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Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Covered Bridges: A Part of New Brunswick's Heritage

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History of the Hartland Bridge - The World's Longest

In 1898, plans and specifications were drawn up for a bridge over the St. John River at Hartland, where a ferry then operated. Under the supervision of Commissioner of Public Works, Hon. H.R. Emerson and Provincial Engineer, A. R. Wetmore, the bridge was built by a private, citizen-organized company - The Hartland Bridge Company, incorporated by an Act of the New Brunswick Legislature in 1899 for the purpose of constructing the new bridge.

The bridge consisted of seven 170' Howe Truss spans positioned on stone-filled cedar cribwork abutments and piers, the latter sheathed on the upstream side with birch planking, while the eastern approach was of stringer spans and trestle bents. This original bridge, 1,282 feet in length, was not covered.

P460-17
Reference Number: P460-17


Hartlands's covered bridge, as it was on opening day, July 1, 1901.

The bridge took three years to complete. The bridge was open to traffic on May 14, 1901, but its official opening was held on July 4, 1901. Over 2,000 people are said to have attended the event presided over by Judge McKeowan, with the guest speaker Hon. H. R. Emerson.

The law governing the bridge stated that "no person shall ride or drive any horse or vehicle over said bridge at a rate faster than a walk, under a penalty of not less than twenty dollars, nor more than forty dollars for each offence". Residents took the law seriously as few fines are recorded.

Until May 1, 1906, the Hartland Bridge operated as a toll bridge. James Pearson is recorded as the first toll keeper. Fees were 2 cents per pedestrian, 5 cents for a single team of horses and 10 cents for a double team. Newspaper accounts recall the great dislike the people of the area had for the tolls. After petitioning the provincial government to remove the tolls, the local Carleton representative in the Legislature was credited with convincing the government to do so. The Standard newspaper recounts the story of one Sam Harmon, an elderly admirer of Fleming, who stood on the bridge and fired a revolver four times into the air. "To J.K. Fleming be all the credit," he shouted to the alarmed populace. "The bridge is free."

P3-43
Reference Number: P3-43

Panorama of Hartland showing "Covered Bridge" before it was covered.

About the same time the tolls were removed, debate began to swirl about whether the bridge should be covered. An inquiry was launched by the then Solicitor General, Hon. W. P. Jones, who had his own personal doubts on the issue. According to the Hartland Observer newspaper, Mr. Jones wrote to one Samuel S. Miller on April 15, 1906, "In many cases when a bridge situated near a village has been covered it has proved very objectionable on account of rough characters who frequent it at night, frightening women and children and making a regular nuisance of it". "But, he added, of course the covering would save the bridge for many years and were it not for this objectionable feature it certainly should be covered at once."

Evidently, Hartland residents had doubts too, the Hartland Observer reported. Samuel S. Miller replied to Mr. Jones, "I have interviewed a great many persons since I got your last letter and have not found one in favor of covering the bridge."

Mother Nature intervened. During the spring ice run of April 1920, the two western-most spans of the bridge were carried away in the freshet. Temporary measures were needed - a ferry was installed at an old ferry site one mile below the village. Motor boats and private rowboats were brought into service.

A delegation travelled to Fredericton to ask the Minister of Public Works, Hon. P. J. Veniot for assistance in repairing the damage. Mr. Veniot is said to have preferred that a steel bridge be constructed to replace the wooden one. However, World War I was underway and the price of steel had rocketed. The minister asked the local delegation to wait until the price of steel lowered but they declined the offer and together a compromise was reached - the bridge would be rebuilt but this time, it would be covered to protect it from the elements.

The bridge was completely overhauled in 1920. Concrete piers and abutments were substituted for the cribwork; the new concrete piers were positioned on piles; five of the spans were repositioned on the concrete substructure; two new spans of 147 feet each replaced the two 170 feet western spans that had been swept away. The New Brunswick Contracting and Building Company did the reconstruction. By 1922, the bridge was completely covered and had earned its title as the longest covered bridge in the world, besting the second-longest covered bridge, located in Norway, by 200 feet.

During the early years of the covered bridge, it was necessary to hire a man to shovel snow onto the bridge in winter so horse-driven sleds could be moved across. He was paid $100-150 a year. With the advent of motor vehicles, farmers soon replaced their teams of horses and sleds with trucks or tractors hauling wagons.

In 1944 a covered wooden sidewalk was added on the downstream side of the bridge and the western approach trestlework was replaced by reinforced concrete beam spans on concrete bents.

P173-41
Reference Number: P173-41

Hartland Bridge, St.John River Carleton Co. 1970. Close-up of front of bridge.

The maintenance of the Hartland Covered Bridge is the responsibility of the New Brunswick Department of Transportation. No heavy vehicles or buses are now allowed to travel the bridge.

On June 23, 1980, the Hartland Covered Bridge was declared a National Historic Site and on September 15, 1999 it was declared a Provincial Historic Site.

See: The Town of Hartland's history of the bridge at:http://www.town.hartland.nb.ca/html/bridge.html and Tourism New Brunswick's at: http://www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca


P173-40
Reference Number: P173-401

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