The 19th century covered bridge shown at left would be easy to mistake for the Smith-Eastman covered bridge in Center Conway, which had an identical approach at the southern entrance. The Smith-Eastman bridge was never allowed to fall into such disrepair as this one, on which sheathing boards have been removed to admit light. This one, as betrayed by the tell-tale slope of North Moat in the distance, spans the Saco River on River Road in North Conway.
Conway still had four covered bridges when the 1939 Chevrolet in this photo started toward the West Side — five, counting a covered railroad bridge — and all of them were still in use. Thanks to progress and vandals, today there are only two, and the one over the Swift River in Conway has been relegated to quainthood as a photo op and picnic spot.
The idea of the covering was to protect the framing and decking from the weather, and the age of our two surviving bridges attest to the effectiveness of the practice, for the Swift River bridge will turn 150 years old this fall. The 1890 Saco River bridge, a couple of hundred yards downstream, still carries vehicular traffic, and it features the rare addition of pedestrian pathways on either side. Without such amenities, the darkened interiors of covered bridges such as the one above offered risky passage for a person afoot. Denizens of Center Conway and beyond who ended up hoofing it home at night from North Conway in the 1960s always had to listen for cars and look for headlights before sprinting the length of the pitch-black Smith-Eastman bridge.
Despite the goal of keeping the weather off the decking, in the winter it was necessary to cart in enough snow to cover the surface so sleighs could pass through without damaging the planks or their runners. Town reports often record sums paid to residents for “snowing bridges.”
Around 1997, I wrote another Then and Now piece about this same bridge, based on a different photo that was taken from upstream. Looking through the selectmen’s records on other matters, I found that around 1950 the town voted to demolish the bridge and replace it with a modern one, so I reported that the town tore it down. Yerrick Colbath called me up to advise me that I had the story all wrong. “The town didn’t tear that g#@@!& bridge down,” he said. “I did.” I asked why he would do such a thing, and he replied that the town hired him to do it.
I always like to correct such egregious mistakes. Sometimes it just takes a while.