The naysayers said it couldn’t be done, that it shouldn’t be done, that it was irreplaceable and so had no value.
But Friday, the Town of Blenheim put all of that to rest when it cut the ribbon on 2018’s version of the 160-year-old Blenheim Bridge.
About 50 people turned out to mark the event; their celebration was captured on film by Windfall Films UK, which has been documenting the rebuilding of the bridge for a PBS “Nova” segment.
FEMA originally said no to replacing the longest single-span covered bridge in the country—a cornerstone to the town’s plans for flood recovery—but finally relented, footing the entire $5.8 million cost of the project.
Bill Cherry, the Schoharie County Flood Recovery coordinator, was one of those interviewed by filmmaker Joby Lubman Friday.
Later, Mr. Cherry spoke inside the bridge in front of an excited crowd before lifelong resident and former supervisor Gail Shaffer cut the ribbon with the help of some of the town’s youngest residents.
“FEMA told us ‘Never in a million years’,” Mr. Cherry said. “That the bridge could never be replaced and so it had no value. But we were tenacious. Through sheer strength of will, here we are today.”
Both Missy Graham and Anne Mattice-Strauch grew up in Blenheim and both were there Friday with their families.
They’d watched as the bridge went up and was slowly moved into place, Ms. Mattice-Strauch, a Blenheim councilman said, but none of them had stepped foot on it until Friday, when Mr. Lubman gave them a sneak-peek and filmed their reaction.
“It’s a new beginning and it feels healing,” Ms. Mattice-Strauch said. “I think it will inspire people to keep working, to make Blenheim a better place, even when things look their bleakest.”
Ms. Graham wiped away tears as she talked, her kids and Ms. Mattice-Strauch’s racing from one end of the bridge to the other.
“It’s so amazing to finally be in here,” she said. “It feels a little like a miracle. And it looks just like the old bridge.
“I came here a lot with my grandmother. I hope someday I’ll be here with my grandchildren.”
While Mr. Lubman was conducting his final interviews—the documentary will air in October—the Blenheim Schoolhouse slowly filled up with neighbors and well-wishers.
Then, en mass and under umbrellas, they crossed the road and then, the bridge’s threshold, with cameras and wide smiles.
“This is amazing,” Ms. Shaffer said. “It’s so bright…This is such an important moment…”
It will be another couple of months before paving and landscaping is done at the site; the bridge remains closed to visitors for now.
Speaking to the film-makers before the ribbon-cutting, Mr. Cherry called the bridge, rebuilt using its original blueprints from the Old Stone Fort, an amazing piece of craftsmanship.
“Is this closure? Maybe not yet. But it’s certainly a giant step in the right direction—especially for the southern end of the county.”
Speaking afterwards, Blenheim Supervisor Don Airey called the bridge a “testament to the spirit of recovery in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity” made possible by people who “persevered and made an impossible dream a beautiful reality.”
“The new Blenheim Bridge will be a monument to the region’s future,” he said, “a jewel that’s now in the hands of the next generation…Never give up and never accept defeat.”