From the Bump Covered Bridge, I opted to take the scenic state route rather than the highway to get to the Squam River Covered Bridge in Ashland, NH. It was a quiet meandering twenty-minute drive. The bridge sits below Squam Lake and Little Squam Lake. The area is a popular summer tourist destination and was featured in the 1980s film On Golden Pond. From this spot, the lake empties into the Squam River.
According to the state’s book on historical covered bridges, the building of this bridge was a community effort. It’s a fairly modern bridge having been constructed in 1990. The existing steel and concrete bridge needed to be replaced and the state proposed a modern two-lane bridge. The town’s citizens wanted a one lane covered bridge on this spot and voted $35,000 at the town meeting to build one. Unfortunately, this was about a sixth of the cost of the bridge.
A branch of the town’s historical society called the Squam River Covered Bridge Committee worked to raise the rest of the money through typical fundraisers, such as bake sales and dinners. Ultimately, most of the balance was raised through the private donations of more than 500 donors. It was dedicated July 1, 1990.
Earlier in the week when I was chatting with my friend Anna, the topic of his bridge came up. She thought back to the movie Blair Witch Project and said it sounded spooky. I scoffed at this but perhaps there is something to it. The first covered bridge was built in 1829. It was torched by an arsonist who claimed that god had told him to do it. Then in 2011, a later version of the bridge was heavily damaged by Tropical Storm Irene. The bridge reopened in 2015 and I hoped that I could manage to get through my shoots today without any bad luck myself.
I counted and before beginning my official quest to photograph all 54 of New Hampshire’s historic covered bridges, I had only photographed twelve. And these twelve were the low hanging fruit. I’d taken their pictures when I was on travels for work or other things. Somehow, my boss never seemed to notice when I detoured a bit to shoot a photo of a covered bridge.
With forty-two bridges left, I decided to try to get four in a day. All four are within a half an hour’s drive of one another in the central part of the state between the Lakes Region and the White Mountains. Sunday, I got up and out the door by 4:30 AM to head off to the Blair Bridge in Campton, NH about an hour and a half away. I like the strategy of going to the furthest bridge first and then working backwards so that the drive home seems a bit shorter. Unfortunately, this meant the drive there felt long especially after not driving all that far for three months due to coronavirus.
I arrived there just after 6:00 AM. The bridge sits on a rather calm and shallow section of the Pemigewasset River. The bridge is 292 feet long and 20 feet wide. The odd thing about the bridge is that it’s on a road connecting the highway to a state road. Like most covered bridges, there is only one lane. If a car is coming through the bridge, you have to wait for it to come through before going ahead. It’s a busy road for a covered bridge but it must work for them to continue the tradition of having a covered bridge on this site.
I took this photograph the other day while replacing some trim next to our back door. I’d cut the pieces of wood but needed to make a couple of notches to fit them just right. I don’t get to use my chisels much. They are not expensive or fancy, but they do hold an edge and I keep them sharp. I enjoy chiseling but don’t get to do it much; mostly for little things like this. I’m okay at it, but can’t really do any fine work.
I learned this skill from my grandfather. When I was a teenager, he had emphysema; and while he could no longer work on projects around the house himself, he often enlisted my cousin Stevie or me to provide the labor. When I was fourteen, on the first day of a week-long stay, he invited me to take a drive. The drive, of course, ended up at the lumber yard. You see, he’d decided to expand the back porch.
He was patient. He pointed to each piece of lumber that he wanted and asked me to put it on the cart. Then, I pushed the cart to check out for him. The real adventure happened when we got it outside. He did not have a truck but drove an old Buick. He handed me the trunk key and told me to get out the blankets to protect the roof of the car and the ropes to hold the lumber in place. He directed me in how to place the blankets and lumber. Then he told me which bumper to tie the rope to and then to toss it over the wood. He had me wrap the rope around the boards and then attach it to another bumper or perhaps through the open doors of the car. This went on for some time until he was satisfied it would hold or at least until we’d used all of the rope. I was an awkward teen and I’m sure the slowness of it all was frustrating for him, but he never let it show.
On the third day of this project, he had me wrestle out an 8 inch by 8 inch timber that must have been six feet tall from the basement to use as a corner post. I was skinnier than I am even now and it probably weighed almost as much as I did back then. Somehow, I got it out there. But it needed some notches to receive the cross pieces that it would support. And that is when I learned to use a chisel to cut notches in wood. Chipping away a little at a time under my grandfather’s supervision, I patiently but cleanly created a space that could support the weight of the porch.
It was one of those times that you look back on later and realize how perfect it was.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Frye’s Measure Mill has been water powered since the 1850’s. They continue to fashion round and oval pantry boxes, measures, and piggins (like a wooden ladle) as they have done for years. The also reproduce Shaker boxes using the panstaking methods pioneered by the Shakers themselves. I hope to return on a Satudray this summer or fall and take a tour of the manufacturing process. More photos are below.