As a farm boy from Vermont I can – on honest grounds -- lay claim to my right of membership in that fraternity known as bridge-watchers; not just everyday bridges you understand, but certainly when it comes to truss-built covered bridges. Early settlers in the new world learned quickly that bridges made of wood exposed to rain, snow, sun, wind and the vagaries of changing seasons had a short life, but when roofed over like a sturdy barn could outlive their builders. If you thought that snow was the enemy, you would be wrong. The folks actually had to shovel snow onto the roofed bridges to accommodate horse-drawn sled traffic for half the year.
Since I was a teen-ager I have loved our country’s honest covered bridges and the notes of history which play like a serenade within the dark shadows of every one. It seems that these architectural wonders are infused from the hammering of the first peg and the crafting of the first joint with the very spiritual molecules from which stories, mysteries and tall tales are given birth.
I know of many within whose secret silences marriage vows have been spoken, first kisses exchanged and important promises sworn. I have felt a shiver or two on a tall point of buttressed timber from which famous suicides were launched and I am no stranger to the midnight hauntings which are still said to make themselves felt on hand-fitted spans more than one-hundred years old. More than one highwayman favored a particular bridge as an easy ambush point for his night-time criminal enterprise, and I have personal knowledge of a notch several feet above the roadway where an illicit pack of camels would be safe from bad weather and prying eyes on one.
My favorite Vermont covered bridge – The Bridge on the Green – has looked down on colorful flies cast by Sir Winston Churchill, President Dwight Eisenhower and a host of world-famous leaders testing their casting skills on The Battenkill, whose waters I trust were kinder to them than to me.
The typical proud Vermonter might be surprised to learn that the State of Oregon was home to more than 450 covered bridges in their heyday, with an impressive number still surviving today. While I have hunted down and photographed most of Vermont’s still-intact 100, I am still working on their northwest cousins where I finally tracked down Number 50 on my Oregon list a week ago at a heavily-wooded, almost “hidden” location just a dozen twisting back-road miles from the Pacific Ocean. (Most of the Beaver State’s survivors are located further east, in the Willamette River valley.)
The coastal village of Yachats (pronounced YA – hotz) in honor of a Native American tribe of hunter/gatherer/farmer people who prospered there long before the arrival of Europeans. The word actually means people who live at the foot of the mountains. Settlers who were attracted by the rich soil, green and semi-tropical countryside adjacent to ocean riches, and a friendly year-round climate moderated by warm ocean currents found themselves with the north fork of the Yachats river hindering community growth. In 1938, Otis Hamar, a noted bridge-builder contracted to solve the problem with a 42-foot covered bridge featuring a classic queen post truss. Over the years time and mishaps left things a bit ragged, so in 1989 the bridge was rehabilitated and re-dedicated in keeping with Oregon’s commitment to making the state’s covered bridges honored historic landmarks.
The drive to the North Fork bridge site snakes beside the Yachats river beneath a canopy of hundred-year old
hemlocks covered with deep layers of forest-like moss.
For its sheer charm and magnificent setting, the Yachats North Fork bridge becomes one of my two favorite Oregon survivors, right alongside the Currin bridge in Oregon’s Lane County, home to 20 of the finest.