Securing the Past for the Future|
by Steve Miyamoto
For those of us who are fascinated by covered bridges, Vermont is a wonderful state to live
in. This is the state where picture post cards come to life. As the seasons change, we get to see
first hand what others can only dream of. Some may never experience scenes like
these in their lifetime. In the famous poem, The Road Not Taken,¹, Robert Frost
describes a traveler who decides to take the less traveled road. And to him, the less traveled road
"has made all the difference." Like Robert Frost's character, we need to take the less traveled
roads to discover Vermont's covered bridges. Most are tucked away and hidden from the
interstates and state highways. You can travel on Vermont Route 15 through Jeffersonville
heading towards Johnson and never realize that you just passed thru Cambridge Junction. Had
you known about Cambridge Junction and the little, obscure left hand turn onto Route 23, across
from the Corse Oil Company, you would have been able to find the Cambridge Junction Covered
Bridge. But it won't tell you that it's there. The "less traveled road," the back roads of Vermont
will lead us to Vermont's covered bridges, if we will but take the time.
I remember when I first "discovered" this bridge. Our
oldest daughter was a student at Johnson State College from 1996 - 2000. My wife and I would
occasionally make the trip from Essex to Johnson taking Vermont Route 15. Around that time I
had started reading about covered bridges and found a copy of Joe Nelson's Spanning
Time: Vermont's Covered Bridges² in the local library. I began to notice the
covered bridges of Lamoille County and started to try to figure out where they were. One day I
remember cruising from Essex thru Jeff en route to Johnson. The road sign ahead said JOHNSON
9 MILES. Just as I was going up the little hill past the Corse Oil Company, out of the corner of
my eye, I caught a glimpse of a road sign for Route 23. I remembered something about a covered
bridge on Route 23. I stopped the car as soon as I could, turned around and finally came back to
the turn. Route 23, though not long, slowly led across an abandoned railroad track and then, there
it was: the Cambridge Junction Covered Bridge. As I walked across the bridge that day I was glad
to have taken the time to explore and touch the past. I had driven by it so many times before.
I grew up in southern Dutchess County in
southeastern New York. My family's roots were in New York City but my parents chose to move
to the small town of Hopewell Junction in the later 1950's. Hopewell Junction would later become
the home of IBM East Fishkill in the 1960's but in the 1950's it was a small, rural town with a
railroad past. The remains of the tracks are still there today but the town has grown dramatically.
There were many small developments sprouting up on former farmland back then. There were lots
of open fields and a world full of wonder for a small child. Our development was built on farm
land once owned by J.C. Penney himself. There was an old barn with a farmhouse and a small
family cemetery right near the manmade lake. We used to skate on in the winter and tried to fish it
in the summer. Up the road were larger farms and houses that were turned into apartments in the
1960's, but there were no covered bridges where I grew up. We used to sit on the wooden
stringers of what was probably an old plank bridge, used by the farmers, that crossed a small
stream, but that was as close as we got. Everything else was concrete and steel.
I have always wondered about the history of the
covered bridges in that area. Recently I got an e-mail from Richard Wilson of the New York State
Covered Bridge Society concerning bridges in Dutchess County, New York. It turns out that
there were at least 3 bridges in the county all crossing the Wappingers Creek at different points.
The towns of Pleasant Valley, Manchester, and Red Oaks Mill each had covered bridges.
According to Mr. Wilson, the bridge in Pleasant Valley was in service from 1855 -- 1911. The
Manchester bridge was a two-lane span in service from 1845 -- 1923. Manchester is located on
Route 55 in the town of Poughkeepsie. The bridge at Red Oaks Mill had no dates associated but
is reported as being 80 -- 90 feet long and white. I know that area well and could very easily
picture a covered bridge there. Some day I should ask one of my good friends, who is an artist
and still lives in the area, to paint the scene. Thanks Mr. Richard Wilson for this information.
Maybe someday we'll find some pictures of these bridges or even some more information on these
or other covered bridges in that area.
This past summer my wife and I became grandparents
as my oldest daughter and son-in-law had their first child. He is 7 months old now and doing well.
We are grateful for his health and well being and look forward to watching him grow. Though my
daughter has graduated, they all still live in Johnson so when life slows down we can still take the
Essex to Johnson trip. We can still stop and see a covered bridge or 2 along the way. Sadly my
grandson will never see the original Powerhouse Covered Bridge in Johnson. It stood strong for
130 years, but it collapsed last winter under the weight of heavy snow. He should be able to see
the newly restored Westford Covered Bridge however. The restoration work there is impressive.
The views through the window are very picturesque looking downstream to the rocks. I have to
wonder how many people over the years have stood in the same place and seen similar sights.
They may have been facing wars, crisis, joys, friendships or any number of other things that we all
experience. But I hope he never has to face what I saw last September. I was away on a retreat in
the Thetford area and decided to see a few of the area bridges on the way home. Covered bridges
have been messengers of all kinds of events in the past but the saddest one I've seen was a poster
on the Sayers Covered Bridge in Thetford. The poster was for a man missing in the World Trade
Center attacks of September 11, 2001. God help us.
But for now I have to wonder what the world will be
like when our children and grandchildren are our age. When our children and grandchildren
become the future leaders, how will they shape the future? How many of today's covered bridges
will remain say 50 or even 100 years from now? As towns value their heritage and strive to
preserve their past, we stand a greater chance in holding on to these treasures. As organizations
like the Vermont Covered Bridge Society are supported and funded we can make people aware of
preservation and restoration efforts. Let's all help by preserving the work of the past generations
for the generations to come. Let's make sure that the less traveled roads will always help lead us
to one of Vermont's treasures: the covered bridge.
¹ The Road Not Taken ©1915 Robert Frost.
² Spanning Time: Vermont's Covered Bridges, © 1997 Joseph C. Nelson, The New