The Smith Covered Bridge

By West, Karl | The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc., December 2001 | Go to article overview

The Smith Covered Bridge


West, Karl, The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.


In an article in The Chronicle in 1993 entitled "A Covered Bridge," I discussed the Squam River Bridge in Ashland, New Hampshire, which was built in 1990 to replace an older bridge. Shortly before that, Milton S. Graton, who built the Squam River Bridge, wrote The Last of the Covered Bridge Builders. At that time Milton Graton was in his eighties and from the title of his book, it appeared we had seen the end of reconstructed covered bridges and that in fact Milton Graton was the "last of the covered bridge builders."1

Well, "It ain't over 'til it's over." The building of a new covered bridge over the Baker River commenced in 2000 in Plymouth, New Hampshire, and was completed this past June (Figure 1). The story of that bridge, and the story that leads up to the building of it, is the subject of this article.

In 1994 John Alger of Rumney, New Hampshire, in his history of the Smith Bridge wrote that there had been a bridge at this location in 1790.2 The bridge was along The Old Province Road, which had been authorized in 1763 to go from Durham to Haverhill, New Hampshire.

The Plymouth, New Hampshire, Annual Report for the year ending 31 December 1949, provides this background on the Smith Bridge:

On January 14, 1850, the Town of Plymouth agreed to hire Herman Marcy of Littleton, New Hampshire, to build a bridge over the Baker River with the "same plan and same style as the ancient Lafayette bridge between Plymouth Village and Holderness, the work finishing to be in all respects as thorough and good as the "Pont Fayette" covered structure long cherished. Marcy further agreed that he would not accept any compensation for his labor if he failed to do his work as well and thoroughly as the covered bridge aforesaid across the Pemigewasset River.

The said town of Plymouth paid said contractor two dollars and fifty cents per running foot in length for said work measured end to end, the contractor having no responsibility as to materials used.3

The 150-foot long Smith Covered Bridge was named for Jacob Smith. It passed Smith's house and barn (which is still standing) and over his land to the Baker River. In constructing it, Herman Marcy used the patented truss design of Colonel Stephen Long of Hopkinton, New Hampshire. It was a King Post design with arches added.

The 1949 report also noted that, "The contractor [was] to have all advantage he can derive from the old in raising the new bridge."' This note indicates that a bridge had spanned the Baker River at this point prior to the Smith Bridge, which was built in the 1850s.

In the spring of 1927, melting snow caused a major flood that was so bad it destroyed two hundred bridges in Vermont. Although the waters of the Baker River were well up on the Smith Bridge, the bridge stayed on its abutments. Extensive repairs were made to the bridge about 1940. Then around 1950 each end of the bridge was lifted and the ends of the anchor were renewed. The bridge was also straightened,jacked, and readjusted at that time. In 1991 after inspection by the state, the selectmen ordered it to be closed due to deterioration of timber members and deformation of timber arches. Then on the night of 16 April 1993, it was set afire by arsonists. Yet, it still stood. Following the fire, the state wanted to design and build a steel bridge at the site, but the townspeople objected, and that is when John Alger wrote the history to raise money for a wooden bridge. In May 1994 the remains of the bridge were still standing and Arnold Graton Sr., Milton's son, was hired to tear down the timbers. In the late 1990s, the voters of Plymouth decided to replace the one-lane Smith Bridge over the Baker River with a two-lane covered bridge.

In 140 plus years of use, $21,848 had been expended for construction, repair, and maintenance, including the original cost of $2,720.92. This old bridge was certainly well-built. The estimated cost of replacement was $1,400,000. …

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