Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thompson Covered Bridge, West Swanzey, NH

West Swanzey / Thompson Covered Bridge
Sorry about the reflections. I wasn't using a lens hood and this is what happens.

The West Swanzey Covered Bridge, AKA the Thompson Bridge, was built in 1832 by Zadoc Taft for the princely sum of $523.27. Zadoc isn't a name you see every day. He's not even the most famous Zadoc Taft -- that honor goes to renowned sculptor Lorado Zadoc Taft.

Our Zadoc Taft, though, was a local boy, born, raised and died in the area. The Register of Historical Places entry for this bridge lists Taft as a master workman, but by the 1850 census, he called himself a blacksmith. Further information about Z. Taft isn't easily found; there was a Revolutionary War soldier by that name who lived in southern Massachusetts near where I grew up, apparently unrelated, and another around the same time who ran a mill in Bennington, Vermont, where my sister went to college. That could conceivably be the same person, as Richmond and Bennington were probably within a few hours travel by train, but it seems unlikely.

The Thompson Covered Bridge crosses the Ashuelot River, connecting the town of Swanzey with the village of West Swanzey. It's a two span, 155 foot long, single web Town lattice bridge. The sides are open and use the beautiful Town lattice as a decorative element. There is a sidewalk on the south side of the bridge; there apparently was another on the north side when the bridge was built. It's not known to me what happened to it.

By the early 1970s, increasing traffic was taking a toll on the wooden bridge. Although there is now another bridge nearby to carry trucks, buses and other heavy traffic, in the 70s the weight limit was six tons. School buses would drop their kids off on one side of the bridge, drive to the other, and weight for the kids to cross the bridge, board the bus, and continue on its way. Currently, the bridge is signed for only three tons of traffic -- one car at a time on the bridge's single lane.

The Thompson Covered Bridge is #5 in the southern New Hampshire covered bridge registry. Of all the covered bridges I've seen here in New England, this is the most beautiful and best preserved. It looked substantially similar to this in 1832, 180 years ago. Zadoc Taft should be proud.

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