Bartonsville woman who caught bridge’s destruction, now helps to rebuild it
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | September 01,2011
Susan Smallheer / Staff Photo
Susan Hammond of Lower Bartonsville shot the now-famous video of the destruction of the Bartonsville Covered Bridge.
LOWER BARTONSVILLE — It’s 362,265 hits and climbing.
The video of the disappearance of the Bartonsville Covered Bridge into the raging waters of the Williams River Sunday has become the icon of the destruction of Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont with hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube.
Susan Hammond, a native of the small village of Lower Bartonsville, was watching the river lap threateningly against the bridge all afternoon when she made the short, 20-second video that has played on all major national television networks and attracted tributes from writers in California and even The New Yorker’s John Seabrook, who wrote “Requiem for a Covered Bridge.”
The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore even broadcast live from the bridge’s abutments Monday night.
Hammond said that village residents were heartbroken about the loss of their bridge. There are 25 homes in the village, and they are still without electric power or telephone service, but they are already focused on replacing their beautiful bridge.
Sunday afternoon, about 4:30 p.m., Hammond said, the bridge started making awful creaking noises. Using her flip camera, she said she furiously started deleting old videos from the camera, so she would have enough space to film what she feared would be the destruction of the bridge.
Her instincts were right. Hammond caught the bridge falling off its western abutment and then gracefully slipping into the river.
Hammond, the director of the War Legacies Project, moved back to Lower Bartonsville five years ago after living for years in Asia and New York City. The War Legacies Project is a nonprofit group devoted to Vietnam War era issues, such as the long-term effects of Agent Orange.
She said the covered bridge is all about pride, history and community, she said, and the culture of Vermont.
People who say “it’s only a bridge” don’t recognize that, she said. “It’s the culture of Vermont.”
Hammond, the daughter of former Chester Town Manager Prentice Hammond, was one of eight children in the Hammond family to grow up in Bartonsville.
On Tuesday night, Hammond and other residents of Lower Bartonsville attended a joint meeting of the Rockingham Select Board and the Bellows Falls Village Trustees to talk about what the town can do.
The town has already set up a fund for donations. While the town has a $1 million insurance policy on the Bartonsville bridge, that is far from enough to replace the bridge, town officials said.
Plus, said Town Manager Timothy Cullenen, the insurance policy only covers the wood structure, and not the abutment damage or repairs that will be necessary.
Cullenen told the board the town’s two other bridges, the Worral Bridge and the Hall Bridge, both sustained significant damage. The Worall Bridge will have to be rebuilt, he said.
Hammond and fellow Lower Bartonsville resident Anna Dewdney, a children’s book author, were quickly appointment co-chairwomen of the committee.
Both Hammond and Dewdney said that village residents were willing to mount a large fundraising effort to rebuild the bridge as it was.
The two women said the village wanted a single-lane covered bridge, not a two-lane modern bridge made to look like a covered bridge.
Since the bridge floated away, its remains have been found downstream, and Hammond urged the Rockingham board to protect the remains and to keep scavengers at bay.
The nameplate signs on the bridge haven’t been found, although there are rumors that someone had found them, said Select Board Chairman Thomas MacPhee, who said that if anyone had the signs, they should return them to the town.
Hammond said she blocked comments on her original posting on YouTube because of nasty comments about the bridge and the reaction to its loss. One person even suggested burning down all covered bridges, she said.
“Even people who are struggling have a sense of community,” she said.
The bridge had survived serious damage in the past, Hammond said.
In the 1960s, a local man drove a town gravel truck across the bridge, breaking out the bridge’s floor. And a delivery truck broke some of the bridge’s beams a few years ago, requiring several months of repairs.
The 1870 bridge actually replaced an earlier covered bridge located upstream, near Hammond’s home.
Cullenen said that interest in the bridge was intense. “I receive six calls from different contractors offering to start work tomorrow,” said Cullenen, who said the town now faced a planning process.
The town of Rockingham has set up a special fund to collect donations to replace the covered bridge. Information about the fund can be found at the town’s website: www.rockbf.org.
Hammond said the town would be adding a feature to accept donations via credit cards.