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Stark Covered Bridge to be rehabbed with 80% federal funds

August 24, 2011
STARK — One of Coös County's most photographed icons is slated for a complete rehabilitation.

The Stark Covered Bridge, built in 1857 and repaired in 1954, will receive $$904,000 in federal funds under the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation program. The monies are part of a $5.1 million funding package announced on Wednesday.

The white-painted two-span Paddleford truss structure that crosses the Upper Ammonoosuc River is a popular location for photographers, artists and covered bridge enthusiasts, the funding application points out.

"The truly picturesque setting, with the bridge in the background of a typical 19th century New England Village Center, is one of the most photographed locations in the State," the description reads. "Pictures of the Stark Covered Bridge have appeared in books, travel magazines, newspapers, calendars, puzzles, and on collectables and mementos, clearing demonstrating its importance to the State of New Hampshire as a whole and specifically to the community."

The covered bridge's presence draws visitors, supporting the local economy.

It provides an important transportation link, connecting the north side — North Road — and the south side — Route 110. If it were to be closed, a 4½-mile detour would be required, delaying police and emergency vehicle response.

"The bridge is in need of a complete rehabilitation," the application reveals. "Continued deterioration of structural support elements — steel and timber stringers — will lead to a downgrade in the live load posting and eventually lead to the bridge's closing if these deficiencies are not corrected. A rehabilitation would include a new wood shake roof, new interior bridge and sidewalk decking, repairs to the steel and timber stringers, new bearing devices, reconstruction of the abutment seats, repairs to the north abutment stone breast wall and northwest wing wall, installation of new lighting and installation of fire detection and fire prevention measures.

"The total estimated construction cost of the rehabilitation, including contingencies, is $1,125,000," the application states.

The federal grant is for $904,000. The state will pay 80 percent — $180,800 — and the town, 20 percent — $45,200 — of the remaining $226,000, for a total of $1,130,000, adjusted for some rising costs.

Town meeting discussion and subsequent action allowed the town to prepare for this project.

The bridge's overall length is 134-feet, one-inch, made up of two clear spans, each 61'-5". Its overall width is 29'-2": a 16'-2" one-lane roadway plus an enclosed sidewalk on each side.

The original bridge was a two-span Paddleford truss, supported on two abutments and a center pier, built by Capt. Charles Richardson, an experienced bridge builder from Groveton, the application explains. High water and ice floes in 1895 washed the bridge downstream and destroyed the center pier. It was brought back upstream by five men using oxen and placed on new stone abutments, but the center pier was not replaced. Laminated wooden arches were added to compensate for its loss, transforming it into a single-span bridge. Other failures occurred in the 1940s, and in 1954, the arches were removed and steel beams placed underneath it and a new center support installed to increase its live load capacity to 10 tons.

When a complete steel and concrete replacement bridge was proposed in the 1950s, the outcry was so great that the idea was dropped.

The Stark Covered Bridge is one of only 20 remaining Paddleford truss bridges in the world. Peter Paddleford (1785-1859) of Littleton invented the complex design, but likely his son, Philip Paddleford, was responsible for its wide distribution and use s. No evidence exists, however, that he was directly involved in designing the Stark Bridge, and this modification to the Long truss was never patented.

It was individually listed in 1989 on the National Register of Historic Places.

The NHDOT adheres to a bridge management plan that is based on a statute passed in 1953, which calls for preserving all the state's surviving covered bridges. The State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), Elizabeth "Beth" Muzzey, officially supported the rehabilitation project.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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