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.”

About Will Truax

I'm a timberframer and preservation carpenter, and regularly work on Covered Bridge restoration projects. Bridgewrighting can be a tough row to hoe, for a myriad of reasons. From scheduling issues to differing opinions and philosophies on what is appropriate in methods and materials, to multiple jurisdictions still not sufficiently vetting bidders resumes - Which is to say, just because a company is on that state approved list and capable of building that seven figure overpass, this does not mean they are capable of restoring a wooden bridge... So, I have much to say about all this and more - And despite my tough row observation, I promise not to whine. View all posts by Will Truax

2 responses to “A Chasm, vast, and deep, and wide

  • Curt Merrick

    Will Allen Dromgoole was my great great aunt. When I first came across “The Bridge Builder” I thought of it as the story of life – our jobs are to build for the next generations. And, we do. Considering my generation vs. that of my parents vs. that of their parents, I see how much each generation leaves for the next. We need to be conscious of the fact that what we leave behind becomes the bridge our children use to build bridges for their children.


    • Will Truax

      Curt – Very well said, particularly that of – ” We need to be conscious of the fact that what we leave behind becomes the bridge our children use to build bridges for their children.”

      I see your interpretation and its imperative, in much the same way.


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