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We Belong To The Bridge | Blenheim Covered Bridge

Entering the Blenheim Covered Bridge
Entering the Blenheim Covered Bridge

Queen of Covered Bridges, The Story of the Blenheim Covered Bridge in Blenheim, NY

From a Master Bridge Builder to the Mastery of a Community Working Together!

Recently, while taking a Saturday drive, we had the opportunity to head into Schoharie County. One of the stops we made was in Blenheim, New York to visit the beautifully crafted Blenheim Covered Bridge. As a kid, my father and I made several summer trips through this area to enjoy things like Mine Kill State Park. When we set out this Saturday for a little sightseeing we had a couple of stops in mind. Although I hadn't mentioned it yet, one stop I was thinking about was that old wood bridge we always passed so that I could take photos of it.

Blenheim Bridge Landmark Sign & Bridge

Little did I know that thought and stop would become the highlight of our ride for me and something my father and I talked about afterward for a while. As we came around the corner I said, "There it is" but what I didn't realize as we turned in and past the Blenheim Bridge Landmark sign was that this bridge had a whole lot more story to tell beyond just being the beautifully crafted bridge I remembered passing as a kid.

Today, when you walk up to the Blenheim Covered Bridge you are greeted by four plaques on the right-hand side before entering which tell the story of a bridge built by a master builder and then, after a disaster, the mastery of how a community came together to restore its glory.

Here are some highlights from the four-part story of the Old Blenheim Bridge, now the Blenheim Covered Bridge, as told on those plaques along with photos I captured during our visit.

Blenheim Covered Bridge Side View

The Creation

The Old Blenheim Bridge was known as the "Queen of Covered Bridges." Originally built back in 1855 by master bridge builder Nichols Montgomery Powers from Vermont. He made history by constructing the world's longest wooden single-span covered bridge in Blenheim, NY.

The Creation - Old Blenheim Bridge Plaque
The Creation - Old Blenheim Bridge

Blenheim Bridge Company was formed in 1828 by Major Dickerman, other businessmen, and farmers who had found it difficult to cross through the Schoharie Creek with heavy wagon loads. With $6,000, they contracted Mr. Powers to build the bridge.

The bridge certainly had skeptics who doubted that such a long span could be sustained, even calling it "Powers Folly."* Yet when the last supports were removed it's said that Powers sat on the ridgepole and declared, "If she goes, I'll go with her."* Needless to say there was no folly and the bridge held strong only settling a fraction of an inch, retaining its arch for a century and a half. *"Blenheim History 1710-1991" authors Franchon & Alicia Cornell

Inside the Blenheim Covered Bridge

The Life

Over time the covered bridge developed its persona. It featured a tollbooth which collected a penny for individuals walking or 12 cents for horse teams. It even employed a toll keeper who lived in a small house next to it.

The Life - Old Blenheim Bridge Plaque
The Life - Old Blenheim Bridge

There was a sign stating, "$5.00 fine to ride or drive this bridge faster than a walk." Thinking about the fee to cross they weren't messing around with the cost of the fine in comparison. During the winter even snow was scattered over the interior floor to assist horse-drawn sleighs crossing.

The old bridge welcomed many generations of travelers for business and pleasure. In 1964 the U.S. Department of Interior designated it a National Historic Landmark based on its unique construction. In 1984 the American Society of Civil Engineers also recognized it for engineering innovation.

Inside the Blenheim Covered Bridge Middle View

The Floods

Schoharie Creek is an invaluable resource for the entire valley but that doesn't mean there haven't also been times when it's been a source of destruction during extreme weather events.

The Floods - Old Blenheim Bridge Plaque
The Floods - Old Blenheim Bridge

The 3rd plaque features flooding photos from March 18, 1936, Winter 1996, and the fateful August 28, 2011. The Old Blenheim Bridge endured the test of time including surviving several major storms and floods, that was until August 28, 2011.

That day Tropical Storm Irene unleashed havoc on the Schoharie Valley and the flood waters proved to be too much. The bridge was lifted from its abutments and proceeded to be swept downstream leaving a void in the community.

Inside the Blenheim Covered Bridge Outside Wall View

The Re-Creation

However, all was not lost as a recovery committee was formed to reconstruct the bridge as the community's centerpiece. Supported by the Town of Blenheim and Schoharie County, federal and state funding was secured for the project.

The Re-Creation - Blenheim Covered Bridge Plaque
The Re-Creation - Blenheim Covered Bridge

Meticulously recreated from the Bridge's original blueprints and completed in 2018 by timber bridge builders of New Hampshire-based 3G Construction. The new Blenheim Covered Bridge features every detail of the original including 13 species of timber keeping true to Powers' engineering masterpiece with only one adjustment.

This was simply to make the abutments higher. With the change, the new Blenheim Covered Bridge is now elevated by 12 feet to help protect it from any future floods.

Inside the Blenheim Covered Bridge - Black & White

Outside the Blenheim Covered Bridge - Black & White

These pictures and the accompanying four-part story show the bridge, and in a sense the heart and determination of a community, today.

The final quote on the 4th plaque was from Fanchon Cornell, Blenheim resident and former Blenheim Historian, "It is not so much that the bridge belongs to us as that we belong to the bridge, - to record its history, to celebrate its milestones, to rest in the serenity of its just being there."

My father and I also enjoyed learning much more about the deep history of this bridge and simply the serenity of it just being there to visit.

Blenheim Covered Bridge Entrance


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