West Cornwall Covered Bridge

WEST CORNWALL COVERED BRIDGE

The West Cornwall Covered Bridge over the Housatonic River is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Painted red, it looks the perfect example of the typical New England covered bridge, and its wooden planks creak and rumble softly under cars in the single-lane passage.  Countless photographs are taken of the bridge.

As early as 1762, bridges were built at this location where north-south and east-west roadways intersected in the riverside village. Floods and ice took out bridges not infrequently, and town meeting records report expenditures for repair and placement.  Research by Town Historian Michael Gannett published in his booklet, A Historical Guide to the West Cornwall Covered Bridge (CHS publication, 1988), established that the bridge was most probably built in 1864.  By the railroad’s presence has caused the village to grow, and a strong and reliable bridge was needed.

In 1968 the State of Connecticut included the bridge in the state system and considered constructing a replacement. A local “Committee to Save the Covered Bridge” worked hard to convince the state to save the bridge. Impressed by the citizens’ appeal, the Department of Transportation (DOT) undertook the project of raising the bridge and inserting a steel support underneath to support the roadway.  In 1973, the Bridge and the Connecticut DOT received first place for “Outstanding Example of the Preservation, Restoration or Relocation of Historic Sites” from the Federal Highway Administration.

The most popular bridge design for longer wooden bridges in the 19th century was that of Ithiel Town (1784-1844), a successful New Haven architect.  Wooden trusses of relatively short timbers did not require an arch, and their total weight was less in proportion to their strength than other designs.  Covering the bridge prevented wear from weather.  Red spruce, stronger for its weight than oak, was used.  The overall length of the bridge is 172 feet and width 15 feet.

Over the years the bridge was challenged not only by flood but also by fire.  A hay truck flared up with flames as it passed through the bridge, and it threatened to ignite the whole structure.  High water during the 1938 and 1955 hurricanes and an ice jam in 1961 threatened to sweep the bridge away.  Further the use of increasingly heavy vehicles weakened the timbers  In 1945 a 20-ton oil truck fell through the bridge floor.  There was talk about relocating the bridge north of West Cornwall while necessary repairs continued to be made.  In 1946 the square port with the flat top was changed to the gable roof front of today, and in 1957 the grey weathered bridged was painted red for the first time.