The West Woodstock Bridge
By Matthew Powers
For the last few years, I have had to cross the West WoodstockBridge nearly every day. You will not likely find tourists standing in front of it to pose for a photo. I am glad for that because it would take away from the sense of enjoyment I find in coming around the bend in the road, to see if there is another vehicle waiting to cross on the other side. You see, the bridge only allows for one vehicle to cross at a time. Tourists would prove to be a distraction at that crossing. I have found that the iron bridge makes me stop and notice my surroundings. I hear the rumble of the steel beneath my wheels and I notice how high or low the river is according to how much rain we have had. Before turning either way on College Hill Road, I usually get a final wave of thanks to a neighbor for letting me pass once more over the Ottauquechee River. For the few years I have been living here, I have begun to think of this bridge as a neighborhood structure, not another wooden box for a selfie opportunity. In an odd way, it has become a part of my Woodstock identity. Living here now seems more permanent, and this old bridge and I are starting to share time together. And this bridge has seen some time- a 117 years of back and forth traffic. I wonder if the tourists who take the same photos over and over again of all the other bridges know that this iron bridge is 70 years older than the Middle Bridge (located on The Green). Perhaps they don't know that the West Woodstock Bridge was modeled after a similar iron bridge that was on that same site. That bridge lasted from 1877 to 1969 when the Rockefellers tore it down to build the new one. I guess the Rockefellers liked wooden bridges better than girdered truss bridges. But this is not a declaration about which type of bridge people should like or which is more aesthetically pleasing (that survivor over in Taftsville is a beauty). I just find that the West Woodstock Bridge and the surrounding area is extremely interesting. Although the dam, pond and complex of mill buildings are now gone, the bridge remains. And it has a story.
According to Henry Swan Dana's The History of Woodstock, the current bridge has been built upon the foundations of earlier works...
"A few rods above Aaron Whitney's shop, on the north bank of the river may yet be seen the remains of a log abutment to a bridge that once spanned the river at this point. The logs are still in perfect preservation, and even a plank pinned to two of them to keep them in place, is as sound as ever, pins and all. This abutment was laid eighty years ago by Jabez Bennett, who the present generation has well nigh forgotten. The bridge was a great convenience to the public at the time. It stood a few years and then was swept away by the ice. It was rebuilt forthwith by Mr. Bennett. One winter when the snow was very deep the bridge got overloaded and giving away under the pressure it fell flat on the ice. This accident happened in the evening and sometime during the winter of 1802-1803. The bridge was never rebuilt after this, but twenty years later, a sort of pontoon bridge was used for some time by the people of the neighborhood on crossing back and forth at this point."
For almost a hundred years, this section of town only had a suspension bridge for foot traffic. This foot bridge had been built below the dam in 1885, but it washed away in 1899. Townspeople then moved to build a vehicular bridge in that area, and it proved to be a great benefit to the farmers of West Woodstock and South Woodstock.
Charles Cobb, a local West Woodstock resident, noted; "The greatest gain on account of it accrues to the farmers of School District No. 9 and others on the hill roads to South Woodstock, whose lumber and other products will be much more available than before and the value of all the farms will be considerably raised, thus benefiting the town by increasing its grand list."
Charles M. Cobb, "New Iron Bridge at West Woodstock, Vermont", Vol. II, No. 3, Inter-State Journal, January, 1901.
Charles Cobb once again states in the Inter-State Journal article, "But more than this the people of the valley nearly all wanted a highway bridge at this point for the addition it would make to the attractive 'drives' of the town, which is one of the most romantic and picturesque in New England (the Switzerland of America) and is getting to be a summer resort of considerable consequence."
The West Woodstock Bridge was constructed in 1900 as a Pennsylvania metal through truss bridge. It was built by the Groton Bridge and Manufacturing Company of New York, and it is one of two Vermont bridges built by that firm (the other in Cavendish). On May 26, 1899, at a special town meeting in Woodstock's new Town Hall, the town voted to build the new bridge. Work on the abutments began on August 9, 1899, and was completed about September 15. The abutments (blue limestone and concrete) were built on top of hemlock foundation logs placed there in 1789 by Jabez Bennett. The abutments were built high enough so the bridge would be above the highwater mark of the ice jam of 1866, the highest water level of the previous fifty years.
"The bridge was purchased by the Selectman of Woodstock of the Groton, N.Y. Mfg. Co., considerably below its cost, under the following circumstances. The company named had sent a similar bridge to a New York town to be 'put on' when a freshet washed away the abutments made there for it, and widened the stream so that it would not do for the place, and the town declined to take the bridge. So it was offered to Woodstock at a good discount, and the offer was accepted. But when the Company ordered the bridge shipped to Woodstock, another place had been found for it and the holders refused to give it up, and a new bridge was made and sent to us on the same terms and at a loss."
Charles M. Cobb, "New Iron Bridge at West Woodstock, Vermont," Vol. II, No. 3, Inter-State Journal, January, 1901.
The bridge work began about November 14 by Groton Bridge and Manufacturing Company men under the direction of J.S. Hunter. The bridge was finished and opened for travel on December 7, 1900. The total cost for the bridge and placing it on the site was about $6,000. The bridge is 173 feet in length, 32 feet in height, and 16 feet in width, and weighs more than 50 tons. It was listed on the National Register of Historical Places on September 9, 1982.
A rehabilitation of the "Mill Bridge," or the West Woodstock Bridge was completed in June, 2002. "The renovated bridge will allow small trucks, school buses and fire trucks weighing up to 40,000 pounds to use this bridge. The project is a unique way to maintain the historical integrity of the structure and add carrying capacity to the bridge. The solution that was designed involved building an arch to surround the outside steel members. This arch supports a new floor system and increases the load carrying capacity of the bridge from 3 tons to 20 tons. The total cost of the construction was approximately 1.5 million, and the town paid approximately $75,000. This work could not have been accomplished without the federal and state grants that we received for this project." Annual Report 2001-2002, Town of Woodstock