Closing Of Crown Point Bridge Puts Spotlight On Its History

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(Host) The closing of the Crown Point Bridge connecting Vermont and New York has affected hundreds of regular commuters, business owners, and visitors.

Inspections continue to see whether repairs can be made quickly to the 80-year old bridge’s deteriorating supports. In the meantime, frustrated travelers have had to take 100-mile detours or wait for ferry service to transport them between the two states.

As VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb reports, the closure of the Crown Point Bridge is also putting a spotlight on the span’s historic origins:

(Wertlieb) The Crown Point Bridge is also referred to as the Champlain Bridge, a reflection of its importance to New Yorkers and Vermonters. The bridge opened in 1929 and marked a turning point in the way people in the region moved from place to place.

Railroads, and before that, Lake Champlain water-travel were largely relied upon to bring people together and move goods around, but the Crown Point Bridge brought Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire up to speed with America’s newest mode of travel. Robert McCullough is with the University of Vermont’s Historic Preservation program:

(McCullough) "The 1920s were a decade when automobile travel really exploded across the countryside. And Americans really began to explore by automobile and so the economic growth–roadside commerce–became a huge growth industry. That was one of the big factors. This was really the first vehicular bridge to link Vermont State with New York and New Hampshire." 

(Wertlieb) The opening of the bridge was a major social and political event. Tens of thousands showed up to see dignitaries including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then the Governor of New York, christen the new span.

The bridge’s designer was also a well-known figure of the time. Charles Spofford came up with a way to blend the bridge’s contours into the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. It was an approach, says Robert McCullough, that would be emulated by other architects and engineers who wanted to capture the organic flow of the Crown Point design:

(McCullough) "You can see the bridge from different locations as you approach from the Vermont side and the New York side, it appears and disappears and appears again, and that sort of heightens the process of crossing the bridge, so it really is a beautiful structure. Photographers were taking lots of pictures and turning them into postcards."

(Wertlieb) Eighty years later the bridge still provides a vital link between Addison, Vermont and Crown Point, New York, but it’s long-term viability is uncertain after so many decades of wear and tear. The New York DOT is exploring a number of options, including making the necessary repairs to Crown Point, or even building a new span at a different location in Ticonderoga, New York.

For VPR News, I’m Mitch Wertlieb.


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