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What you need to know for 07/25/2017

Covered bridges of Washington County a step back in time

Summer Days

Covered bridges of Washington County a step back in time

If you want to take a trip back in time, go to Washington County and stand inside a covered bridge.
Covered bridges of Washington County a step back in time
The historic Blenheim Covered Bridge was destroyed by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

If you want to take a trip back in time, go to Washington County and stand inside a covered bridge.

It’s easy to imagine the clip-clop of a horse pulling a buggy through the tunnel’s woodsy-scented semidarkness. Looking up at its massive beams and latticework, one can’t help but admire how it was handmade long ago with local timber.

When you say the words “covered bridge,” what usually comes to mind are the back roads of Vermont or the romantic movie “Bridges of Madison County,” starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood.

But Washington County, where the countryside hasn’t changed much since the days when Grandma Moses painted the scenery, has four of these charming structures, and they are just a short drive from Saratoga Springs.

In the 1800s, thousands of covered spans were built around the Northeast to protect the bridges’ wooden decks, but only a handful have survived floods, fires, ice jams and decay.

In New York state, where there were once 300 covered bridges, only 24 historic ones are left. Schoharie County lost its Blenheim Bridge in 2011, wiped away by Tropical Storm Irene.

Washington County’s covered bridges, which cross the Battenkill and Hoosic rivers, were built from 1847 to 1858, and all four are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From 2004 to 2007, three of the bridges were repaired and restored, a project that cost about $6 million.

If you want to visit the bridges, you’ll need a map. At www.washingtonnycounty.com, you can download a map, brochure and QR code for your phone.

From Saratoga Springs, allow three hours for a round-trip, self-guided tour. Add another hour or two if you plan to shop for antiques, visit a gallery or stop for lunch.

Here’s some info about each bridge:

Buskirk’s Bridge: This 160-foot-long span crosses the Hoosic River and joins southern Washington County to northern Rensselaer County. In 2004, when it was renovated, the bridge was made strong enough for a fire engine to cross it. Because of the heavy traffic, it’s best to admire this bridge from the outside and not venture into the tunnel.

Eagleville Bridge: If you’ve ever floated down the Battenkill in an inner tube, this is the bridge that you passed under. It’s 100 feet long, and when it was built in 1858, it gave Eagleville residents access to Cambridge and Vermont. In 1977, floodwaters tipped the bridge over, but it was saved by a crew that diverted the river to keep it from breaking up.

Rexleigh Bridge: Unlike the other bridges, which are painted red all over, this span has a gleaming white entrance or portal. The Rexleigh was built in 1870 and is 107 feet long.

Shushan Bridge: No cars have passed through this bridge since 1962, when a steel span was erected next to it. In the 1970s, both ends of the 160-foot-long bridge were closed, and it was turned into a museum filled with old-time curiosities, from cannonballs and clothing to farm machinery. Run by local volunteers, the museum is open from May through October. It was built in 1858.

And here’s my recommended route:

From Saratoga Springs, take Route 29 to Greenwich, then head out of town on Route 372. Take a scenic drive down Route 60 and Route 59 to Buskirk’s Bridge, on the Hoosic River.

For lunch, consider a stop at the Country Gals Cafe in Cambridge, where the sandwiches are super-sized and the pies are homemade.

The Eagleville, Shushan and Rexleigh bridges all cross the Battenkill at different points as it twists and turns through the county.

The Eagleville is off Route 313; the Shushan is on Route 61 and the Rexleigh is off Route 22.

For more information or to have a map mailed to you, phone Washington County Tourism at 888-203-8622.

Have a favorite summer activity? Let us know about it. Share your ideas for Summer Days at www.dailygazette.com/summerdays or features@dailygazette.net.

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