By Brian O’Shea, Plateau Daily News
The Will Henry Stevens Bridge that makes up the main entrance at The Bascom has been closed since August to undergo repairs. Billy Love, deputy executive director at The Bascom said they hope to reopen the bridge in November or December of this year.
“Over time, water intrusions have weakened the bridge’s underlying structure, rendering it unsafe for automobile and pedestrian traffic,” said Billy Love, deputy executive director at The Bascom. “To safeguard this piece of national and local heritage, and to restore the usability of the main entrance to our campus, we must conduct repairs to restore the bridge’s underlying structure.”
Preliminary assessments and engineering plans for repairing the Bridge began in May, and construction began in August.
“We are grateful to those who have contributed financial resources to the preservation of the Will Henry Stevens Bridge,” said Love. “There has been an outpouring of generosity to ensure this project is completed this year and we look forward to welcoming visitors to the campus by way of the Will Henry Stevens Bridge.”
History of the Will Henry Stevens Bridge
Love said dating from the early 1800s, the handcrafted-wood structure began its existence as the Bagley Covered Bridge in Warner, New Hampshire, where it spanned the Warner River.
Estimated to have been built in 1807, the bridge was the oldest covered bridge from New Hampshire, one of the oldest in the United States, and is known to have carried many notable people, including General Lafayette, President Theodore Roosevelt, and President Franklin Pierce.
In the 1960s, the Bagley Covered Bridge was in significant disrepair, and it was deemed unfit for vehicular and pedestrian use. Officials in Warner were considering demolishing it when Arnold M. Graton, a fourth-generation bridge wright and restoration conservationist, purchased the structure for one dollar, numbered the parts, disassembled the bridge and put the parts into storage.
In 2007, Franklin, North Carolina native Wayne Yonce located the bridge and recommended it to The Bascom’s Board of Directors as a potential signature feature for the organization’s planned campus. The Bascom hired Arnold M. Graton Associates, Inc. of New Hampshire to move the Bagley Covered Bridge to Highlands and undertake the restoration and reconstruction of the structure for the art center’s use.
The bridge was reconstructed, retaining the lattice style design that was patented by Ithiel Town in 1820 and 1835. Graton’s reconstruction process was meticulous, using centuries-old craft techniques and replacing rotten, insect-ridden, or unstable parts. Rough-hewn parts were constructed out of white pine, oak, Douglas fir, and other old-growth native species. Other than the nails in the floor, no metal fasteners or screws, nuts or bolts were used in the bridge construction, only wood. Tree nails, trunnels, or dowels joined the wooden parts together.
Once reconstruction was complete, The Bascom renamed the structure the Will Henry Stevens Bridge in honor of a notable New Orleans painter and teacher, and a pioneer of modern art in the American South.
Today, the striking, rough-hewn 87 ft. 5 in. long covered bridge continues to serve as the main entrance to The Bascom’s 6-acre, 3-building visual art destination in Highlands, North Carolina.