A Historic Moment...

Submitted 8 months ago
Created by
Matthew Powers

A New Bridge in Woodstock

If you haven't heard, there is going to be a new bridge installed soon in the village of Woodstock on Rt. 4 over the Kedron Brook. The replacement of bridges often invokes a variety of discussions like: How long the construction will disrupt traffic? What will be the impact on local businesses? What will the new one look like? Most likely, all of these discussions happened before when the soon-to-be-replaced bridge was originally built. Clearly, I am more interested in its history...

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I like to think that everyone will pause and reflect on this historic structure before it is demolished and replaced. Probably not. By aesthetic standards, it is one of the uglier bridges that I have seen in my travels. That often becomes the deciding factor of not venerating a soon-to-be replaced structure. However ugly and run down, the bridge does have a history. Perhaps this article will serve as the historic pause that it deserves.

Clearly emblazened in concert in the middle of the bridge is the date of the bridge's construction in 1935. However, the bridge's number is wrong, or more correctly, has been changed in the last 83 years. The only mention of the historic nature of the bridge that I have found is a short description found online written by the construction company who is replacing the bridge. "The bridge was constructed in 1935 and Woodstock Village Bridge 51 is a Town-owned bridge identified as a historic resource within the Woodstock Village Historic District and is constrained by buildings on either side." That's it? It's historic and is constrained by buildings?

So, back to work I go to the Woodstock History Center's archive where I knew I could find references in The Vermont Standard  about the building of this bridge. I pulled out the bound 1935 volume and opened it serendipitously to the first mention of its construction on January 3, 1935. The article mentions that is will be a new cement bridge to replace the old "jail bridge" on Central Street. What I found interesting was that it was a federal project, using unemployed men in its construction "as far as possible." "But---no local persons can be employed excepting those who register in advance with the U.S. Employment Service." The article goes on to state that State Highway Board approved the low bid which was submitted by the H.P. Cummings Construction Company of Ware, Massachusetts for $14,974.28.

In the January 24 article (seen at the bottom of this post) on the bridge it states that work commenced "with five local men working from the unemployed list." The article goes on to say that, "It is expected that later 12 to 15 men will be employed, some of them of course being expert bridge men." The bridge was to have a span of 36 feet and the roadway 40 feet wide with 7 feet wide sidewalks. There were only slight differences between the size of the old bridge and the proposed bridge. The overall design was new, especially being built out of cement. Flash forward to the construction of the new bridge coming soon in 2018 and its design appears to be nearly identical to the 1935 bridge. Impressive effort to make it look the same.

The big difference between the 1935 bridge and our proposed bridge (soon to be built) is that traffic was maintained back in 1935, while our bridge will be closed for a 21 day period. Traffic will be detoured around the side streets. Trucks will not be allowed on this local detour. I imagine that the biggest question at the public meeting will be about how the local stores and restaurants will receive deliveries.

Progress was quite slow on the building of the 1935 jail bridge with extreme cold weather and heavy ice being present in February. The month of March produced warmer weather which made the river swell and work slowed once again. But eventually at the end of March, a report is made of the progress. "Much of the preliminary work was out of sight in the bed of the brook under the old bridge, but now the footings are in for the abutments, the southerly half of the former bridge is removed, the false work for the superstructure is mostly in place, and even to the novice it appears to be a considerable job of construction. The work to follow will be largely above ground and the progress more visible."

There are no mentions of the bridge construction from the end of March until late June and early July, 1935. The Vermont Standard states on July 4: "The new Central street bridge is completed, and is open in time for the holiday traffic. The workmen have departed, but Superintendent and Mrs. Harry Brown are detained here until Saturday to complete the red tape of official acceptance of the bridge. As stated last week. The new bridge marks great improvement and is a credit to the village."

I think the construction of our new 2018 "post office" bridge will be a credit to our village as well, despite the disruptions to local businesses and residents. Stayed tuned for more news of the rebuilding of this historic structure!

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