Built in 1880 by famed Vermont bridge architect, Nichols Powers, the Brown Covered Bridge is the best and least altered example of a Town lattice truss design. It is also thought to be the only remaining covered bridge in the United States with a slate roof. At a total length of 116 feet, the bridge carries Upper Cold River Road over the Cold River with a single lane. The bridge was damaged by flooding in 2011 and closed to vehicular traffic until it was repaired and re-opened in 2016. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2014.
Maps where the Brown Covered Bridge now crosses the Cold River reveal a bridge at the same site as early as the mid-19th century. What became of that bridge is lost to history, but what is known is that renowned bridge designer, Nichols Powers, replaced the original bridge with a covered version in 1880. Powers, who was born in Pittsford and resided in nearby Clarendon, built his first bridge at the age of 19. He is best known for building the longest single-span wooden bridge, at 232 feet in length, at Blenheim, New York. Unfortunately, that bridge was destroyed by flooding associated with Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
Powers decided to utilize a design patented by Connecticut architect, Ithiel Town, in 1820. Town’s lattice truss design uses closely placed wooden planks fastened with trunnels, or wooden pegs, to create a lattice pattern. This lattice patter forms the truss which supports the bridge. The bridge also has iron tie-rods between the bottom chords. Vertical planks then covered the lattice trusses and its gable roof was capped with slate shingles. Powers set his bridge upon dry stone abutments, one of which included a massive natural boulder. The bridge is now one of only approximately 110 Town lattice truss bridges left in the United States built prior to 1955 and one of only three in Vermont known to have been built or assisted by Powers.
The bridge has a total length of 116 feet with a main span of 107 feet and a width of just over 13 feet. It was built a short distance from the home of George Brown, its namesake. Over the years, it has suffered from periods of neglect and rehabilitation and was moderately damaged in 2011 from flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene. It was then closed to vehicles and repaired, to include the replacement of its weatherboard siding and some of its lattice trusses. The bridge’s stone abutments were also strengthened all for a cost of over $400,000. The bridge was re-dedicated on July 5, 2016.
There are approximately 690 historic covered bridges in the United States and Vermont is home to about 100 of them, the largest concentration of covered bridges in the country. The fact that the Brown Covered Bridge is also of a unique design makes it a rare historic structure and one worth preserving.