Railroad covered bridges

Local History by Ron Patch. Ron Patch is a Chester native, Chester Historical Society president, and a lifelong antiques dealer. He can be reached at 802-374-0119 or email knotz69@gmail.com.

Below are three entries from the Yo-Semite Firehouse ledger belonging to the Chester Historical Society.

Tom Hildreth was helpful ferreting out information for this article. Tom reached out to the Rutland Railroad Historical Society for information. Tom learned very few photos exist of these covered railroad bridges. These covered bridges were sometimes set ablaze by embers from the smokestacks of the steam engines.

If you use Yosemite Firehouse as your starting point, you should be able to follow along.

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Gassetts railroad bridge. Photo provided by Dave Hutchinson and Rutland Railroad Historical Society

  Chester Depot Vt. July 22, 1889

  “There was an alarm of fire sounded at about 12-40 am that the railroad bridge, first one south or east of RR Station. The engine was rapidly taken there and a stream of water was soon playing upon the burning roof + the flames were stayed so that only a small portion of the roof at the south or east end injured, after putting out the fire, Engine was taken back to the Engine House, roll called and the company dismissed.

  “Attest P.H. Robbins”

This bridge was located just south of the intersection of Elm Street and Route 11. Today, it is a steel bridge built in the early 1900s. This covered bridge continued in use until it was replaced with the steel bridge we have today.

Chester Depot, Vt. May 9, 1891

“At one PM word was received that the Railroad Bridge No, 101 3 1/4 miles north was on fire and at the request of the RR Co Yo-Semite Engine Co and 30 men went to the bridge by teams arriving there in 45 minutes but too late to save the Bridge. Two lines of hose were laid and the fire which had spread to the brush that was put out. The Company remained until the wood work of the Bridge was consumed and then played upon the ruins cooling off the ironwork to allow the RR men to commence work upon the trestle. Returned to the Engine House at 5-20 PM. The clerk was not at this fire but learn these facts by foreman H.R. Barney.

  “Attest P.H. Robbins Clerk”

This is the steel bridge today just south of Gassetts. With this bridge lost, freight and passengers would have been forced to take alternate routes. I imagine this bridge was quickly replaced with another wooden bridge. In the early 1900s, this new wooden bridge was replaced with the steel bridge we have today.

A lot is known about H.R. Barney. He answered to “Hub” Barney. Hub was station agent at Chester Depot train station.

As station agent he prospered. It is known that Hub took advantage of his position. When a Boston firm ordered a carload of apples for a set figure, say $1,000, Hub put out the word to Chester farmers he needed apples. Hub bought the apples below what the Boston firm paid. He collected his $1,000 and paid the farmers their rate, pocketing the difference.

At the same time, the railroad paid him as station agent. So Hub was double dipping. I have a collection of Hub’s waybills. He did alright for himself.

Hub was a mason and proprietor of the Central Hotel. The Central Hotel burned to the ground on June 5, 1888. It was a beautiful hotel located where the Fullerton Hotel is today. Below from the Yosemite ledger is a report of the Central Hotel fire.

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Shoreham railroad bridge is similar to Chester bridges in style. Photo by Tom Hildreth

  Central Hotel Fire

  “Tuesday AM June 5, 1888 the Central Hotel, Pierce’s Drug Store + the old Fullerton store were burned and the Engine Co rendered great service, no doubt they saved H.D. Fletcher’s buildings, Dr Mather’s house the small house below it. P.H. Robbins”

The School Street Fire Department was the first to arrive on the scene. Both departments fought this fire together. Directly in front of the hotel on the green was a large stonewalled well. The town filled this well in a few years ago. It would have been the water supply for this fire.

The photo with this article is a Gassetts covered railroad bridge. Dave Hutchinson of the Rutland Railroad Historical Society supplied Tom with the photo.

The above history will be included in our upcoming book, “History of Chester’s Fire Departments” to be released next spring.

Note, when I say the steel bridges were built in the early 1900s, it is possible one or more were lost in later floods and replaced again.

  This week’s old saying is a question. Do you remember the “Center of the Universe” signpost in Cavendish?

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