Covered bridges are New England icons, so of course we love them all. But if we had to choose just a few…
By Joe Bills
Mar 16 2022
Creating a list of the best covered bridges is sort of like compiling a tally of the cutest puppies or the most delicious ice creams: The answers can’t really be right or wrong. There is also some debate about what constitutes an “authentic” covered bridge, but we won’t wade into those waters except to say that our list features only bridges with one of the dozen supporting truss structures common to New England bridges. (For the curious, the Covered Bridge Society offers a quick primer on that topic.)
Of course, there are no bad covered bridges, and although new ones are built from time to time, we are losing these iconic structures faster than we gain them. According to the research of Benjamin and June Evans, authors of New England’s Covered Bridges, at least 1,000 covered bridges were constructed in New England during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today the tally is down around 200. So please, get out and see them all — with the following six bridges being a good place to start.
Although the current bridge dates to 1864, records indicate there have been bridges in this same West Cornwall location as early as 1762. Today’s bridge has two native oak spans featuring red spruce Town lattices and, thanks to a later addition, queen trusses. The 172-foot-long one-lane bridge has been modernized several times to keep up with the weight of traffic and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. As with most covered bridges in New England, the West Cornwall bridge often has been threatened by Mother Nature — perhaps most dramatically in the form of a massive ice jam in 1961, when a strategic dynamite blast was needed to save the day. Painted red for the first time in 1957, this oft-photographed bridge has been featured on many a postcard and even made a guest appearance in the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls.
Built three years after the 1869 flood that destroyed a previous bridge at the same location, this nearly-100-foot-long structure in Newry was originally called the Sunday River Bridge, for obvious reasons. The origins of its more recent name, the Artist’s Bridge, are a bit harder to pin down. Some say that early American Impressionist painter John Enneking is the “artist” in question, since he frequented Newry and often painted en plein air near the bridge. Others say the name simply acknowledges that this is one of the most photographed and painted bridges in the state. Built with a Paddleford truss, the bridge was used for vehicular traffic until the 1950s, when a construction project realigned Sunday River Road to bypass it. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, it remains open to foot traffic.
Built in 1869 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, the Arthur A. Smith Covered Bridge in Colrain is the only Burr truss bridge in Massachusetts. It also has the distinction of being the only remaining covered bridge in Colrain, a town that once boasted at least a dozen. Originally built in the Shattuckville section of Colrain, the 100-foot-long bridge was badly damaged by an 1878 flood and sat abandoned for several years. In 1896, the town voted to rebuild the bridge and move it to its present Lyonsville Road location, an area called the Arthur A. Smith Flats after the neighborhood’s most prominent resident. In 1991, once again in need of repair, the bridge was taken out of service. Restoration was eventually accomplished between 2005 and 2007, and the bridge was rededicated on May 24, 2008.
This might just be New England’s toughest covered bridge. Originally constructed in either 1857 or 1862 (depending on who you ask), the two-span, 151-foot-long Paddleford truss bridge today carries Route 110 over the Upper Ammonoosuc River. A flood in the 1890s washed away both the bridge and its granite support pier, but the intact bridge was “rescued,” dragged back upstream by a team of oxen, and returned to service with a new wooden arch support structure that was later supplemented with a wooden central pier. Although the town voted in the early 1950s to replace the bridge, that plan was abandoned in the face of protests, and in 1954 the bridge was reinforced with steel beams and the current central pier of concrete. It was featured on the town’s bicentennial medal in 1974 and added to the National Register of Historic Places six years later.
Spanning Hemlock Brook in the town of Foster, Swamp Meadow Bridge is the only covered bridge on a public road in Rhode Island. It is also by far the youngest bridge on this list. In 1986, the town of Foster decided to build a bridge as part of the celebration of Rhode Island’s 350th anniversary that year. After much delay, construction began on September 12, 1992, with all the work being carried out by volunteers. The bridge was dedicated with much ceremony in May 1993, but the celebration was short-lived: On September 11, unknown arsonists set the bridge on fire. Undaunted, volunteers almost immediately set about building the current 40-foot-long Town truss bridge, which was dedicated in November 1994.
As one of only seven “double-barreled” covered bridges in the United States, Pulp Mill Bridge can make you think you’re seeing double. Built to connect the towns of Middlebury and Weybridge, this two-lane bridge is also recognized as the oldest covered bridge in Vermont and one of the oldest in the United States. A sign on the bridge claims that it was built between 1808 and 1820, although some say 1850 is more likely. Originally constructed as a single-span, Burr arch-supported bridge, the structure has been reconfigured several times, with the original arches being supplemented with King post trusses and the addition of stone and concrete piers. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Do you have a favorite covered bridge in New England? Let us know!
This post was first published in 2019 and has been updated.