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A vehicle crosses the Bath Covered Bridge from Bath Village into West Bath on Thursday afternoon. The nearly 400-foot long span – the longest covered bridge located entirely in New Hampshire – re-opened yesterday after a nearly two-year long, $3 million renovation. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

Bath Covered Bridge, the longest covered span in Granite State, re-opens to traffic

BATH -- After nearly a two-year long, $3 million renovation, the Bath Covered Bridge — the longest covered bridge located entirely within New Hampshire — re-opened on Thursday afternoon to the delight of many.

Built in 1832 for about $2,900, the Bath Village Bridge is the fifth bridge to stand on the site, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, which noted that at one time, there was a sign posted at the bridge “which prohibited riding horses across the bridge at a trot. It was believed that the impact of trotting horses could cause the structure to fall apart.”

Fast-forwarding almost 200 years, the cumulative effects of horses, people and later, cars and trucks, brought the one-lane bridge over the Ammonoosuc River between Bath Village and West Bath into an advanced state of disrepair and earned it an ignominious spot on the NHDOT’s “Red List.”

Town leaders, said Bath Selectman Alan Rutherford, explored replacing the covered bridge with a modern one, but were floored by the cost — $25 million — as well as the fact that neither state nor federal aid would be available to offset the hit on local taxpayers.

But because the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its rehabilitation was made possible through a federal historical preservation grant. Of the $2.9 million project cost, the Town of Bath’s share is about $130,000, said Rutherford, while the federal government chipped in $2.3 million and the rest came from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

One of three covered bridges in the community that bills itself “The Covered-Bridge Capital of New England,” the Bath Covered Bridge is a popular tourist attraction as well as being a critical east-west crossing, Rutherford said, noting that since its closure, some Bath residents on the west side of town have had to drive 15 miles to get to the village center.

The revamped bridge, which will have a six-ton weight limit, was supposed to open by early June, but after Hoyle, Tanner and Associates, the project engineer, and Wright Construction Co., the general contractor, found more damage to structural timbers than originally expected, the opening was delayed until Thursday at 1 p.m.

Carol and Bruce Ricker, who hail from Higganum, Conn., and who have summered on Gardner Lake in West Bath for some 30 years, said they were thrilled that the Bath Covered Bridge was open again, adding that they had been present, too, for its most recent overhaul several decades ago.

On Thursday, the couple made several trips over the bridge in their SUV, which bears the Connecticut vanity plate “BATH NH”.

“It’s a day that we’re going to remember for a while,” said Bruce Ricker, adding that his great granddaughter Juliana, however, will “always remember it.”

“It’s a beautiful bridge,’ said Carol Ricker, “It’s great to see it restored.”

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