About 100 feet from the bridge is ski instructor Marvie Campbell’s small white farmhouse. She witnessed the original structure travel down the river after it came off its pilings, so she’s overjoyed to see its successor materialize so quickly. “I look straight through the length of the bridge’s interior from my bedroom,” she said. “I’d been looking through the old one for over 40 years, and I’m just so happy the new one is there.”
Now considered the longest single-span Town lattice truss bridge in existence, at 168 feet end to end, the re-created Bartonsville Bridge glows with the warmth of freshly cut Douglas fir, yellow pine and oak, with more than 2,000 locally hand-turned, square-headed trunnels, or pins, holding the lattice-work in place — some skewering 26-inch-thick layers of wood. To drive across it is a thrill; to walk through it, a symbolic stroll into Vermont’s past that offers an uplifting sense of its future. On bright days, the filigree of light within the structure splinters into an almost kaleidoscopic, Escheresque corridor. In snow or rain, its sheltering might alone is sublime.
An ideal centerpiece to a Vermont getaway, Bartonsville, with its bold new bridge, is encircled by villages that offer all the key elements of a visually, historically and artisanally satiating visit — restaurants, cafes, pubs, porched inns, bookstores, galleries, shops and farms offering everything from locally produced microbrews, maple syrup, cheeses and jams to sweaters, jewelry, paintings and pottery. Though all were chartered at around the same time, in the mid- to late-1700s, each community has a distinct character and aesthetic.
A few miles north of Bartonsville is Chester, a classic New England destination, complete with village green and gazebo. Just south is Grafton, a tiny enclave of archetypal white Colonial homes with black shutters, great Nordic skiing and cycling trails. To the east is Saxtons River, with a dramatic rocky gorge, a historical society, a Civil War-era cemetery and famed Fourth of July celebrations. Not far beyond that is Bellows Falls, a former paper mill town that is now a thriving art, music and literary community, and the Vermont Country Store conveniently located en route from there back to the bridge.
Another way to experience the Bartonsville Bridge is on the Green Mountain Flyer, an antique train running right past it on sightseeing trips between Chester and Bellows Falls. By autumn, locals plan to have installed an information kiosk next to the bridge, built with wood from the old one, showcasing descriptions and images of it, along with the story of its successor.
Be prepared, though — you might fall in love and never leave.
Guyon is a travel, culture and art writer in Vermont.