The first covered bridge in the United States was built in 1805 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the picturesque structures grew in popularity during the 19th century when more than 1,500 were constructed across the country.
Here in Windham, we have a covered bridge of our own. Babb’s Bridge has been an historic landmark in town for hundreds of years and is one of only nine such structures that remains in the state. In the 19th century, Maine had over 150 covered bridges. They gained widespread acceptance at the time because they were a practical alternative to open wooden bridges that often had short life spans of about 15-20 years. By covering the bridges, their timbers were protected from the elements and would last longer than their uncovered counterparts.
Exactly when the first Babb’s Bridge was built is debatable. Some say it was erected in 1843 right after an earlier open bridge was lost in a devastating flood. Other accounts suggest it went up in 1864. What we do know is that it was of single-span Queen Post Truss design with a covered gabled roof and sides and walls that were finished in vertical board siding. It was probably named for Charles E. Babb ,who owned property in the area at the time.
Back then, covered bridges were used for more than just transportation. Windham Historical Society member Walter Lunt has done extensive research on the subject and says they sometimes served as the site of church picnics, weddings and other social functions. Traveling circuses, plays and minstrel shows would often promote upcoming performances in town with posters on the walls of covered bridges. Likewise, local merchants would sometimes use them to advertise their wares. Also known as “kissing bridges,” it seems many a romance may have begun with a hidden kiss on Babb’s Bridge.
Unfortunately, on May 7, 1973, the original Babb’s Bridge was lost in an arson fire. An inexpensive metal bridge took its place until 1976 when the current bridge, an exact replica of the original, was constructed. This was accomplished in large part due to the joint efforts of the Windham and Gorham historical societies and a number of dedicated volunteers who helped raise awareness and thousands of dollars towards the project. The bridge was dedicated with great hoopla on our Nation’s Bicentennial of July 4, 1976, to the sounds of fifes and drums played by Windham’s own Revolutionary War reenactors, the New Marblehead Militia.
By 2014, the bridge had fallen into disrepair, was laden with graffiti and again fell into the hands of scoundrels. People had cut holes into its roof and sides to make it easier for swimmers to jump off the bridge and into the river. Then in 2015, to add insult to injury, it had to be closed down due to damage caused by a snow plow. Many people in Windham were concerned about the fate of their beloved bridge.
Talks began with the Maine Department of Transportation, and at the urging of the towns of Windham and Gorham, a near total makeover of the bridge was commissioned in the fall of 2016 at a cost of $160,000. To ensure that the bridge remains in its current condition, a group has been formed called the Friends of Babb’s Bridge. Spearheaded by Windham resident Gary Plummer, the group’s mission is to provide increased security and vigilance in watching for signs of mischief around the bridge.
Babb’s Bridge is located on Covered Bridge Road, off River Road in Windham. If you’ve never been there, it really is worth a look. It’s in a beautiful, peaceful spot, and now brought back to its original glory, Babb’s Bridge is a true piece of history and a real town treasure.
Haley Pal is a Windham resident and an active member of the Windham Historical Society.
Babb’s Bridge is a favorite Windham landmark.