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