Conway covered bridge reopens
CONWAY (november 17, 2013) The first vehicle traffic to cross the Burkeville Bridge in many years is Amanda Kantor (drving) and Helen Reed, 97, pulled by Toreador. Burkeville Covered Bridge is a historic bridge on Main Poland Road over South River. The bridge was built in 1870. Photo by Beth Reynolds
CONWAY (november 17, 2013) Members of the Select Board and Historical Society of Conway cut the ribbon. The first vehicle traffic to cross the Burkeville Bridge in many years is Amanda Kantor (drving) and Helen Reed, 97, pulled by Toreador. Burkeville Covered Bridge is a historic bridge on Main Poland Road over South River. The bridge was built in 1870. Photo by Beth Reynolds
CONWAY — The November drizzle of Sunday afternoon was hardly the time for a horse-and-buggy ride, but Conway had waited 28 years for the Burkeville Covered Bridge to reopen to traffic and it wasn’t going to wait any longer.
The town’s oldest resident, Helen Reed, 97, was the first to go through the covered Howe Truss bridge in an open, horse-drawn carriage, immediately after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2 p.m.
“My goodness. I never had such a long buggy ride,” exclaimed Reed, whose carriage had circled Main Poland Road and Orchard Street several times before going through the bridge to Route 116.
“Did you ever think it would be reopened to traffic?” asked her daughter, Nancy Bovio.
“No, I never did,” said Reed, who once lived on Orchard Street, near the 1871-built bridge. “It’s wonderful to have it open. I know we used it a lot when we lived here.”
“I feel like I’ve gone to heaven and come back,” she said.
“I didn’t think we’d live to see the day this would be open to traffic,” said Julie Clark, whose husband Jon had participated in a 1975 work bee to restore the bridge’s roof after the old roof collapsed after a snowstorm.
At least 40 residents turned out to watch the re-opening celebration and many parked their cars along Orchard Street, just for the pleasure of being able to drive over a bridge that many have never driven over before.
“This will be only the second 19th-century covered bridge in Massachusetts to be opened to traffic,” Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke said before the ceremony. The other one, he said, is the 1886-built Gilbertville Covered Bridge in Hardwick.
O’Rourke said Conway’s covered bridge was closed by the state in 1985 for safety reasons.
“It was renovated in 2005,” O’Rourke explained. “Since then, the Historical Commission has been lobbying the state for vehicular access.”
O’Rourke said the town’s highway superintendent and police chief have given their approval for the bridge to handle vehicles.
When the bridge renovation began in 2003, town officials agreed to restrict usage to foot-traffic, but many residents wanted it to be fully used, as it had been in the past.
“A lot of people see this as a premium landmark,” said O’Rourke. “Many people pushed for this and now it’s finally done.”
The bridge is posted for height and a 15-ton weight limit, as required by the state, but it is able to carry two-way traffic.
“It was an easy thing for the Selectboard to vote to reopen this bridge after all the hard work that was done,” O’Rourke said in his speech.
“There’s a lot of history to this bridge,” said Malcom Corse, who helped to shingle the covered bridge roof in a 1975 work bee, after the roof had collapsed during a snow storm. Both Corse and Jon Clark, who was also part of the work bee, remembered the late Eliot Allis, a carpenter who was badly injured at that work bee, when the scaffolding he was standing on broke. Allis was Clark’s uncle.
Corse said Conway officials kept asking to fully open the bridge, “and the state kept saying ‘No, no, no, no.’ Then the changing of the guard happened in Boston. And they started listening to us.”
“I’m really proud to see this,” Corse added. “I’m proud to be here today.”
In his remarks, Selectman Jim Moore said he hoped the fully restored bridge “will always be a welcoming icon and a symbol, honoring a way of life now gone but never forgotten.”
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 277