Note: This is a part of a series about the covered bridges in southwestern New Hampshire. While I reference the covered bridge I had come from and the one I was headed to visit, these articles can be read without needing to read the entry about the previous bridge visited. The six covered bridges visited in this journey are: Carlton, Sawyer’s Crossing, West Swanzey, Slate, Coombs and Ashuelot.
I was in southwestern New Hampshire as part of a pilgrimage to remember my favorite authors buried in western New England. The morning had started in the Old Burying Ground in Jaffrey, to visit the grave of one of my favorite authors – Willa Cather. After paying my respects to the famous author, I climbed back in the vehicle as the family prepared to explore the covered bridge tour of southwestern New Hampshire. Note: More about Willa Cather can be found here: Willa Cather.
In the immediate region, there were five covered bridges we planned on stopping to visit and we set the GPS and started toward the first of these bridges. Following the directions shouted out by the GPS, I drove cautiously along some narrow backroads as I sought out the first of the covered bridges. We entered the small community of East Swanzey and turned onto the Carlton Road. A couple minutes later I pulled onto a small gravel lot near the bridge.
As I got out of the vehicle, I was surprised when the first vehicle passing through it did little to slow down. Exploring the inside of the bridge was immediately pushed out of my mind as I grabbed the camera and walked over to the bridge.
The Carlton – also spelled Carleton – Covered Bridge crosses the South Branch of the Ashuelot River between the communities of Swanzey and East Swanzey. The bridge – which is also referred to as the Whitcomb Covered Bridge – features a span of sixty feet and was erected with a queenspost truss and is the only bridge in the region from the nineteenth century that features this style of truss.
Exactly when the bridge was originally built at this location is not clear. According to locals, the first bridge was built in 1789. What type of bridge it was is not known – it may or may not have been a covered bridge.
What is known is in 1869, a covered bridge was built at this location by local farmers who needed to cross the river. They took the land from local land owner Philip P. Carlton. The height and width of the bridge was erected to allow wagons to be pulled through it without worry of hitting the top or edges. According to word of mouth, when the bridge was built, there was a wagon of hay placed on the bridge and the walls and roof built around it, so the farmers knew their wagons could fit through it.
The bridge underwent repairs in the summer of 1974, the bridge was closed and on June 14, 1975 the community gathered to paint the bridge as a part of the Swanzey Bicentennial Celebration. On June 10, 1975, four days before the community gathered to paint it, the Carlton Covered Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the late 1990s the bridge underwent rehabilitation and was reopened to the public in 1998 and had to undergo repairs again in 2000 when it was hit by tree-cutting equipment that was being towed through the bridge.
I finished photographing this bridge and headed toward Swanzey to visit the next bridge on my tour of the covered bridges of south-western New England.