At ‘This Place in History,’ we’re on the Otter Creek in Pittsford with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.
“There are four covered bridges in Pittsford. We’re going to explore one of them and talk about covered bridges in Vermont. A little note while we’re standing here on the Otter Creek. So we have this name Pittsford. It’s named after a ford over the Otter Creek. The ford was right close to where we’re standing and it was called Pitt’s Ford, hence the name Pittsford,” introduced Perkins.
“Folks come to Vermont all the time to see our covered bridges. But if you look at what this bridge is made of, you can see it’s all wood. So let’s think about winters in Vermont and snow and ice, and even just the rain in the summer. Quickly everything is going to rot out, so it’s a good way to make sure the bridge lasts for a long time. So you’ve got a roof on it. It’s going to keep that snow and ice off of it.”
“The second reason why the bridge is covered is that it helps with the structure, the engineering of the bridge, to help support it. It can be above the level of the deck, rather than below the level of the deck.”
“It’s really pretty if you look at this lattice work. The name of this construction is actually called the Town’s Lattice Truss. It goes back to an architect who lived in Connecticut named Ithiel Town who needed to make a little bit of money. He came up with a design that anybody can build.”
“As an architect, he knew that if you take a bunch of little boards and you you put them across each other like we see here, it can create this lattice work. You know think about the stuff you put under your porch. It’s strong, but anybody can build it. You don’t need an engineer to put a bunch of cross beams up like this. So he patented the design and sent it out far and wide, and all of these little towns all throughout the United States used his design to build these bridges. He became rich. He made a ton of money out of it.”
“It’s the Town’s Lattice Truss and like i said, it creates the wall of the bridge. Then they were able to put that roof up above it, but this is what is carrying the load, not what’s underneath the bridge. Virtually no metal. This goes back to the construction of the 19th and 18th centuries anyway. It uses these big pegs, tree nails, is what they are called. But you may have heard it’s been shortened to trunnels. But it’s a short of tree nails, which is a big wooden peg. They drill the holes and pound these suckers through them. That’s what help up this structure.”
“There is something special about this bridge. I found this fascinating. One of Vermont’s biggest natural disasters was the Flood of 1927. We lost many covered bridges during that flood. This one, in fact, was floated up off of its piers and it went down the Otter Creek about a mile and ended up in a farmer’s field. It was so well built that in the winter, they jacked the thing up and moved it up on the ice and put it back on the piers. This bridge continued to serve this town and this crossing really up until the 1980s.”
“We even have post cards showing people having picnics and looking at this bridge. Driving across it really became a good tourist destination. But it became a point where it really couldn’t take automobile traffic. So in 1991, the State Division for Historic Preservation shored it up so you can see there’s a lot of new construction here stabilizing the bridge. It’s a place where you can come, have your picnic, visit this bridge and you can really look at how it’s made, how it worked and then the views down the Otter Creek are just beautiful through the windows.”
Lessons in engineering and bridge building along the beautiful Otter Creek!
At ‘This Place in History’!
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For a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.