This Place in History: Brookfield Floating Bridge

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BROOKFIELD, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins and Brookfield Historical Society member Perry Kacik take us to the famous Floating Bridge.

“Well it has 10 pontoons under it that were made out of space age material, the kind of stuff you make jet planes out of, that are all linked together. Once those pontoons were put in place, the bridge itself, the oak bridge, was laid on top of that. And that’s how this bridge was constructed. But it’s much different than the former bridges,” began Kacik.

“The first one was built around 1820. That was a result of the fact that in 1813, a guy named Daniel Belknap was crossing the lake in the wintertime. People used that as the thoroughfare for the two sides of town. Unfortunately the ice was too thin. He fell through and drowned. So as a result, around 1820, townsfolk decided to build a bridge basically made of logs strapped together that they built on the ice. Then when the ice melted in the Spring, they had a floating bridge, a very rudimentary floating bridge. That was the first bridge, and after that there were six more bridges until this one,” continued Kacik.

“So that first bridge was kind of your Huck Finn raft, as it were?” stated Perkins.

“Absolutely, it must have been awfully wobbly, I think,” agreed Kacik.

“I can’t imagine how slippery it was side to side. How did the technology improve?” asked Perkins.

“First it was logs, then eventually they strapped barrels underneath. Eventually they were coated with tar. Then they went from the logs as the deck and they actually built a structure similar to this, not quite as nice, not with the two sidewalks. And they placed barrels in a kind of honeycomb placement, much like you’d have ice cubes in an ice cube tray, upside down. They were placed in there and there were a lot of barrels all in these little compartments. They eventually attached chains to those barrels so they wouldn’t move around as much. The bridge before this one had plastic barrels with Styrofoam in it. It’s a tourist Mecca. It’s an icon in the county. It’s very important to the entire county,” answered Kacik.

“How many floating bridges are there in the United States?” asked Perkins.

“Two. This is east of the Mississippi and this is the only wooden floating bridge. The other one that I’m aware of is in Washington state, which is a high tech bridge as part of an interstate,” said Kacik.

“So set the scene for us. We’re here on a chilly, blustery morning. If it was a warm, summer day and you would come here, what would you see?”

“You would see a whole line of fishermen and fisherwomen up and down the two sidewalks, casting their knots. If you’ll notice up at the telephone lines there, see all the hooks that are caught up? That kind of decorates this line across the bridge. So a whole lot of people fishing. If it’s a warm, nice summer day, there would be a bunch of families in our little park over here, having picnics and having kids jump off the bridge and swimming in the lake,” said Kacik.

“This is actually part of Vermont Route 65, it was closed in 2008 because this bridge had sunk low enough that it was starting to be considered unsafe. Luckily, because Brookfield is a National Historic District, people starting saying the bridge must be a historic property. As a result, it went way up on the list of priorities with the Federal government in terms of historic preservation to be restored. The Federal government paid 80% of the cost of replacing the bridge, it cost the state of Vermont only 20% and it cost the people of Brookfield nothing,” concluded Kacik.

From Brookfield’s famous Floating Bridge at ‘This Place in History’!

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