Back to Archive.

Three Mile Bridge effort gets an 'Arch'
Tiford, 94, seeks funds for new span

by John Flowers

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. Jan. 1, 2004 - It was a frigid winter's night in 1933 when the leaders of Middlebury College's Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity gave Arch Tilford a flashlight and told him to count all of the planks in the Three Mile Bridge.
       "They said, `Don't try to fool us, because we know how many there are,"' Tilford recalled of his taskmasters' admonition.
       Tilford dutifully counted the more than 1,300 planks in the 150-foot long covered span that once crossed the Otter Creek, connecting Three Mile Bridge Road with Morse Road, which intersects South Street intersection.
       "That was my first acquaintance with Three Mile Bridge," Tilford said on Monday, more than 70 years after his fraternity initiation.
       Alas, he has not been able to renew that acquaintanceship for more than a half-century. That's because Three Mile Bridge was destroyed in an Aug. 24, 1952, arson fire that remains shrouded in mystery to this day.
       Tilford, now 94, told Middlebury selectmen last Tuesday that he is launching a fund-raising crusade to finally replace the Three Mile Bridge with a more modern span that would help move traffic through Middlebury on another much needed crossing of the Otter Creek.
       An account of the fire featured in the Aug. 29, 1952, Addison Independent points to a theory that the arsonist may have torched the bridge in an effort to force officials to replace it. The bridge was erected in 1836, and had been closed by selectmen due to structural concerns only a short time before it was set ablaze.
       "Ironically, if the arsonist intended to force the town into constructing a new bridge, this act boomeranged, for it is now estimated that cleaning the debris from the bed of the Otter Creek will cost about $2,000," the Independent article stated.
       Local residents declined to replace Three Mile Bridge at an estimated cost of $50,000 at the time. They instead elected to plan for a replacement span closer to the center of town, a tack that voters affirmed several times during the ensuing 50 years. Still, Middlebury has not yet been able to make an "in town bridge" a reality.
       That said, Tilford is hoping to make Three Mile Bridge a reality again this time as a more modern, double lane span, a project he knows will cost at least $2 million in today's dollars. The cost, and bureaucratic red tape could be substantially reduced by keeping the state and federal authorities out of the rebuilding process, he said.
       "If you take federal money, you get 1,000 regulations," Tilford said.
       That's why Tilford is hoping to privately raise the Three Mile Bridge money. He'll be reaching out primarily to fellow Middlebury College graduates. College officials have given Tilford permission to make his pitch through the upcoming April issue of the Middlebury College alumni magazine.
       In his article, Tilford will ask alumni to give money that would be gathered through the town and invested in municipal bonds.
       "Gradually, we'll gather enough money where we can say, `We will now build that bridge,"' Tilford said.
       Tilford realizes that substantial fund raising is not the only hurdle he will have to cross. The town-owned approaches to the bridge are flooded during certain wet periods of the year, a problem that will either have to be corrected at additional expense, or result in the span being closed at times.
       Town officials are nonetheless offering their encouragement to Tilford in his quixotic bridge bid. He's already garnered some seed money from a couple of the college's heaviest hitters--President John McCardell Jr. and Vermont Gov. James Douglas, who is a Middlebury College graduate. Both men have given $500 to the project, according to Tilford, who also chipped in $500.
"I don't think you have any opposition. Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny told Tilford last Tuesday. "Although we may be skeptical of your ability to raise enough money through donations, we would love to be shown that this could be done."
       Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington estimates a new Three Mile Bridge could be used by approximately 1,000 vehicles each day, primarily as a convenience for folks traveling in the southwestern part of town. By contrast, the previously planned in-town bridge connecting Main Street with Cross Street was slated to carry 13,000 vehicles daily, according to Dunnington.
       But in this era. Dunnington said the bridge conversation should focus on one bridge or the other. Both should still be considered.
"I believe there should be multiple ways to get around,"Dunnington said.
       Though advanced in years, Tilford is committed to seeing his project through.
       "I expect to live to see the bridge." Tilford said.
[First published by the Addison County Independent, Middlebury, Vt., Thursday, Jan.1, 2004; © copyright 2004. Our thanks to the folks of the Addison County Independent for their permission to post this article, and our thanks to Don Shall for bringing this article to our attention - Editor]

Return to top

Joe Nelson, P.O Box 267, Jericho, VT 05465-0267
This file posted February 21, 2004