BRATTLEBORO -- Vermont took one more step on its long road to recovery Saturday as federal, state and local officials opened the Bartonsville Covered Bridge to traffic.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, and more than 100 people showed up on a very cold morning to recognize all of the work that has gone into replacing the original, historic Bartonsville Covered Bridge which was swept in the flood waters caused by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.
"This bridge shows the commitment of this community to rebuild Vermont better than how Irene found us," Shumlin said before cutting a ribbon and opening the bridge to its first vehicle. "This community came together in a way that does not always happen in America."
When Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont, dropping more than 10 inches of rain in one day, the raging Williams River smashed the original 151-foot-long 1870 lattice truss-style bridge.
The video of the Bartonsville Covered Bridge being carried away by the river became a YouTube sensation and its destruction, and rebuilding, have become powerful symbols of what Vermont has been through in the last year-and-a half.
Welch said the rest of the country noticed how quickly and efficiently Vermont was able to rebound from the storm and he said his colleagues in Congress now refer to "The Vermont way" when they are talking about the ways communities should come together to address obstacles and reconstruction following natural disasters.
"It is emblematic of how Vermonters came together and said ‘We had a job to do,' and then worked together to get the job done," Welch said. "This is a very happy day."
The temporary Bartonsville bridge closed in December 2011 and local residents have had to take a nine mile detour to get over the Williams River while work crews constructed the new covered bridge.
Rockingham Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee thanked the local residents for their patience, saying that while it seemed like the work was sometimes going slowly the town and local community were committed to making sure the new covered bridge was one that would be in place for at least another 140 years, just as the original was.
Once the town committed itself to replacing the historic span it worked with the Vermont League if Cities and Towns to secure the insurance money and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helped with mitigation funding.
Susan Hammond is the longtime Bartonsville resident who was out to witness the devastating power of Irene that August day when the bridge gave way.
Hammond caught the action on her digital recorder and within days the Bartonsville Bridge came to symbolize the historic destruction Vermont suffered in the storm.
At the bridge opening Saturday Hammond recognized all of the work that went into bringing a covered bridge back to Bartonsville.
From the engineers at Clough Harbour & Associates, to the crews from Cold River Bridges who worked though all kinds of weather to finish the work, to the town employees who made sure Bartonsville would once again have a covered bridge, Hammond said Saturday would not have been possible without everyone working together.
"Our slogan was ‘We can rebuild history,'" she said. "The people of Bartonsville insisted that we rebuild the bridge."
Hammond led a fundraising campaign that brought in about $60,000, which she said came from all over the world.
Her father, Prentice Hammond, was the first to cross the bridge Saturday.
She said without a covered bridge, the hamlet of Bartonsville was missing something, and now it is complete once again.
"I remember growing up how when we went over the bridge it felt like I was coming home," she said. "Now it really feels like I am coming home again."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.