The Covered Bridges of Vermont

"If you would have your wish come true, the covered bridge you must go through"

Margaret Wister Meigs

State 42: Vermont


When choosing a “Historic Location” for a state, we typically select a single location. Since the Cross Country Couple's “Historic Location” for Vermont is “Covered Bridges”, we would be forced to think outside of the box in the Green Mountain State. Aside from Maple Syrup, I cannot think of anything more indicative of Vermont than covered bridges. As the name implies, a covered bridge is a wooden crossing enclosed with a roof and siding. Since wood bridges do not last nearly as long as their steel and concrete counterparts, covered bridges are classified not by their age, but instead by their hallmark timber truss construction.

Perhaps no other example of American architecture so seamlessly blends functionality, practicality, and romanticism than the covered bridge. The primary purpose of these old timber crossings was to promote safe passage over a chasm or body of water. The bridges cover protects the wooden structural trusses from exposure to the elements, but served additional functions as well. Prior to the invention of automobiles, horse drawn carriages were the primary mode of transportation in 19th century America. However, horses would shy away from the sight and sounds of flowing water, and the coverings prevented the horses from getting spooked. Back in the day, covered bridges offered locals a cool reprieve from the sweltering summer heat, and provided shelter when caught in a frigid winter storm. In addition, young lovers would seek privacy within the darkened enclosures earning them the name “kissing bridges”. Thankfully, I did not see any “smoochie-woochies” or “kissie-wissies” going on during my visit to Vermont’s covered bridges. Drinking and driving and texting and driving is scary enough. Can you imagine what would happen if people started kissing in the dark while driving their car across a 100+ year old wooden bridge? EEEKK!

The invention of the automobile and advancements in modern construction led to the inevitable decline of the covered bridge. According to the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, over 12,000 covered bridges once existed in the US, and today it is estimated there are less than 1,600 still in existence worldwide! Home to 106 covered bridges, Vermont has the highest concentration per square mile in the world making the covered bridge an iconic state symbol. While I would have loved to visit all 106 bridges, spending only a week in Vermont made such an endeavor unrealistic. As a result, I limited my exploration the oldest, the longest and the most beautiful covered bridges in Vermont.

The Oldest Covered Bridge: Pulp Mill Bridge

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Pulp Mill Covered Bridge is the oldest covered bridge in Vermont, and one of the oldest in America! It is one of only seven surviving two lane covered bridges in the country, and the only bridge of its kind still open to vehicular traffic! However, the origins of the Pulp Mill Bridge remain shrouded in mystery! The original builder of the bridge, and the exact date of construction are both unknown. Historians originally estimated the bridge to have been built between 1808-1820, but recent examinations by experts date the bridge to 1850. Despite the dating discrepancies and the heated controversy, the Pulp Mill Covered Bridge still reigns as the oldest covered bridge in Vermont, and one of the oldest in the US!

Spanning Otter Creek between the towns of Middlebury and Weybridge, the Pulp Mill Covered Bridge is 195’ 3’ in length, 17’ 7’ in width, has a max vertical clearance of 8’ and is rated for 4 tons! Clearly Rosie is too much woman to safely cross this bridge! Besides, I had no desire to drive my home over the oldest covered bridge in Vermont. I parked Rosie on the side of the street, and set off on foot to explore this gem of American architecture. The most unexpected feature of the Pulp Mill Bridge was the addition of an external pedestrian pathway along the west side of the Bridge offering breathtaking views of Otter Creek. Please see the pictures below.

The Longest Covered Bridge: Cornish Windsor Bridge

Listed as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places, The Cornish-Windsor Bridge is the longest wooden covered bridge in the United States, and longest two-span covered bridge in the world! Spanning the Connecticut River between Cornish, NH and Windsor, VT, the Cornish Windsor Bridge is; 465 feet in length, 24 feet in width, has a maximum vertical clearance of 12’ 9 and is rated for 10 tons! The first covered bridge built at the site was constructed in 1796, and has been repaired and rebuilt numerous times over the centuries. The most recent reconstruction occurred in 1989 at a cost of $4.45 million!

While Rosie could have made it safely across, there was no way Nate and I were risking her well being by driving her over the longest wooden covered bridge in the world. No Sirey Bob! Not Gonna Happen! While I would have loved to walk across the bridge, regretfully it was not open to pedestrians. Nate was almost hit by a speeding pickup truck while taking the pictures below!

Most Beautiful Covered Bridge: The A.M. Foster Bridge

When visiting the town of Cabot, VT, one typically has cheddar cheese on their mind. One of the towns lesser known attractions is the “Most Beautiful” Covered Bridge in Vermont: The A.M. Foster Bridge. Richard Spaulding built the 40-foot-long single span covered bridge in 1988, and named it after his Great Grandfather who once owned the land. While most covered bridges are part of public roadways, The A. M. Foster Bridge is most peculiar as it is located in the middle of a meadow 200 feet from the nearest street.

After parking Rosie on the side of the road, we walked along a narrow plowed path through a meadow in search of Vermont’s most beautiful covered bridge. Four-foot-tall grass blew gently in the summer breeze on either side set against breathtaking views of Vermont’s Green Mountains. As the picturesque bridge finally came into view, I realized Nate and I had interrupted a wedding in progress, and the Maid of Honor was just a wee bit cranky. I apologized for our accidental intrusion, snapped a few pictures, and wished the newlyweds our congratulations. Unfortunately, this is not our first time crashing a wedding on our cross country trip, which you can read more about by clicking here.

On a more positive note, the A. M. Foster Bridge lived up to its reputation as Vermont’s “most beautiful” covered bridge, and I can see why people would choose the site to tie the knot. As I walked across the bridge, I looked out one of the windows and saw a scene so beautiful it looked like a painting. See picture 10 below. Apparently, the view on a clear starry night is even more spectacular, but alas Nate and I visited during the day. Please see the pictures below.

Our week in Vermont had come to an end, and Nate and I are very sad to leave. The Rolling Green Mountains serving as our constant companion, and the sugar maple tree canopy covering windy dirt roads would soon be but a memory. Vermont is chock full of New England charm, and one of the most breathtaking states we have encountered on our cross country trip. We cannot wait to vote on Vermont to see if it is the new home of the Cross Country Couple!

New Hampshire you are next!