This Place In History: Lake Champlain Bridge

CHIMNEY POINT, Vt. 

At 'This Place in History' we visited one of the most iconic and picturesque points in western Vermont and along the Adirondack Coast. Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins introduced us to the significance of the Lake Champlain Bridge.

"This crossing at Lake Champlain has been important to people throughout the millennia. It's a very narrow part of the lake, and in the 1920s Vermont and New York built an iconic bridge. We all know we took it down and they built this beautiful, new bridge. So we're going to learn all about the history of this crossing, how they used it, how it was built," said Perkins.

Elsa Gilbertson, Regional Site Administrator for the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, explained how the importance of the crossing dates back longer than the bridge's existence.

"After the glacier waters receded and people were coming here, nearly 10,000 years ago, what became the lake was the super highway of the time. People were passing north and south, but also east and west because it's so close. When the Europeans started coming to this area, they were going back and forth here all the time. Then, there were ferries."

"Then, in the early 1920s, when there started to be more automobiles, people got really tired of waiting for the ferries. In the winter, you were kind of stuck; so that's when they started to talk about having a bridge on the lake. They looked all around for a good location, but geologically, this was the best."

"When the original bridge was put in, in the 1920s, it was pretty advanced from an engineering standpoint, right?" asked Perkins.

"Yes, it was highly significant and was considered an engineering landmark. Truss bridges before them, they weren't necessarily attractive, but they got the job done, to have people go back and forth. With this, it's one of the first and longest continuous through truss bridges. It was a beautiful design, too, with the team of Fay, Spofford and Thorndike of Boston, who are the ones who did the detailed design work. They really took into account the landscape of the area. So the arch mimics the rolling hills of the area. Sometimes bridges are plopped into a landscape. But if they're beautiful, over the course of time they become part of the landscape. So the old bridge was at one with the area."

"Then, luckily, when we had to have a new bridge, that was also designed very carefully to fit into the outstanding and amazing landscape here. So we feel very fortunate in this area to have a new beautiful bridge that is on par with, or maybe even surpass, the engineering experience of the old one," said Gilbertson.

"And you don't have to just drive over the bridge. You can walk over the bridge. You can bike over the bridge. There is a lot of activities to do right around the bridge, that have to do with the bridge. How can people visit that?" asked Perkins.

"So when we were working on taking down the old bridge, part of the issue is that we had to mitigate the destruction and then celebrate the old bridge. We all worked hard on an interpretive trail, with a lot of signs, that goes from where there is a pier from the old bridge that was preserved. So you can walk around here and then you can take the sidewalks and walk across to the other side. Then there are trails around there, too, with interpretive signs."

"Then in the New York building on the other side, there is a wonderful exhibit on the history of the bridge and we have a little bit here, too. Then, we do programs throughout the year on the history of the bridge in the area. There is fishing access, too, so you can get out. That's fun to be in a boat under the bridge and on both sides, fishing access and campgrounds. It's a great place to visit and enjoy," concluded Gilbertson.

Bridging different places and points in times with the Lake Champlain Bridge, 'At This Place in History'!
 

For more from the 'This Place in History' series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont's roadside historic markers, click here.


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