Vilas Bridge

View of the Vilas Bridge from Bellows Falls, VT.

The Vilas Bridge connects Bellows Falls, VT to Walpole, NH. It is an open spandrel concrete arch bridge constructed in 1930. The Vilas Bridge has been closed since 2009 due to deterioration of the reinforced concrete deck. The bridge is jointly owned by the New Hampshire Department of Transporation and the Vermont Agency of Transportation, however, NHDOT owns 93% of the bridge and VTrans owns only 7%, making NHDOT the lead agency. The Vilas Bridge is not scheduled for rehabilitation until 2015.

Looking to Walpole, NH.

View to the center of the bridge.

Closer view of the open spandrel arch.

So intimidating.

My love for concrete bridges is well documented, but I had never seen the Vilas Bridge before. How sad to only visit it when it’s long closed and deteriorating. Check out the features of this bridge:

The curved concrete rail.

Bridge plaques, probably with the date, have since been removed.

Cast urn balustrade.

The Vilas Bridge and the adjacent stone arch railroad bridge appear to meet each other in New Hampshire.

I cannot find much written about the Vilas Bridge, but it is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. News articles here and there question the timeline for rehabilitation and wonder about the fate of the bridge. Hopefully it will be rehabilitated before the deterioration becomes so great that the cost of rehabilitation is not feasible and prudent. Do you live in New Hampshire? Contact your NHDOT to ask questions about the bridge and urge the rehabilitation.

Vilas Bridge under construction. Image courtesy of UVM Landscape Change. Click for source and details.

Losing another spectacular bridge in Bellows Falls and Walpole would be a crying shame. The first bridge lost was a three-pinned steel through arch. It was closed in 1971 and dismantled in 1982. Now in its place sits a 4 span steel girder (i.e. boring highway bridge) in its place. The HAER documentation states that its significance was:

When built, the bridge was the longest single span highway bridge in the U.S. and is was among the largest three-hinged arch bridges in the world. The structure has also played an important role in socio-economic development of the Bellows Falls and North Walpole.

Bellows Falls Arch Bridge. Image credit: HAER. Click for source.

Moral of the story? Love your bridges. Save your bridges.


6 thoughts on “Vilas Bridge

  1. Will Truax says:

    Hi Kaitlin –

    I also recently visited the Vilas, while working there in Rockingham. It is an amazing span in an amazing spot.

    My visit was sparked by it and the spot itself, former home to wooden bridges which have been the subject of recent research for me. And also home to the Nation’s first long-span and famous bridge…

    The plaques are still in place on the Walpole end, and I find myself penning an entry about one of those.

    Good stuff as always –

    — Will

  2. Susan Hammond says:

    Thanks Kaitln for a great piece on the Vilas Bridge. My grandfather worked on this bridge in 1930 as a laborer pouring concrete. As a member of the Select Board in Rockingham we have been pushing to get this bridge renovated as it’s continued closing greatly impacts our community. Unfortunately we continue to hit the wall with the State of NH. Vermont offered to cover 100% of the cost in the short-term if NH would reimburse VT over time by picking up VT share of the cost of repairs on other CT River bridges in the future. But NH refused. We keep trying all angles because as you state if the repairs are delayed much longer there may not be much left to save and/or the cost will be too high. – Susan

  3. Deborah Wright says:

    Kaitlin, Here is a letter I received from the ACHP on the VIlas Bridge, after I wrote a letter in April 2016.
    June 7, 2016

    Mr. Patrick A. Bauer Division Administrator
    Federal Highway Administration 53 Pleasant Street, Suite 2200
    Concord, NH 03301

    Ref: Proposed Replacement of the Kelleyville Bridge over the Sugar River Newport, New Hampshire

    Dear Mr. Bauer:

    The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has recently been copied on a string of correspondence regarding the status of the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) compliance with the terms of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for replacement of the Kelleyville Bridge over the Sugar River in Newport, NH. The MOA was executed in 1994 among the New Hampshire Division of FHWA, the New Hampshire State Historic Preservation Officer, and the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) to address the loss of one of only two open spandrel concrete arch bridges in New Hampshire. The signatory parties to the MOA agreed that appropriate mitigation for the loss of the Newport bridge included a commitment toward the long-term maintenance of the Vilas Bridge, now the last remaining bridge of its type in the state.

    It is unclear whether NHDOT ever developed or carried out a plan for long-term maintenance of the Vilas Bridge pursuant to the provisions of the MOA. Since the bridge was closed to traffic in 2009, its current condition is not consistent with the commitment the NHDOT made to maintain the bridge. We remind you that the MOA represents a binding commitment on the parties involved , and it is expected that its terms would be carried out within a reasonable timeframe.

    Accordingly, we are seeking your assistance, as the agency official responsible for compliance with Section 106, in determining the status of NHDOT’s compliance with Stipulation illof the MOA “…to work toward the long-term maintenance of the Vilas Bridge with in kind construction funded in accordance with the State’s Ten Year Highway Program.” We would like to be apprised of the current status of the bridge, as well as a plan of action for its maintenance that would fulfill the stipulation in the MOA. Absent a reasonable and good faith effort to implement its original provisions, the existing MOA would need to be re-visited and consultation re-established among the parties to identify alternative mitigation measures for the loss of the Kelleyville Bridge and consider amendments to the agreement.
    Continuation of the current situation is tantamount to demolition by neglect and is not consistent with the agreed upon measures stipulated in the MOA.

    401 F Street NW, Suite 308 • Washington, DC 20001-2637
    Phone: 202-5 17-0200 • Fax: 202-517-6381 • achp@achp.gov


    We appreciate your assistance in this matter and look forward to your reply. Ifyou have any questions or require further assistance, please contact MaryAnn Naber at 202-517-0218 or

    i . Qn
    -&: : win Vaughn, AICP
    Assistant Director
    Federal Permitting, Licensing, and Assistance Office of Federal Agency Programs

    looks like the end messed up a bit, I could not send as attachment here.

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