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Route 113 bridge that connects Lyme and East Thetford added to historic register

  • Looking from Lyme, N.H., to Thetford, Vt., this photo shows the beginning of construction of a bridge over the Connecticut River through a Works Progress Administration project that put people to work during the Great Depression. The bridge was completed in the fall of 1937. The previous bridge was lost in a flood in March 1936. (New Hampshire Department of Transportation photograph)

  • Construction of the second span of the bridge between Lyme, N.H., and Thetford, Vt., which was a Works Progress Administration project that put people to work during the Great Depression. The bridge was completed in fall of 1937. The previous bridge was lost in a flood in March 1936. (New Hampshire Department of Transportation photograph)

  • A New Hampshire Department of Transportation worker walks along the East Thetford Road Bridge between Thetford, Vt., and Lyme N.H., on May 28, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/26/2020 7:31:58 PM
Modified: 4/26/2020 7:31:57 PM

LYME — Compared to the picturesque covered bridges in the Upper Valley, the Route 113 bridge that connects Lyme and East Thetford might not be as attention-grabbing.

But the two-span Parker truss bridge is beloved among residents for its steel latticework and expansive views of the Connecticut River. It’s also of importance to architectural historians as the once-popular truss-style bridges continue to age and are often replaced with flat deck structures.

“It’s not the most beautiful bridge in the world, but it’s pretty rare,” said Tim Cook, a member of the Lyme Heritage Commission.

That motivated the Lyme Heritage Commission and architect Frank J. Barrett, a former selectman in Fairlee, to get the Lyme-East Thetford bridge added to the National Register of Historic Places. Late last month, the application was approved, ensuring that its historic integrity will be preserved when the New Hampshire Department of Transportation is scheduled to start repairs to the bridge in 2021.

“I’ve always loved that bridge since I was quite young and was worried about it getting so deteriorated it would have to be replaced,” Barrett said. “It wasn’t too many years ago that we took bridges (built) in the 1920s and ’30s for granted. As time goes on, we’re losing them.”

New Hampshire owns 86% of the bridge and Vermont owns the remaining 14%. The nomination process involved both states, as well as the National Park Service, which oversees the National Register of Historic Places.

“We knew that the bridge was going to be rehabilitated by the state in the next couple of years and wanted to be sure that the state and the community knew that it was really a survivor of the ‘erector set’ type of bridge,” said Adair Mulligan, a member of the Lyme Heritage Commission. “There are not too many of them left in New Hampshire anymore.”

The current iteration of the bridge was built in 1937 after massive floods in March 1936 took out its predecessor, Barrett said. It is the longest two-span Parker truss bridge still being used in New Hampshire. The bridge was a Works Progress Administration project and cost $146,496 to build.

“It was smaller pieces of steel that were then put together on-site with riveting machines,” Barrett said. “Piece by piece, they assembled this big tinker toy across the river until it was self-supporting. To me, it’s very expressive.”

The history of the crossing site goes back further. In 1772, King George III issued a permit to Ebenezer Green to operate a ferry there.

“The ferry really made the link with Vermont, which at the time was not part of the New England colonies,” Mulligan said. “Of course four years later Green is in the Revolutionary Army and taking up arms against the king.”

The first bridge, including a toll house, was built around 1839. After that bridge deteriorated, it was replaced in 1894.

“Two years later there was a sudden heavy storm in 1896 that destroyed it, so that didn’t last very long,” Mulligan said. It was then replaced by an iron bridge, Mulligan said, which lasted until the floods wiped it out in 1936.

“I love the fact that it recalls the engineers working with the erector-set type designs to create a truss structure that inspires confidence,” Mulligan said of the current structure. “The bridge is looking a little ratty these days and there’s a lot of hope that when the bridge work is done by the state there will be an accommodation for bicyclists and pedestrians.”

The views make it a popular spot for recreation.

“The area really hasn’t changed much around the bridge. It still has the same rural look and feel. It’s still very recognizable,” Barrett said. “I’ve always enjoyed the setting, being down in the meadows along the river.”

In the 1990s, he worked to get the iconic Orford-Fairlee bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“If we hadn’t listed the bridge in Orford that would definitely by now been replaced with a flat deck, ugly bridge,” Barrett said.

While the Lyme-East Thetford bridge might not draw visitors like covered bridges do, it is part of the rich fabric of American architectural history.

“All of these things can take on a wonderful life of their own when you start researching them,” Barrett said. “It makes you feel good that some things aren’t going to change. It’s an important piece of the past.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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