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The Follett Stone Arch Bridge Restoration Project, 45-Years and Counting

Townshend Historical Society

Contributed by Charles E. Marchant,

President, Townshend Historical Society

The Stone Trust works in support community preservation projects, many of which involve the restoration of various types of dry stone structures. Often our professional members share their expertise, whether as paid consultants or volunteers, to assess, report, provide design specifications, and execute repairs. In this case, Stone Trust founder, certified instructor, master craftsman, and professional member Michael Weitzner has been contracted to guide and implement the restoration.

We offer this and subsequent features on the Follett Stone Arched Bridge Restoration as a process example for the many community groups working to preserve aspects of their local heritage.

The Follett Stone Arch Bridge preservation project began when the bridges were placed on the National Register of Historic Sites.  This was accomplished in the 1970’s and gave recognition to the work of a Civil War veteran James Otis Follett.  Follett, an untrained stone mason and local farmer, built around forty arched bridges and stone culverts in the Townshend area between 1894 and 1910.  He also built stone foundations and various other bridge supports.

At the time of the nomination, and with the recognition brought by the publicity of the Conservation Society of Southern Vermont, the bridges received some regular maintenance by the town.  However, beginning in the late 1980’s two of the bridges were bypassed with box culverts, and even though the town retained ownership of the unused bridges, nothing much was done to preserve them.  The town continued to maintain the still-used highway bridges, but without professional guidance as to what needed to be done.

Local citizens, and a high school history teacher then took up the basic maintenance of the Negro Brook, Fair Brook, and Buck Hill bridges.  History students were engaged in some of the work, like cutting brush and mowing around the bridges.  The town would remove downed trees and debris that might threaten the spans, especially the area around the Buck Hill bridge.  This kind of work was done twice a year, usually in the spring and fall, over the next twenty-odd years.

Townshend Historical Society
Townshend Historical Society
Tpwnshend Historical Society

In 2011, tropical storm Irene brought some much-needed attention to the bridges.  Fortunately, none of the spans were destroyed by the storm. At the 2012 Town Meeting the voters agreed to a special article meant for the repairs due to the storm damage.  As a result of the passage of this article, it was assumed the town would then do the work.  That didn’t happen.  At this point the Townshend Historical Society got involved.

Because the West Townshend bridge had started to have some issues, the Historical Society began to look at all the bridges as one big project.  Since the Vermont Department of Transportation (VTRANS) deemed the arch of the West Townshend bridge to be structurally sound, VTRANS was not willing to take on any other repairs, and the town did not want to take the leadership either.

It was decided that there should be an assessment of all the bridges that would inform a plan to fix them.  Michael Weitzner—a Stone Trust founder, instructor, and professional member—was hired to do this assessment.  He completed his report in the spring of 2018.  The cost of the assessment was funded by a matching grant from the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Townshend Historical Society.

Townshedn Historical Society
Townshend Historical Society

Part of this assessment indicated that there needed to be some emergency repairs to the West Townshend bridge.  An example of the work that needed to be done was to fix the collapsing northeast spandrel wall. Also, the weight limit and speed should be reduced.  This work was done in the fall of 2018 by Michael and paid for with town money and some of the 2012 special article money.  The town posted the bridge with new weight and speed limits.

After reviewing Michael’s report, the Historical Society began making plans on how to carry out the recommendations and raise the money to do the work. We began at the Stone Arch Way bridge.  Local contractors Larry Gould and Mitchell Putnam and tree specialist Russell Petronic and society members donated their time to clean the silt from under the bridge and cut all the brush around it.  This bridge no longer has water under it, so this work was determined to be sufficient for the time being.

The next step was to make plans for the repairs to Negro Brook, Fair Brook and West Townshend. Other than brush work and regular inspection, no additional work is being scheduled for the Simpsonville or Buck Hill bridges.

Townshend Historical Society

Using Michael’s report, and budget for repairs, the Society began fundraising for the project.  So far, we have used the town warning with separate articles (both successful), grant writing, sales of various items, and general requests of members, townspeople, and targeted interested persons to raise money for the project.

Individual donors have been able to give to a specific bridge or to the project as a whole.  The Windham Foundation awarded a $7,000 grant specifically for the Negro Brook bridge.  With money on hand and this grant, the Society has contracted with Michael to do the repair work on the bridge in May.

The town has applied for a VTRANS “Small Structures” grant for the work in West Townshend.  If successful, with the money already raised, this grant will move us closer to the money needed for all of the work.

At this point, very little money has been raised for the work at Fairbrook.  Since this bridge is not used for vehicle traffic, only cosmetic work is planned at this time.

This is an ongoing project for our Society.  We continue to solicit donations and in-kind work or supplies toward the completion of the entire project.  All of our efforts are conducted by volunteers.  Anyone wishing to see the bridges or donate to the project may do so by contacting Charles E. Marchant, Pres. at Box 132, Townshend, VT 05353, 802-365-7937 or the THS at www.townshendvt.org, or Box 202, Townshend, VT 05353