Aid flows to save bridge

MILFORD – A teddy bear is missing from the Historical Society’s Carey House, and all that can be found of it is a picture of the stuffed bear taken at the Swing Bridge that says "Help!" and "Save the Swing Bridge."

The photo can be found on the society’s Facebook page. It’s part of a creative fundraising campaign for the deteriorating pedestrian bridge. A ransom note asks each resident to help get the bear back by sending a check for $50.

No one expects every resident to donate $50, of course, but society President David Palance hopes that many people will donate something. A lot of donations, even if they are small, would demonstrate community interest in the project as the society applies for grants.

The Swing Bridge, built in 1889 and refurbished in 1975, needs full restoration, and the work could cost as much as $500,000 dollars.

"We are stirring the pot," said Palance.

An effort by the town to get on the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s Seven to Save list failed last summer, but Palance said he would apply for a grant from the state’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, which provides money for natural and cultural resources.

The bridge is a unique resource, he said. When the town applied to Seven to Save, it couldn’t point to fundraising, but soon it will be able to.

The Historical Society is taking a bigger role in the preservation efforts, and the neighborhood watch group on the east end of the bridge is gathering comments to support grant applications.

The 200-foot bridge spanning the Souhegan River joins Bridge and Souhegan streets. It is made of towering uprights nearly three stories high that support a wooden walkway hanging from cables.

The original wooden bridge on the site was built in 1850 to help mill workers get to nearby textile and furniture mills. It’s called the Swing Bridge because the first bridge at the site swayed.

This year the engineering firm of Hoyle, Tanner and Associates classified the decking and support towers as fair. The rest of it – the superstructure and the substructure – is considered poor based on federal highway standards.

Without restoration, the bridge may eventually have to be closed.

"Left in its current condition, without any repairs and under existing light duty, it is estimated that in the next five or 10 years, the bridge may require closure," according to the engineer’s report, which shows photos of severed wires, bent trusses and other problems.

It recommend an annual maintenance plan, but said that isn’t enough to prevent further deterioration. The town’s ongoing maintenance, such as replacing deck boards and replacing stringers "does not arrest decay."

If the bridge is saved, "It would continue to provide a safe transportation corridor for all trail uses through the congested downtown and encourage regular healthy exercise and recreation," according to the firm’s report.

The Seven to Save program picks seven endangered historic properties to spotlight each year. Among the choices this year were Rye Town Hall and the former residence of three Catholic bishops in Manchester.