Documenting North America's past & present covered bridges


Blenheim, Schoharie County

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Inventory Number: NY/32-48-01x
County: Schoharie County
Town/Village: Blenheim
Bridge Name: Blenheim
Crosses: Schoharie Creek
Truss type: Long & arch
Spans: 1
Length: 228'
Roadway Width:
Built: 1855
Builder: Nichols Montgomery Powers
When Lost: 28 Aug 2011
Cause: Flood
Latitude: N42 28.32
Longitude: W074 26.50
See a map of the area
Topographic map of the area
Directions: 0.3 miles east of CR31 and North Blenheim on NY30, then 0.1 miles right on bypassed section of NY30.

Blenheim Bridge, Blenheim, Schoharie County, NY Built 1855, washed away August 28, 2011 by floodwaters associated with Hurricane Irene
Trish Kane/Richard Donovan Collection

Blenheim Bridge, Blenheim, Schoharie County, NY Built 1855, washed away August 28, 2011 by floodwaters associated with Hurricane Irene
Trish Kane/Richard Donovan Collection

Blenheim Bridge, Blenheim, Schoharie County, NY Built 1855, washed away August 28, 2011 by floodwaters associated with Hurricane Irene
Trish Kane Photo (Mar 1998)

Blenheim Bridge, Blenheim, Schoharie County, NY Built 1855, washed away August 28, 2011 by floodwaters associated with Hurricane Irene
Bob Sheldon Photo, September 30, 2008

Site of Blenheim Bridge, Blenheim, Schoharie County, NY Built 1855 Destroyed by floodwaters, August 28, 2011
Trish Kane Photo, September 2011

Blenheim Bridge, Blenheim, Schoharie County, NY Built 1855 Flood 28 Aug 2011
Richard Sanders Allen Collection, NSPCB Archives

Blenheim Bridge, Blenheim, Schoharie County, NY Built 1855 Flood 28 Aug 2011
Todd Clark Collection

Per the Rutland Daily Herald, March 10, 1930, "HUGE BRIDGE BUILT BY IRA MAN DOOMED - Longest Wooden Span in World, in Blenheim, N.Y., To Be Razed. IRA, March 9.---With the word gone abroad that the old wooden bridge at Blenheim, N. Y., the longest single span wooden bridge in tbe world, is doomed and will be destroyed when the new concrete highway from Blenheim to Grand Gorge is built next summer, local people recall the story in connection with the structure in which Nick Powers, a Vermont Yankee, participated. Powers was a resident of Ira at the time he built the bridge and later moved to Clarendon, where he died. His daughter-in-law, Mrs. Mary Powers, was a correspondent for The Herald, for a long time. Seventy-five years ago, it is re called, Powers stood on the roof of this long span, the completion of which had just been consummated under his able direction, and ordered his men to 'take down the bents.' These were tbe great timbers that supported the bridge over the turbulent Schoharie Creek at Blenheim, N. Y. Took the Challenge. That bridge is too long to stand, you'll be killed, was the warning shouted back by the men to whom Powers had issued his command. If she sags two inches, shouted Nick from the ridge boards, 'I'll jump off.' Nevertheless, it was with fear and trembling that the men started ot comply with the directions. They thought they knew something about covered bridges. They had been shaking their heads and telling Nick that such a bridge never had been built and never would be. Two hundred and thirty-two feet between abutments is a long stretch, even for steel bridges. 'Only a fool would try a span that distance with wood, unsupported.' They believed that the moment the 'bents' were knocked out the whole structure would plunge into the water and the bridge company would be bankrupt. But so confident of his work was Nick Powers that he mounted to the highest point in the center of the roof and shouted to them, 'Let her go!' Bent after bent was taken out from beneath the structure and when the men who had predicted its downfall saw that it was going to remain in position they covered their chargrin by declaring that it would sag so that it would be useless for traffic. This was when Nick challenged the crowd: 'If she sags two inches I'll jump off.' But he didn't have to jump. The new bridge didn't sag even one inch. Has Stood the Test. For 75 years this long span has stood the test of the master builder who perfected his craft before the days of steel construction. Today the old bridge stands straight and true and hasn't sagged through all the years. The strength of the structure seems remarkable to those who understand bridge building. A few years ago a heavy truck loaded with ice, weighing in all about 14 tons passed safely over it several times a day. At last this loaded truck injured the more modern steel structure at the west of the old bridge, but the ancient wooden span stood up under tbe burden without yielding an inch. Visiting tourists who stop to admire this old bridge wonder how it came to be built there, a model of ancient construction work in wood. The answer is this: The first wilderness roads followed the ancient Indian trails. Narrow pathways over hill and mountain along the streams, which were widened at first to accommodate horsemen and were later cut out and built for tbe heavy freight wagons of the early settlers, were the first roads and were constructed of private capital. Many of them were of solid plank. In the early 50's there were hundreds of miles of plank roads in the counties centering about the old Blenheim bridge. Invariably these were toll roads upon which a few cents a mile was charged. The amount of toll was graduated according to the traffic and to whether or not the rider were horse, single rig, or freight. These roads forded large streams at favorable places where the water was shallow. Often long detours were made, to find suitable fording places, as the cost of building the long wooden bridges was enormous. Then companies were organised for the purpose of building toll bridges upon such roads as traffic warranted. The ancient structure at Blenheim was originally a toll bridge. For many years a toll keeper lived in a small house at one end of the bridge and appeared in front of each traveler to collect toll. Like modern days, there were many travelers who tried to dodge the law and many were the ingenious devices to beat the toll-keeper. A strong wooden gate built so that It could effectually close the road to traffic was at the toll-keepers command and if he saw a doubtful character approaching, the gate was suddenly shut. At night it was closed and padlocked with heavy chains and many a traveler has shouted himself hoarse getting the sleepy keeper out of bed to open the gate. The company organized to build the Blenheim bridge was headed by J. Diclnson. The company let the construction job to Powers who had never built a bridge of such dimensions before but was confident it could be done. Today it is a monument to his craft. Entirely of Wood. Except for a few hand-wrought bolts the bridge is every bit wood, good old native oak and pine. It is a double bridge, 26 feet wide, with two driveways. Through the center of the structure runs a huge arch of wood, built ot heavy plank, extending from pier to pier. For the most part all the beams are pinned and keyed with wedges for tightening. The entire structure was roofed and shingled and this covering has withstood the test of time and protected the timbers from decay. Another curious thing about the method of construction is the fact that the bridge was entirely built and erected on land before being placed over the river. The site of this work was north of the village of Blenheim. While this work was going on tbe masonry was being constructed at either side of the stream. The two huge stone piers were completed under tbe direction of Powers and made ready for the erection of the bridge when the structure had been completed and tested. The present steel span over the west end of the covered bridge was not built until many years later as the site was all solid ground. During an unusual spring flood the river broke through and washed out a wide channel, which necessitated another span. The days of the builders of wooden spans had long since gone and it was necessary to lengthen the structure with a span ot steel. It is seriously affirmed that a jug of fine old rye whiskey is buried in one of the abutments, but only time can verify tbe statement. The story is told of how the men at work on the masonry sent a Polish stone workman over the mountain to Tlbbets, now known as Broome Center, for a jug of whiskey. As he returned with his treasure President Dlkeman of the construction company appeared on the scene and stuck by so closely that the boys never got a chance to drink it. Dikeman was a dry, or teetotaller, as the prohibitionists were known In those days. The only thing to do was to wall the jug in, and there it remains to this day, according to old settlers, who claim to know."Per the Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton), April 22, 1931, Henry Ford had been inquiring of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors what value they placed on the bridge, presumably when he was considering bridges for his Dearborn Village in Detroit. The Blenheim Bridge was washed away by floodwaters associated with Hurricane Irene on August 28, 2011. 3G Construction of Holderness, New Hampshire led the timber-framing portion of the reconstruction with material provided by Lancaster County Timber Framers. A dedication of the completed structure was held on June 29, 2019. In the past, both the Blenheim and Bridgeport, California bridges have claimed to be the longest single-span covered bridges. It is a double-barrel bridge.
Connecticut River Valley Covered Bridge Society. Bulletin, Volume X, No. 4, Spring 1964, pages 1-2
National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges. World Guide to Covered Bridges, 2009, page 57

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