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Covered Bridge Museum Opened

Vermont Covered Bridge Museum. Photo by Joe
Nelson, 6-14-03
Vermont Covered Bridge wing at Bennington Center for the arts

Bennington, June 14, 2003 - The Vermont Covered Bridge Museum officially opened on this day at 10 a.m., described by entrepreneur Bruce Laumeister as the world's first.
       Located on Gypsy Lane off Route 9 west of Old Bennington and in sight of the Bennington Battle Monument, the new museum and learning center is housed in a wing of the Bennington Center for the Arts building, designed to resemble a covered bridge. The Center was founded by Mr. Laumeister and his wife Elizabeth Small.
       Among the museum's exhibits are a working HO Gauge railroad and covered bridge layout, an interactive kiosk describing covered bridges of Vermont, a resource center based on the collected writings of Richard Sanders Allen, and covered bridges described in all of their aspects through artful display of models and photographs galore of bridges past and present. The Archives of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges provided an important share of the exhibits.
       The Museum was planned and the exhibits assembled by the Center staff under the guidance and direction of Bennington historian John Dostal and the talented efforts of Emiliano DeLaurentis, founder of Knowledge Environments, Inc. of North Adams, Mass. Also deeply involved in the planning and coordination of the effort was Curator Robert Campanile, former director of the North Adams Museum of History and Science.
       The festivities began with the opening of Gallery III exhibit "Art of the Animal Kingdom" followed by a live raptor demonstration by the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. Attendees were entertained by the music of the Flying Garbanzos from noon to two.
       The afternoon saw an introduction of Bruce Laumeister by Vermont House Representative Joe Krawczyk, an address by Robert Campanile, some words from John Dostal, and a showing of the Video Film Documentary Covered Bridges of Vermont, directed by Emiliano DeLaurentis.
       The ceremonies continued with the recitation of his poem by author and poet Ed Barna, comments by Joe Nelson, president of the Vermont Covered Bridge Society, and entertainment by Eric Peterson and Willy Jones of the Oldcastle Theatre Company; "Yankee Traditions."
       The celebration was concluded with comments by Vermont Governor, James Douglas.

Vermont Covered Bridge Museum. Photo by Joe
Nelson, 6-14-03
John Dostal doing his thing.
Vermont Covered Bridge Museum. Photo by Joe
Nelson, 6-14-03
The Richard Sanders Allen Resource Center
Vermont Covered Bridge Museum. Photo by Joe
Nelson, 6-14-03
The railroads and covered bridges layout.
Vermont Covered Bridge Museum. Photo by Joe
Nelson, 6-14-03
The learning wall and the interactive kiosk.
Vermont Covered Bridge Museum. Photo by Joe
Nelson, 6-14-03
Vermont Covered Bridge Post Cards and Posters display.
Vermont Covered Bridge Museum. Photo by Joe
Nelson, 6-14-03
Unique Covered Bridge Portals and bios of the bridge builders
Vermont Covered Bridge Museum. Photo by Joe
Nelson, 6-14-03
Learn about Stowe's haunted bridge.
Vermont Covered Bridge Museum. Photo by Joe
Nelson, 6-14-03
Covered Bridge Trusses.

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Covered Bridge
E. RL. Barna.

No space warp, teleport or time machine,
this wooden tunnel into the past remains
as ordered, "a load of hay high and wide,"
though ornaments on the portals show its builder
knew his classics: made them to look like ancient
pilasters and cornice returns; today, inside,
the rows of kingposts are like colonnades
improbably remaining after earthquakes.
No silence is louder: each of its hardwood pegs
tolled for its oak tree as it was malleted in--
among the hundreds, not one loose. They worked
to make the timbers hewn from the heartwood of the best
of the uncut forest grow together again
as one--a magnificent wilderness hollow trunk
fallen across the stream. On moonlit, windswept
nights you can hear the bridge and the trees around
like a pack of the wolves that roamed these hills before
the settlers' drives doomed them, the higher, louder,
throat-voice of the bridge leading the rest.
The spirits of boys, like those chubby angels
of Renaissance paintings, are everywhere: some loll
on the highest roof beams, or swing from one to another;
carve their initials or their names with jack-knives;
fish through cracks in the floor; dive through windows
into the swimming hole below. One older,
more serious, waits with a shovel for winter, to snow
the bridge so sleighs can cross. Another, more serious
yet, is making a wooden model: the day
will come when he stands atop a triple arch
so vast the mockers call it his folly--a wooden
suspension bridge a generation ahead
of its time--and he will walk to the center of
the ridgeline and shout, "If she goes, I go with her!"
They pull away the scaffolding beneath,
it settles--and the bridge, the world's longest
single wooden span, remains to this day,
hardwood married to softwood. The girls were there,
too, initials in hearts on the walls attest.
What other blessed place was sanctified not
by deaths of animals or splinters of bones
of murdered saints, but with the kisses and wishes
of all the secret loves exchanged therein?
This temple of democracy, with its arch
reaching in one direction back to Greece,
leads in the other ....beyond. Who imagined
past the iron horse, the horseless wagons,
exceeding the weight of anything those roads
had seen? This much of life beyond the grave
they proved: do what you do the best you know how
and you will do better than you could ever know.

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Partners in Preservation

The Northeast, home to some of the nations oldest covered bridges, is home to three organizations dedicated to the preservation of these historic spans; The National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, The New York State Covered Bridge Society, and more recently, since the winter of the year 2000, the Vermont Covered Bridge Society.
       Now, our three organizations have been joined by the Vermont Covered Bridge Museum, all of us dedicated to the promotion of the preservation of covered bridges.
       Educating the public in the value of our historic bridges is key to their preservation. We of the covered bridge societies are dedicated to this endeavor, as is, especially, our new partner, the Vermont Covered Bridge Museum.
       The Vermont Covered Bridge Society has been active in preservation--our primary purpose is to preserve Vermont's Covered Bridges. The Vermont Covered Bridge Society, Inc. was founded in February, 2000 to address concerns about the loss of our heritage--the number of historic covered bridges in Vermont having dwindled down from more than 500 to fewer than 100 today. While many were lost to the flood of 1927, significant numbers have been lost to modernization and some to vandalism.
       The old bridges, built of timbers from long-gone forests, fashioned by long-gone craftsmen serve now as monuments to early times. Popular with visitors, perhaps because they have an extraordinary ability to evoke the spirit of the past, taking viewers back to the days of horses and buggies, sleigh rides, and a simpler way of life. These bridges, survivors, serving as mile stones marking the decades in our country's advance from a trackless wilderness to what we have today. We, of the covered bridge societies, and now, of this new museum, who know and appreciate these old spans, want to preserve them for ourselves and for our posterity. These old spans ought to serve to remind us of the kind of people it took to tame the wilderness with bridges and roads-strong backs, and the simplest of tools.
       The Vermont Covered Bridge Society is pursuing preservation in many ways, emphasizing educating others to the cause: The VCBS has made a mark in Vermont and elsewhere in its efforts to promote the preservation of historic covered bridges. The Society has helped spread the word through the Bridger Newsletter which is distributed not only to our membership, but to other covered bridge societies, historical societies, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, and members of the state legislature, the governor, and to congress. Our web page promotes historic bridge preservation nationwide and internationally. We have gained a place, where our opinions are invited., at the meetings of the Vermont Agency of Transportation's Historic Covered Bridge Committee, the State of Vermont's commitment to preserve covered bridges.
       On the local level, we encourage those of our members who live in towns that own covered bridges to attend municipal meetings as advocates for preservation of the towns bridges.
       Some of our ongoing projects may be of interest to those here. We invite your participation: Director Bill McKone is working with the Shelburne Museum to let us maintain a covered bridge informational display there.
       VCBS member Suzanne Richardson and owner of the original Windsor Bridge Toll House has offered the Toll House as a museum with small exhibits; a library and space for research activities: as well as a meeting place and office. The VCBS Board of Directors has formed o committee to explore the possibilities.
       Our Legislative Watch Committee has on its agenda an effort to prevent further damage through insensitive repairs or replication to those historic bridges owned by the towns but not protected by the umbrella of the Vermont Agency of Transportation or the Vermont Historical Division. The committee has recruited members of the legislature to help us pursue this effort. A meeting will be held this year to explore ways and means.
       Also on the Legislative committee's agenda is a push for the enactment of stricter and more punitive laws against acts of vandalism to covered bridges and to any property on the National Register of Historic Places. The committee will also continue to pursue the posting of highway signage by the State directing viewers to the covered bridges.
       In the years ahead, we of the Vermont Covered Bridge Society plan to take full advantage of the resources here in this museum in pursuit of our common goal, to celebrate and preserve our covered bridge legacy.
       We also pledge to support and help grow the venture begun here-to be partners in preservation with other groups with the same aims, because all of the covered bridges are our heritage and the bridges preserved, will be our legacy.

              Joseph C. Nelson
              President, VCBS

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Joe Nelson, P.O Box 267, Jericho, VT 05465-0267,
This file posted June 16, 2003