Ossipee – July 2, 2008 – The town of Ossipee held its collective breath Wednesday as its ailing, 138-year-old Whittier Covered Bridge was successfully rolled off the Bearcamp River. Built in 1870, the 146-foot bridge — afflicted with severe decay in its main supporting timbers — was labeled New Hampshire’s most endangered covered bridge by the state’s Division of Historical Resources.
Wednesday’s move followed weeks of preparation in which the 72-ton bridge was reinforced, jacked up from its granite abutments on the river, and steel I-beams were slipped beneath the bridge. The bridge was then gently lowered onto rollers, and pulled by an excavator along the I-beams until it reached solid ground on one embankment.
The move took about an hour and brought a sigh of relief from Ossipee residents watching from the riverbank, and from Dr. James Garvin, the New Hampshire State Architectural Historian, who was on hand to watch the delicate operation.
“This was an 11th-hour save,” Garvin said. “This bridge would not have survived much longer on its own.”
Whittier Bridge is named for the 19th-century poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who summered nearby in the 1870s and celebrated the scenic beauty of the Bearcamp River in poems, including one from 1879 called “Sunset on the Bearcamp.”
The bridge is one of only about 20 surviving examples of a Paddleford Truss, a distinctly New Hampshire design. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s “Seven to Save” roster of the state’s most endangered historic structures.
The town of Ossipee has raised nearly $1 million to move and restore Whittier Bridge. The money came from a local bond issue; private donors; and grants from LCHIP (New Hampshire’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program), the state Department of Transportation and the federal government.
New Hampshire Senators John Sununu and Judd Gregg and Congressman Carol Shea-Porter backed a $632,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program. The $152,000 move was carried out by contractor Stan Graton of 3G Construction Inc., in Holderness, with engineering by Hoyle, Tanner and Associates of Manchester.
Now a long restoration project begins. Completion is planned in 2010, and Ossipee already knows how it wants to put the bridge back across the river, where a town bridge has been in place since 1791: with oxen.
Ossipee is still raising funds for the restoration project. For information, visit the town Web site at www.ossipee.org.