Log Cabin Chronicles

covered bridge

© John Mahoney

Halloween arsonists destroy historic Vermont covered bridge

JOHN MAHONEY
Coventry, Vermont

state arson investigators continue to probe the cause of a Halloween fire that destroyed an historic covered bridge just outside this tiny village.

The Orne bridge, which crosses the Black River as it wends its way north to Lake Memphremagog, was totally destroyed by flames early Saturday morning, November 1. Although located on a back country road close to Coventry, the century-old bridge was actually in the neighboring town of Irasburg.

It appears that the bridge burning may have been connected to a similar Halloween fire in Troy, Vermont.

Irasburg Town Clerk Barbara Lawson said a fireman told her that a tree had been felled across the road to prevent firefighters from getting to the bridge. A tree had also been cut down in Troy.

"He said it appears to have been well planned," she added.

"The bridge went awful fast," said farmer Betty Doncaster Tuesday morning as she finished up milking chores. "It happened sometime after one a.m."

She and her husband, Wayne, have farmed up the road from the bridge for nearly 40 years. They had been waiting Friday night to hand out Halloween treats to the local ghosts and goblins.

"It was the quietest Halloween night in years," she said. "Not a soul came to the door."

The fire alarm was sounded around 2:30 a.m. The first firefighters on the scene came from Newport, five miles up the road. Chief Leo Parenteau requested that the state police arson squad step in.

"It certainly was arson," said Chief David Kennison of the Irasburg Fire Department. "It was very obvious."

A reward of more than $5000 has been offered, and local residents are trying to up the ante.

Mrs. Doncaster, whose composer/musician daughter Sarah runs the Warebrook Contemporary Music Festival, says she has been receiving offers from Boston-area musicians to hold benefit perfomances to rebuild the bridge.

The festival takes its name from Ware Brook, which runs through the Doncaster's dairy farm.

"A lot of musicians have stayed with us and played concerts here on the farm," she said. "They loved that bridge."

She added that a Massachusetts builder who specializes in reconstructing covered bridges has offered to get involved in any building project that local residents come up with.

"Most of us who live around here think it ought to be put back," said Mrs. Doncaster. "I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lot of support in Coventry, too."

The bridge had been repaired twice in the four decades that the Doncasters have lived in the rural neighborhood, she said.

"There used to be a wonderful sign that warned you would be fined $2 for crossing the bridge faster than a walk. Of course, somebody stole the sign."

Irasburg selectmen met Monday night to discuss plans to rebuild the bridge, and Mrs. Lawson said there is considerable support for the plan and a fund drive has been started.

Anyone wanting to contribute to the fund can send a check to the Town Clerk, Covered Bridge Fund, PO Box 51, Irasburg, VT 05845.


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Copyright © John Mahoney
Log Cabin Chronicles/11.97