Historic Brandon span is dismantled for repair
October 20, 2002 (from the Rutland Herald, County section)
By ED BARNA Herald Correspondent
BRANDON - The Sanderson covered bridge is no longer covered. In fact, at least
temporarily, it isn't even a bridge any more.
As the first step in an $830,000 repair job, the Blow
& Cote construction company of Morrisville has used cranes to systematically remove the
160-year-old wooden structure from its Otter Creek crossing on Pearl Street.
According to Brandon Public Works director Bruce
Rounds, the work that began Aug. 19 has this month brought the dismantling of the 132-foot
bridge's roof, then the siding, then the floor, then the cross-timbers linking the two sides. The
sides, known as trusses, are what hold up a covered bridge. The Sanderson Bridge's two trusses
known as Town lattices after their inventor, Ithiel Town now lie on their sides by the river where
they can be further dismantled.
Photo by Joe Nelson, 1997
The bridge was closed in 1987 after a state bridge
inspection found serious deficiencies in the timber-framed structure. Among other problems, its
metal roofing had ended at the edge of the roof, without any eaves, so that water kept running
down the sides and ultimately rotting out key timbers at the bottom of the bridge. Also, the Select
Board realized that trucks using the bridge-- even the town's loaded dump trucks doing
road maintenance-- were exceeding the statutory 8-ton limit for wooden bridges. The contract for
the bridge restoration specifies that it should safely carry 20 tons.
At first, voters decided to save the old bridge as a
pedestrian and bicycle crossing, and create a concrete and steel bridge at a new crossing north of
the present site. But during a preliminary investigation of the proposed crossing route,
state-contracted archaeologists discovered a wealth of Native American remains, which they said
should be researched before any road is built. When it became clear that the scientific
investigation might add as much as $200,000 to the cost--meaning a $20,000 local share at that
time--there was a petitioned re-vote.
The second town meeting chose to rebuild and
reinforce the old bridge. The importance of the archaeological site can be seen in the way the
Division for Historic Preservation has ordered Blow & Cote to keep their operations out of the
cornfield on the north side of Pearl Street, Rounds said.
Artifacts from the first digs were supposed to come to
Brandon for a historic exhibit, but are still somewhere in New Jersey, he said.
Among covered bridge preservationists, the idea of
beefing up covered bridges to carry 20-ton loads has become controversial. Typically, many of the
original timbers are replaced by synthetic materials like glue-laminated boards, or glulam. Rounds
said every effort will be made to retain original wood, though most of it will have to be replaced
due to extensive damage. There will have to be some glulam, but it will be hidden below the
bridge, rather than changing the historic appearance of the structure, he said.
Round said reconstruction of the bridge itself might
be completed by January. With other work on foundations and the site, the entire project has a
tentative completion date of June 2003.
Adding all the previous expenses to the contract with
Blow & Cote, it will cost about $1.2 million to put the Sanderson bridge back in place and
remove the temporary steel girder bridge that has connected Brandon and Sudbury for 15 years,
Federal covered-bridge money obtained by Sen.
James Jeffords, I-Vt., had been targeted for the work, but due to scheduling, that money will
actually help with other bridges on the Agency of Transportation repair list.
Waiting for 15 years has had one positive effect,
Rounds noted. The local share has swung between 10 percent and 5 percent, but now is pegged
to be only 5 percent, or $41,500 for this year's work. The Select Board has already allocated
money for the project in regular budgets.
[Ed Barna is Author of "Covered Bridges of Vermont," Countryman Press, and is on the
Board of Directors of the Vermont Covered Bridge Society - Ed.]