New Hampshire holds 54 of the remaining 750 covered bridges in the United States. It’s hard to believe at one point there were in excess of 10,000. Recently I made the drive to explore three of them.
The Swift River bridge was built in 1869. The road connecting the bridge to the main street has been cut off, ending it’s purpose for vehicles and equipment to cross the river. A picnic table has been placed on one end for visitors to relax and enjoy the view.
The town of Conway holds the Swift and Saco bridges, which are so close they can each be walked to in five minutes. Albany has the Albany bridge, and it is only six miles west of Conway on the Kancamangus scenic highway.
These bridges were constructed in the mid 1800’s. The main carpentry advancement of the time was mortis and tenon, where chisels and hand drills bore holes through the timbers to fit the tenons of posts. Once they were joined, carpenters would shave and insert pegs to secure the joint.
Throughout the years and wear the wood has shrunk, split and come loose. All have been retrofitted within the last 50 years you see a mixture of mortise and tenon, and bolts and nuts where you can see the intertwining of carpentry advancement.
The Saco River bridge is within walking distance of the Swift River bridge. But unlike the Swift River bridge this one is still in use by the town. Vehicles must take turns coming and going as the bridge’s width will not accompany more than one at a time.
All these bridges were easily visited in one afternoon. If you are a history nut such as myself it is definitely worth the drive. The Kancamangus highway to get here is 32 miles of pure stress releasing wilderness beauty.
The bridges I visited all used the Paddleford truss system. A series of interlocking counter-braces that significantly strengthen long span bridges. Named after the creator, Peter Paddleford (1785-1859).