Old Blenheim Bridge

Old Blenheim Bridge in 1974
The Old Blenheim Bridge in 1974.

NPS Photo / James Dillon

Old Blenheim Bridge

Schoharie County, NY

Designated an NHL: January 29, 1964

Designation withdrawn: July 21, 2015

Old Blenheim Bridge was one of the longest single-span wooden covered bridges in the world, stretching 210 feet across Schoharie Creek near the Village of North Blenheim. The bridge was constructed in 1855 by Nicholas Montgomery Powers, of Vermont, who received $6,000 for his work. The main feature of the covered bridge was its single, center arch on which the bridge relied for strength, stretching in a three-rib segment from the abutments, to the ridge pole in the center of the bridge, and back again. It had three trusses, a large one enclosing the arch at the center, and two side trusses 27 feet apart, of lesser height. This divided the bridge into two lanes and sometimes it was therefore called a “double-barrel” or “double-tunnel” bridge.

bridge interior
Interior of the Old Blenheim Bridge, 1974.

NPS Photo / James Dillon

The trusses were a series of all wooden “X”’s in boxes, a system devised and patented in 1830 by Colonel Stephen Long. Powers used 3,600 pounds of bolts and 1,500 pounds of washers to connect the braces. Ninety-four thousand board feet (27 tons) of lumber were used. Interestingly, the structure was not built over the stream as one might have expected, but rather was built piece by piece in the village, taken apart, and reassembled across the river. It was opened in 1855 to horse-drawn traffic and was therefore regularly in service as a privately-owned toll bridge until it was transferred to the State highway department in 1891.

In the spring of 1869, a severe flood cleared out a wide channel at the western abutment, necessitating the erection of a small wooden extension across this gap. In 1895, the wooden extension was replaced with a “permanent” iron one at a cost to the Town Board of $2,200. By 1930, the iron span had cracked beneath a heavy load of ice, although Powers’ covered wooden bridge was still carrying heavy loads without structural complaints. A plan was devised to abandon the Old Blenheim Bridge and build a new steel and concrete bridge 100 feet downstream. The old structure would come down. However, an organized outpouring of public sentiment for the covered bridge was enough to secure town support for retention of the old relic. The new bridge was indeed built in 1932 and the old bridge had its iron extension removed. The Old Blenheim Bridge was attached to only the eastern abutment and carried only sightseeing traffic from that point on.

site of the former bridge with view of river
Site of the former Old Blenheim Bridge. View west across Schoharie Creek from one abutment to the other. The newer span (built in 1932) is visible on the right-hand side of the photo.

NPS Photo

In late August of 2011, record flooding associated with the remnants of Hurricanes Irene and Lee hit the Schoharie River Valley. Classified as a 500-year flood, the valley sustained unprecedented devastation. One of the casualties was the Old Blenheim Bridge, which was swept away and destroyed on August 28. None of the bridge remains at its former site, and pieces of it were scattered far and wide downriver.

Although the community has recovered some of the original bridge timbers from downstream, the property no longer retains its historic integrity. The Old Blenheim Bridge has ceased to meet the criteria for designation because the qualities which originally led it to be designated have been destroyed. The Landmark designation was withdrawn on July 21, 2015, and the property was also removed from the National Register of Historic Places.

Last updated: August 29, 2018