Hopkinton woman struggles to get iconic covered bridge painted

  • The covered railroad bridge is seen in Contoocook on Thursday, May 4, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The covered railroad bridge is seen in Contoocook on Thursday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/6/2017 10:11:01 PM

Few places symbolize the Contoocook Village District like the Railroad Bridge.

Built in 1889, the structure situated in the heart of the village is the oldest extant covered railroad bridge in the United States. The bridge has seen its share of wear – countless trains passed over it until 1962, a flood and hurricane battered it in 1936 and 1938, respectively, and it’s been moved off its foundations twice in its lifetime, according to the Contoocook River Way Association.

At various times, work has been done to keep the bridge structurally sound. But the paint job, tattered and sporting graffiti, has worn on residents who are now looking to spruce up the span.

Louise Carr is one of a handful of people in the state trying to fund a $50,000 paint job to restore the bridge to its former glory. She originally began the campaign in 2014 in an effort to get the bridge painted before Hopkinton’s 250th anniversary in May 2015. When that deadline passed, she hoped to have the bridge painted in time for the Hopkinton Fair later that year. When that date passed, she set her sights on getting the bridge ready for next year’s fair.

Carr is still hoping to get the bridge painted for this year’s fair, set to open Sept. 1. But after three years of trying to secure funding, she’s getting a little weary.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” she said by phone. “We have to get it a new coat of paint, otherwise it’ll start to rot.”

The problem, Carr said, is that the bridge is owned by the state, not by the town, and doesn’t qualify for money from typical grant-givers for historical structures, like the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program. About $10,000 has been secured for the project through the N.H. Conservation and Heritage License Plate Program (known as the “Moose Plate” grant), but Carr said she’s run out of places to turn, and was skeptical about the ability to raise the remaining $40,000.

“That’s not an amount of money you can pull together with a GoFundMe,” she said.

LCHIP rarely gives money to state-owned projects, but it has happened, according to LCHIP executive director Dijit Taylor. In the six years she’s worked at LCHIP, Taylor said the program has given funds to two state-owned bridge projects; but in both cases, the municipalities where the bridges were located had a maintenance agreement with the state.

Municipalities and nonprofits are the only entities eligible for LCHIP funding. Taylor said this is by design – state projects were excluded when the program was enacted in 2000 because there was concern the state would become too reliant on LCHIP’s money, instead of drawing from its traditional funding sources like the general fund.

There are other aspects to funding projects, Taylor said. For instance, the railroad bridge would have to be either eligible or on the state’s register of historical places, which it currently is not. There would also have to be a historical significance to the paint job.

But Taylor, who lives in Hopkinton, agrees the bridge could use some work. The next round of LCHIP applications opened up recently, and anyone interested in funding has until May 19 to submit an application. She encouraged Carr to give her a call.

Anyone interested in donating to the project can do so by contacting the Park Street Foundation, which Carr said is acting as the project’s fiscal agent, at 271-2397.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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