Group Plans Replacement for Swinging Bridge

by Elizabeth Dow

photo by Vanessa Fournier
This Gazette archive photo from August, 2020, states that former Hardwick Town Manager Shaun Fielder announced that one of the support cables had broken on Hardwick’s swinging bridge. Fielder decided to close the bridge until an inspection could be completed to determine what repairs need to take place to make it structurally sound again. The bridge was closed until further notice.

Community Journalist

HARDWICK – On Thursday, September 22, a group of 10 people spent several hours planning the replacement for the swinging bridge that spans the Lamoille River between Main Street and the Daniels Block parking lot.

The town has hired SE Group of Burlington to design the new bridge and the park area at either end of the new bridge. Adam Portz and Elena Juodisius represented the SE Group. Hannah Wingate represented Engineering Ventures of Burlington, the firm responsible for all the engineering for the project. Town Manager David Upson Jr., Select Board Chair Eric Remick, Select Board Members Shari Cornish and Elizabeth Dow, and Community Development Coordinator Tracy Martin represented the town. Justin Lander and Rose Friedman represented Civic Standard, the organization which currently leases the Gazette Building, which sits beside the Main Street end of the bridge. 

The meeting started with the group’s touring the parking lot area, examining the river banks, and looking over the construction of the current bridge. A preliminary examination by an Engineering Ventures engineer determined that the new bridge can re-use the abutment on the parking lot side. The abutment on the street side, however, will need replacing.  The tour group then went to examine the street side of the bridge. 

After the tour, the group met in the Gazette building, where Portz led a discussion of what the group had seen that morning and how it would affect the design. In October, he will lead two public meetings at the Town House for the community to see and give feedback on preliminary designs. He expects to have designs available in November, and he projects that construction on the new bridge can begin in the summer of 2023.  

In August, 2020, former Town Manager Shaun Fielder learned that a cable had broken on the old bridge, rendering it unsafe. Bob Neeld, of Engineering Ventures, did a preliminary structural analysis of the historic bridge, confirming that it needed replacing. The town hired designer David Raphael of LandWorks, an architectural firm based in Middlebury, to design a new bridge. The Downtown Commission planned and a grant from the Golub Foundation funded the “Community Workshop in Hardwick to Plan for the Future of the Historic Downtown Pedestrian Bridge,” which Raphael led on July 17, 2021, where attendees shared thoughts about the new bridge. The Downtown Commission organized the comments by the more than 40 attendees and the thoughts submitted by more than 80 online and paper survey takers, and drew up a “wish list” for the designers and engineers to work from.

The list included: 1.  A custom designed, suspension-style bridge that will pay homage to the old one without being a direct replica; 2.  A wider bridge to accommodate bikes, as well as people who want to stand on the bridge and enjoy the view. The group generally felt that an attractive bridge will become a destination for tourists and therefore a revenue-generator for the town. 

3. A green-space that improved access to the river; and 4. A low-maintenance, ADA-accessible and plowable bridge that will last at least another 100 years.

Raphael incorporated what he learned from the public comments into his plans, but he died in January, 2022, before he could complete them. SE Group has Raphael’s work and will finish the project design. 

The select board began planning the funding of a new bridge almost immediately after the old one ceased to function. The board started by committing nearly $200,000 it had received to support construction of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail through Hardwick. Since the State of Vermont has committed funds to finish the trail, the town no longer needs that money for its original purpose, so re-directed it to the bridge. Having made that commitment, the town successfully applied for an additional $200,000 from the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Block Grant, $125,000 from the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, and $75,000 from the Preservation Trust of Vermont’s Freeman Foundation Grant. The select board knows, however, that the $600,000 raised to date will not cover the cost of the final project. 

Businessman Sam Daniels built the old bridge, completing it in February, 1916. The town contributed $350 — less than half the cost — to its construction. No records of the designing of the bridge exist. Daniels claimed ownership and maintained the bridge until his death in 1950.  After that, its maintenance became unreliable. The ice jam and flood of 1964 seriously damaged it, but the Kiwanis Club made it safely usable in time for the nation’s bicentennial. In 1976, the owners deeded it to the town, which has maintained it ever since.