ARTONSVILLE — Marvy Campbell was watching over the 1870 Bartonsville Covered Bridge late Sunday afternoon, hoping that the raging Williams River wouldn’t damage the beloved bridge.
But the swollen river was undermining the bridge’s western abutment, and as she watched, the bridge slipped off its abutments, first on the west side, and then on the east. Then the bridge disappeared.
“I heard a horrible crack, and I saw it slip off this abutment, and it went into the river and pulled it off the other side. It floated down the river just like a boat,” said Campbell, a retired school principal.
Campbell said she watched the covered bridge float down the river intact until it went around a curve and out of sight.
“I’m heartbroken,” said Campbell, who said a neighbor, Susan Hammond, caught the bridge’s demise on video, which she posted on YouTube, and which was played repeatedly Monday morning on NBC’s “Today Show.”
About a quarter mile downstream, Archie Gleason saw the bridge floating by, or most of it, heading straight for another historic covered bridge in Rockingham.
Gleason, whose home was flooded by the river, said he saw the bridge, without its metal roof, slam into the 1868 Worall Covered Bridge.
The sides came off the bridge, he said, and eventually the floor of the bridge shot through on the crest of the raging river.
The debris from the Bartonsville bridge piled up around the Worall Bridge and on the banks below it, Gleason said.
The smaller Worall Bridge withstood incredible force from the river and trees, propane tanks and other debris all Sunday afternoon, he said. The bridge had undergone a $1 million renovation, which was completed last year.
He praised the reconstruction work by the Daniels Construction Co. of Ascutney. The bridge withstood whatever the river delivered, he said.
“If I had a bridge that needed rebuilding, those are the guys I would get,” Gleason said.
The Bartonsville Covered Bridge was one of a handful of the state’s landmark bridges that were lost in the historic flooding.
Joe Nelson of Underhill, vice president of the Vermont Covered Bridge Society, said that the state lost at least two historic covered bridges, the Bartonsville Covered Bridge and the Kidder Hill Bridge in Grafton.
Nelson said that there were several other “stringer” covered bridges that were heavily damaged or destroyed in the flooding, such as the Quechee Village covered bridge. Nelson said the Quechee bridge was not a true covered bridge.
Nelson said there were unconfirmed reports of other covered bridges destroyed by the flooding.
On Monday morning, the curious came and gawked at the empty abutments where the Bartonsville Bridge once stood, and wondered how the bridge, which had endured for more than a century, with care from the town of Rockingham, had fallen to a southern hurricane.
According to Larry White, a member of the Rockingham Highway Department, the town’s other covered bridge, the Hall Bridge over the Saxtons River, was closed because of serious erosion of its abutments.
White and another town highway worker came to the Worrall Bridge, hoping to find the Bartonsville Covered Bridge’s historic bronze plaques, that warned townspeople to walk their horses across the bridge.