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Architect Building Covered Bridge - By Hand

Richard Perry is overseeing what may be the most enduring property renovation project in Norwich, Connecticut's recent history.

Tue April 28, 2015 - National Edition
Adam Benson

NORWICH, Conn. (AP) - Richard Perry is overseeing what may be the most enduring property renovation project in Norwich’s recent history.

Architect Arnold Graton is constructing a 60-foot-long by 18-foot-wide covered bridge - by hand - on Perry’s Wawecus Hill Road property.

”It is a preservation effort, and it is an effort to leave behind some legacy to future generations because at the present time, there are only four authentic, traditionally built covered bridges in Connecticut,’ Perry said. ”These are bridges that are often not rebuilt, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to build a covered bridge in the same manner it would have been built 150 years ago, and this is the only man in the country that does it.’

According to Graton’s website, Arnold M. Graton Associates Inc. has 50 years experience with covered bridge rehabilitation and construction.

Once the bridge is finished, Perry plans to open it to public use, possibly creating a companion exhibit to show how it was constructed. He said it took a year to get through the city’s permitting and review process.

”I really want people to see what the bridge is like, how it was constructed,’ Perry said. ”I wanted this as sort of a legacy. I don’t have children, so it’s a question of, `who am I going to leave my money to,’ and I thought this would be a great opportunity.’

There are four authentic covered bridges in the state, with the last one built in 1874. Norwich’s experience with the structures dates back to 1764, when the first wooden truss bridge in the nation was erected 28 feet over the Shetucket River by John Bliss.

Without concrete, power tools, metal nails or any of the other modern resources at the disposal of contractors, putting together a Town Lattice Truss Bridge by hand is as grueling as it is impressive.

The design is named after a technique patented by Ithiel Town, a Thompson native born in 1784 who was among the first generation of American architects. Graton and his compatriots are building their bridge with the same material that would have been available in Town’s day.

Graton and a small team have lived in trailers on Perry’s property since Labor Day, when work on the bridge began in a barn constructed especially for the project.

”Arnold’s a craftsman. There’s no one in the country that’s done what he’s done,’ said Graton’s wife and business partner Meg Dansereau.

Graton said Perry’s bridge is the 17th he’s built from scratch, but his Ashland, N.H.-based firm has restored 65 of them across the country.

Crews were working to raise the pair of 8-ton trusses recently, and expect to have the bridge ready for installation over two dry stone abutments that span a pond in Perry’s yard by mid-June.

Oxen will be brought in to secure the bridge using a capstan, a vertical-axle rotating machine that applies force to ropes and is used to raise sails.

Traditionally, communities held parties when covered bridges were opened, and Perry said he’s planning a similar event.

Another signature of Perry’s bridge is a 13-inch camber angle gradually worked in the trusses that strengthens it and provides an aesthetic detail not commonly found on covered bridges.

Graton said he enjoys the public nature of his work because it sparks conversation.

”It takes an interest in it (from others) if you’re ever going to do another one,’ Graton said.

On Thursday, Graton’s workers weren’t the only ones on site. Betty Pauwels, of Franklin, N.H., was taking photographs for the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges.

”This is a newer bridge being built using the old techniques,’ she said. ”It’s such an honor to be here today. It’s awesome.’

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