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.
We left Sawyer’s Crossing Covered Bridge and continued along Sawyers Crossing Road. The road ended on New Hampshire Route 10 where I turned left and headed into the community of West Swanzey. Only a short drive on Route 10 and I turned onto California Road and the West Swanzey Covered Bridge soon appeared ahead of us.
As we approached, California Road morphed into Main Street and I noticed a park on the left side of the road. Parking the vehicle, I headed across the park toward the covered bridge while my parents sat down at one of the picnic tables to wait out my time of exploring the covered bridge.
This one was different than the first two I had visited – it had a walkway on the upriver side of the bridge. Stepping on the bridge I immediately noted the bridge shook when vehicles passed through. But that wasn’t about to stop me from walking the length of the bridge. On the far side, I crossed the road to read the two informational markers located there. One was to mark the rededication of the bridge and the other was a New Hampshire Historical Marker for the Homestead Woolen Mills Dam that once stood there.
After reading the two markers, I turned my attention back to the bridge. Erected by Zadoc Taft in 1832, the West Swanzey Covered Bridge is also known as the Thompson or Denman Thompson bridge after a vaudeville actor from West Swanzey. The bridge has a length of one hundred and fifty-one feet and features a Town Lattice Truss design. The two spans rest upon a pier that sits in the middle of the Ashuelot River.
The West Swanzey Covered Bridge originally featured sidewalks on both sides of the bridge, not just the upriver side. The walkway on the downriver side was never replaced after being removed in 1945. The arched roof that covered the other walkway is still a feature of the bridge. Note: In many places it is listed that the remaining sidewalk is on the southside of the bridge, but the remaining sidewalk is on the northside of the covered bridge.
In 1973 – after almost a hundred years of only minor repairs – the bridge was in poor shape and a weight limit of six tons was placed on the bridge. This meant school buses were not allowed to pass through with children onboard. To keep it under the weight limit, when the school bus arrived at the bridge, the students would get off the bus, walk across the bridge, then get back on the bus. This lasted for three years until a modern bridge was erected over the Ashuelot River a short distance downriver to allow for traffic to pass over the river.
In February 1980, the bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The bridge continued to deteriorate and was closed to all traffic in 1990. After a full rehabilitation, the bridge was reopened in 1993. The ribbon-cutting to reopen the West Swanzey Covered Bridge was done by Edward Jenks – the great-great-grandson of the original builder Zadok Taft.
I exited the bridge and made my way back to the vehicle. After taking several more photos of the bridge, I left the area and headed for the next bridge in the region – Slate Covered Bridge.