This story actually begins about 21 million years ago – give or take a million years one way or the other. That’s about when the earth carried out a tilt of its axis leading the Laurentide ice sheet to decide to head south from what we might call the “Canadian Arctic”, carving out huge chunks of the planet’s surface, pushing thousands of square miles of stony debris ahead of it and changing the very face of what we call New England today. As it began to melt leaving terminal moraines behind to become new places, like Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod and Long island to name a few examples of that mighty work, it shaved the top off of entire mountain ranges such as the spines of Vermont’s Green and Taconic Mountains which were already ancient before the Alps were even born. Melted ice raised the sea levels enough to cover the continent-sized Pangea and create river basins such as the Hudson and St. Lawrence and even Lake Champlain.
It was mere child’s play to leave behind tiny lakes, ponds and stream beds, but that’s how Sunset Lake in the town of Brookfield in central Vermont came to be; not very long, but so deep it became known as “bottomless”. The very nature of Vermont’s political geography and judicial subdivisions played their own unique role in surveying early road systems and the towns and villages they would serve. Here rather than counties – of which Vermont lays claim to fourteen – it was the town that became the primary unit of government – with a voting representative to the legislature – and the town meeting from which local residents had a powerful voice in New England’s home-centered democracy. At last count the “patchwork quilt” of Vermont “places” consisted of 237 towns, 9 cities and 4 gores (left-over, sections of unincorporated and mostly unsettled land and a term used frequently in fabric cutting.)
Early Vermont settlements developed along valley watercourses where the power to operate mills and industry existed, and between which carriage roads naturally multiplied. The very water sources which made all this possible bred a bridge-building art form unique to the timber-rich landscape, including hundreds of covered bridges designed to survive harsh weather conditions. The town of Brookfield however, surrounded as it was by West Brookfield (where I did much of my growing up,) Center Brookfield, East Brookfield and Pond Village itself, the obvious need to bridge Sunset Lake was a troubling challenge inasmuch as its immeasurable depth precluded the driving of pillars of any kind.
Local tradition claims that a resident named Luther Adams, with the help of neighbors built the first “floating” bridge out of tarred barrels in 1820, possibly assembled while the lake was frozen over, settling into place as the weather warmed. Finally solving the problems of access and economic growth for neighboring communities, it also brought some fame and tourism to Pond Village over the years. As a boy, I and my friends would fish and “skinny-dip” from the bridge’s railed walkways, and thrill first-time visitors by demonstrating the exciting sound of a noisy “tire wash” when driving across the partially submerged timber decking.
Depending on which version of history I choose to believe, the old and storied bridge at Pond Village has been rebuilt either six or eight times, the newest and most improved version opened to the eager public in May, 2015 (all 318 feet of it), with a projected life of 100 years. I look forward to revisiting this Vermont landmark of my youth this fall; this time with dry tires. (“No skinny-dipping” my wife warns me.)
Long ago floating bridge.
On the far side of Brookfield’s “new” floating bridge – still the only one east of the Mississippi -also resides the longest continuously-operating (1791) library in the U.S.. Photo courtesy Wayne Pelkey