Monthly Archives: November 2011

A Chasm, vast, and deep, and wide

With my return from Vermont and the effort to repair flood damage to the Hall Covered Bridge, a brief diversion away from the history of bridge building. Though one sparked by both, time in the area, and an exploration of history and the areas long ties to bridge building…

We wrapped repairs this past Tuesday, and I worked with Barns & Bridges again Wednesday to demobilize, seeing the Bridge returning to service in time for the Holiday. After we removed the temporary gates, I retrieved my tool trailer from the bridges interior, where it had served as storage for the project, and had the honor of being the first vehicle to pass through both its Portals in almost three months.

One of the many things I hoped to see while there in the area, were the “Great Falls” themselves, the former home of The Tucker Toll and Colonel Hale’s Bridge, (see earlier entry High Water) and current home to The Vilas Bridge, a two span Open Spandrel Concrete Arch built in 1930 after the removal of The Tucker. It like the chasm it spans inspire both awe and vertigo.

This plaque on The Vilas and the stanza it recites sparked my interest, in part because I was puzzled as to why it had not crossed my desk before now.

I turns out to be from a poem titled “The Bridge Builder” by Will Allen Dromgoole, 26 October 1860 – 1 September 1934, a noted poet, novelist and newspaper columnist of her time. Yes, her time – Another Will, I am happy to share a name with.

Will Allen Dromgoole

Photo of Will Dromgoole courtesy of LibraryThing.org

The Vilas and Bellows Falls are a particularly fitting place in which to cite this poem, it is a “Chasm deep and wide”, and has stood host to two concurrent successions of bridges and builders, as time, like the meeting waters, ever continues to flow.

The Bridge Builder

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”

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Rivers of Time

With the distractions of distant travel and the teaching of a scribe layout timber framing workshop aside. And in celebration of work in earnest beginning on the Saxtons River and the Hall Bridge, and the town of Rockingham officially opting to replicate the Bartonsville, I thought we should take a moment, to again glance back at the life of its Bridgewright, Sanford Granger.

The following information, and the mans portrait were found in – The History of the town of Rockingham Vermont, Including the Villages of Bellows Falls, Saxtons River, Cambridgeport and Bartonsville by Lyman Simpson Hayes, published in 1907.

In addition to his bridge building, sawmill and brick manufacturing endeavors, Sanford seems to have been heavily involved in the establishment, support for, and and activities of his church. He is also known to have been devoted to several social movements of the day. These still seen as those defining and shaping his time – Temperance and abolition.

His work towards abolition is said to have extended to support for Canadian border bound escaped slaves. And this beyond the, there is an indian in every woodshed explanation for every dead space cubby under every stairwell, having somehow been a secret hiding place for the Underground Railroad. Sanford’s son Albert often recalled how his father provided a spot to sleep and a morning meal to those fleeing north.

The temperance side of things could not have always been welcome among all those working for Mr. Granger. This was a time when skilled tradesman were still often paid in part, with a daily Rum allowance. Contractual documents related to bridge building sometimes specifying how many drams per day each framer was to receive…

Mr. Granger shares a personal experience with current residents of the area, and was himself no stranger to flood damage, and the loss of personal property to high water. His sawmill on the Saxtons River was lost to a freshet on March 25th 1826. This report from the Bellows Falls Intelligencer of 3 April 1826 curiously lists the value of his “joiners tools” lost to the flood. Clearly suggesting the Mill also served as his carpenters shop. Sixty five 1826 Dollars would have a current value approaching $1500, a staggering loss when measured in hand tooling. When coupled with the loss of the almost personal relationships one develops with favored hand tools, this loss might approach something akin to immeasurable.