Slayton: Repairing The Bartonsville Bridge

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In the aftermath of the storm, Commentator Tom Slayton has been giving
some thought to the spirit of Vermonters and their tireless efforts in
putting the state back together.

(SLAYTON) Perhaps the most
striking single image of the massive body blow that Hurricane Irene
dealt Vermont was Susan Hammond’s 20-second video of the Bartonsville
covered bridge being washed away

(Public Post: Read Rockingham Town Minutes from Sept. 6, 2011)

That historic old bridge
groaned and creaked as it was battered by the raging Williams River,
which it has spanned since 1870. And finally, it gave up, slipped
gracefully into the racing brown current, and was gone. Once again, it
seemed that Vermont’s rich past, which every Vermonter loves, was being
stripped away.

People who say "It’s only a bridge," don’t get
that point, Hammond declared. She told Susan Smallheer of the Rutland
Herald, that the bridge represented the culture of Vermont.

she was right. Beloved old structures like covered bridges, traditional
barns, old town halls and historic churches are part of the fabric,
woven of the past, that makes Vermont what it is today. They are a big
part of our sense of place.

The hurricane that rampaged through
Vermont tore several big holes in that fabric. It also damaged or
destroyed more than 700 homes, blew out roads, and isolated some 13
communities across central and southern Vermont.

But now, more
than a week after the event, it is evident that Irene may have been big
and bad, but it hasn’t crushed Vermonters’ spirits. The culture of
Vermont took a hit, but quickly proved it is strong and resilient. The
bridges may be gone, but the culture that built them lives on.

could see it in the dozens of volunteer workers who turned out to help
restore downtown Moretown. You could see it in the trays of sandwiches
local restaurants and diners made for the flood recovery workers
throughout Vermont. You could see it in Rochester, where townspeople
held an emergency town meeting in a local church to decide what to do,
and the local supermarket gave away perishable food. You could see it in
Pittsfield, where residents isolated by the flood helped each other to
cope, and a group in town for a wedding pitched in.

You could
see it in the National Guard workers and Norwich cadets who worked long
and hard to dig out Northfield and other flood-ravaged towns.

you could see it in Bartonsville, where Susan Hammond and others made
plans to rebuild their covered bridge. There’s a replacement fund, and
town officials found the wreckage of the bridge downriver and made plans
to salvage what they could. Parts of the lattice truss that was the
core of the bridge were still intact. Perhaps they will find their way
into the replacement bridge.

My guess is the bridge will be
rebuilt, and so will Vermont. And the living culture that first
constructed that bridge 140 years ago will continue to live as that
bridge and this state are put back together.

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