into place as the cribbing is removed with aid of jacks
The bridge has been lowered as close to abutments as the jacks will allow. Next, oak bedding timber will be placed under the chords buffering them from contact with the concrete. The last of the cribbing and the jacks will be removed and the bridge will be lowered onto bedding timbers using lifting balloons.
Bridge interior. The K-braces will be removed and the floor completed.
Westford, July 30 - Work is Completed on the Browns River Bridge
With bedding timbers in place, the abutment work is complete.
Landscaped, barriers up...just some fencing, grass and flowers needed.
LAST BOARD DOWN! July 30, 2001!!! It is finished!
Westford's covered bridge is one of about 100 left in Vermont. It is one of two that were located in the town center. The "sister" bridge burned during a fire that started in a nearby creamery around 1910. An iron bridge was then built, that was taken out in the "Flood of'27". Our bridge survived the great flood!
The bridge is a multiple kingpost truss with Burr arch, built 1837/8; it's 20' x 97' and weighs 40 tons. The Browns River bridge is the second oldest in the state of this arch type.
On November 22, 1836, Westford voters resolved to build "...a single arch bridge where the old one stands near Halbert's Store (now the Westford Market), calculated to be fourteen feet wide and built on the old abutments." This new bridge was originally to be constructed by July 1, 1837, at the cost not exceeding $600.
The covered bridge was used until 1965 when a steel and concrete bridge was built along side it. By 1975, the then 137 year old bridge had been greatly neglected. The first Westford Historical Society was formed in July of '75 and along with help and supervision of the U.S. Navy Seabees from the Reserve Mobil Construction Battalion 09-27 in Burlington, the necessary repair work was done.
By 1987 the bridge was once again in need of major restoration work. The Westford Historical Society was regrouped that year. The Society contracted with Milton Graton to do the restoration work.. In October of that year, the bridge was moved up the hill to the Town Garage property, awaiting its restoration work. Work also needed to be done on the broken wing wall of the east abutment.
Years of applying for grants and holding fund-raisers went by. In 1991, federal grant money became available (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 - "ISTEA"). Kathlyn Robie wrote the grant, which was received in 1995, she also obtained the needed permits, part of the process before we could go out to bid.
In 1999, a second ISTEA grant was applied for to cover the estimated project cost. The bidding process and project manager were handled by Caroline Brown. In June of 2000, Phil Pierce, PE., was hired. The project was awarded to Renaud Bros., Inc. from Vernon, Vt, the following November.
Renovations started in March of 2001, the abutment work was done in June.
Friday, July 20th finally came after almost 14 years off the river site! Renaud Bros. along with help from Messier House Movers from East Montpelier and Richard Mathieu of Westford rolled the bridge back to the river. On Saturday the bridge was lowered into the abutments. The final boards were installed on July 30th.
Some of the restoration work included seven kingposts being replaced, the whole top chord on the south side was replaced. All bottom check braces between the kingposts were replaced. Eight kingpost braces replaced. Approval was given to install a standing seam roof as the wooden roof shingles were rotting. This roof will better protect the old & new bridge timbers. Eighty-three yards of concrete went into the abutment repairs.
Now, back in place, the 163 year old bridge is being used for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the river.
July 20, 2001
Return of the Browns River Covered Bridge to its site
Photos courtesy of Warren Baker, Editor of the Essex Reporter.
Remarks by Joe Nelson
President, Vermont Covered Bridge Society
Congratulations to Westford from the Vermont Covered Bridge Society. You have preserved a link to your community's past. Keeping this bridge in its original setting is a celebration of your forebears, your town, and your communal roots. This bridge has been serving your community since 1838. Over 160 years ago. There is history here of the people and families that grew up knowing this great bridge.
Because of the caring people of Westford and the good work done here by the Westford Historical Society past and present, the Town leaders, and Bridgers Mike Renaud, Phil Pierce, Milton Graton, and the team of skilled craftsmen, many more generations will have the opportunity to know and love this bridge.
Caroline, in recognition of the work done here, please accept this donation to the Westford Historical Society library, a copy of Spanning Time, Vermont's Covered Bridges.
Also, in recognition of your leadership of this project over the past 14 years, please do us the honor of accepting this Honorary Life membership in the Vermont Covered Bridge Society.
Remarks by Phil Pierce, P.E.
My involvement with the Brown's River Covered Bridge is due to a fortuitous inquiry of Gil Newbury - a valued friend for many years. I saw the announcement on Joe Nelson's web site that Gil was going to provide engineering assistance for this worthy and long-delayed project. So, a generally innocent e-mail inquiry was appropriate - Gil, do you want or need any help?
One thing led to another and I became the engineer to help tackle that aspect of the project. Funding was limited and I enjoyed the challenge of attempting to do some quite expensive engineering investigation without the time normally available. Gil continued to offer valuable behind the scenes support and consultation.
Fortunately, Caroline Brown became my boss for the project - she has been a real trooper and I have admired her tenacious and enduring commitment to making the project work and seeing it to its successful conclusion.
I must recognize and applaud the extra efforts of Mike Renaud and his fine team of skilled craftsmen. They have performed admirably under very unusual circumstances and managed to restore the bridge to good health without the engineering guidance that they deserved. Yet, their experience and persistence has been rewarded with this wonderful monument to early American bridge building.
I also wish to commend the able efforts of Norman Messier and his crew for their skill in carefully transporting the bridge back to its rightful resting place over the Brown's River.
For me personally, this has been an especially rewarding experience. I continued to learn more about the nuances of covered bridges. This is the first modified Burr Arch and the oldest covered bridge for which I had some meaningful and more intimate involvement.
Now, back to Caroline Brown. Caroline, please come join me.
I volunteered to serve as spokesman to provide a small token of our appreciation for Caroline's hard work on this project. While it has obviously taken the support of countless individuals to make this project happen, in our opinion, the success of this project was not assured without her leadership and commitment. Accordingly, several of us directly involved in the project and three covered bridge societies; Vermont, New York, and National, have pooled our contributions to enable the casting of a bronze plaque on her behalf. A plaque that is to be mounted here at the bridge. Its inscription reads:
Plaque presented to Caroline Brown from Phil Pierce
Ribbon cutting ceremony. Caroline Brown and Daniel Jackson
The Westford Historical Society would like to thank the following individuals and agencies for their support and abilities over the years! If we have inadvertently omitted someone from the list, please accept our sincere apologies.
A., E. J. & S.
Allen, Ira & Livona
Baker, Warren - Essex Reporter editor
Fick, Heather, Rebecca & Erin
Fortney, Scott - VAOT
Gauthier, Dave & Lynn
Hamrell, Burt & Marge
Joseph Nelson, Underhill, VT
Kearns, Kevin & Suzie
Kruse, Henrik & Marthe
Lamoureux & Dickinson Consulting Engineers, Inc.
Lavallee, Laurent & Doris
Messier, Norm - Messier House Movers, E. Montpelier, VT
Newbury, Gil P.E: VAOT
Phoenix, Perry - Phoenix Roofing, Townshend, VT
Pierce, Phillip, P.E., Binghamton, NY
Renaud, Mike & crew - Renaud Bros. Inc., Vernon, VT
Santerre, Jeannette, Jamie & Jodie
Scribner, Sue - VAOT
VAOT Enhancement Program
Vermont Agency of Transportation, District 8
Vermont Covered Bridge Society
Vilaseca, Armando & Linelle
Westford Board of Selectmen
Westford Historical Society's board members & past members