Ossipee — April 10, 2008 — Ossipee will receive a federal grant of $632,000 to help restore the town’s historic Whittier covered bridge, the U.S. Department of Transportation has decided. Delighted Ossipee officials said the aid, from the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program run by the Federal Highway Administration, nearly completes a year-long town effort to raise money for the restoration project, whose overall cost is currently estimated at just short of $1 million.
State officials regard the 138-year-old Whittier Bridge as one of New Hampshire’s most endangered historic structures. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Experts say the Whittier Bridge, built in about 1870, is one of the longest of only 20 surviving examples of the most sophisticated timber bridge design of 19th century America, a distinctly New Hampshire design called a Paddleford truss.
Staff members from the New Hampshire office of Senator John Sununu (R) disclosed the grant award in phone calls to town officials late last week. Sununu, Senator Judd Gregg (R) and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) all backed the town’s application for the grant last June in letters to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters. Sununu’s office then closely tracked the grant application over the next 10 months as it worked its way up to the Transportation Secretary’s office.
“This is very good news for Ossipee and New Hampshire, and of course, for Whittier Bridge,” Peter Olkkola, Carroll County Commissioner and chair of the Ossipee Selectboard said in a statement promptly endorsed by the town’s two other board members, Kathleen Maloney and Harry Merrow.
“With this federal grant, we can now move ahead with full restoration of New Hampshire’s most endangered historic covered bridge,” Olkkola said. “We are deeply grateful for the support that our entire Congressional delegation has given the Whittier Bridge project, and especially to Senator John Sununu for his unwavering commitment to historic and natural resource preservation in New Hampshire. Thank you, John.”
Robert Gillette, chair of the town’s Whittier Bridge committee, said the timing of the grant announcement couldn’t be better. After months of engineering design work by Hoyle, Tanner & Associates of Manchester, construction began last week to reinforce the fragile, 132-foot-long bridge, badly weakened by decay, in preparation to move it off its abutments on the Bearcamp River in West Ossipee near the intersection of Routes 16 and 25.
“A lot of careful work is needed to shore up the bridge before it can be rolled off onto solid ground, probably in late May,” Gillette said, adding that award of the federal grant means “we should be able to move smoothly into Phase 2, the actual restoration of the bridge, without delay.”
Completion is expected some time in 2009. Along with support from the state Department of Transportation, New Hampshire’s Division of Historical Resources strongly backed the town’s restoration project. As State Architectural Historian James L. Garvin wrote last summer, “Due to the rarity of the bridge and the jeopardy in which it currently stands, the Division of Historical Resources regards the Whittier Bridge as the single most urgent covered bridge rehabilitation project in New Hampshire at this time.”
As the town waited for word on its federal grant request,heavy snow on the roof threatened to collapse the bridge in February, a disaster averted when crews from the Asplundh tree service company, working from bucket trucks, removed much of the snow, while a leading covered bridge expert, Tim Andrews of Barns & Bridges of New England, in Gilford, pried up heavy wooden deck timbers and dragged them off the bridge to relieve the strain. On Wednesday, April 9, at a meeting of the Governor’s Council in Concord, Governor John Lynch was scheduled to have presented commendations to Asplundh crew foreman Shayne Dion of Lancaster and to Andrews for their volunteer help in saving the bridge.
Ossipee began its fundraising effort with a $125,000 bond issue approved by voters at Town Meeting in March 2007. In June, the state Department of Transportation filed the federal grant request on behalf of the town of Ossipee, and in September pledged $76,000 in state bridge-aid funding. A $100,000 grant from the state’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) followed in November, shortly after the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance – a leading private group devoted to helping save historic structures – added Whittier Bridge to its “Seven to Save” list of the state’s most endangered structures. Gillette said the town is now within $20,000 of its overall funding goal,which it will seek to raise from private donations. For information on the fund-raising effort, contact Ossipee’s Whittier Covered Bridge Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Ossipee Town Hall at 539-4181