Built in 1855, washed away in 2011, rebuilt in 2018, and dedicated Saturday with music, speeches, and reminiscing, Schoharie County has welcomed back its most famous landmark:
The much-loved Blenheim Bridge.
The celebration closed out a chapter that began with the unimaginable devastation of Hurricane Irene and Supervisor Don Airey spoke for everyone in the crowd when he paused in his remarks to take a look at the 232-foot long behind him.
“I just have to do this…” he said. “Holy crap! It’s here.”
Mr. Airey traced the often-exhausting and arduous seven-year effort to rebuild the bridge, the heart and soul of the tiny community, and Recovery Coordinator Bill Cherry, who fought FEMA to fund it—and won—filled in the gaps.
“Everyone here knows what a terrible day that was,” Mr. Airey said. “What we have here today, I feel like this is the last piece…I’m confident it’s going to be a real driver for tourism and a gateway to Schoharie County.”
It’s also a gateway to the future, he said, with a nod to signatures already inscribed on the rebuilt bridge.
“There’s been some Sharpie work,” he said to laughter, “but that just adds to the bridge’s character. The old bridge was our bridge. This bridge is for the next generation. This is the bridge that we’ll leave to the future.”
Mr. Airey was first chair of Blenheim’s Longterm Recovery Committee, a hat he’s passed to native Gail Shaffer, who organized Saturday’s dedication and served as emcee.
“I cannot say enough about all of the people who came together for this…all of the memories,” Ms. Shaffer said. “It’s a truly wonderful day.”
A color guard led by Middleburgh’s American Legion Lost #248 was followed by music by bagpiper Alex Bartholomew, another Blenheim native, and the National Anthem, “America the Beautiful,” and “God Bless America,” by Gilboa-Conesville Central School soloist Abigail Tompkins and the G-C Select Choir.
Mr. Cherry reminded the crowd of more than 250 people—many of them covered bridge fans from across the Northeast—of the $100 million in losses suffered countywide from Irene and recounted his battle to rebuild both the county and the bridge.
“It’s difficult to find a silver lining, but if there is one, it’s this,” he said. “This is the project I’m most proud of.”
Supervisors’ chairman and Esperance Supervisor Earl VanWormer echoed those words.
“Even when the odds were so much against us, we, you, never gave up,” he said. “The silver lining is the people of Schoharie County.”
Alf Strom-Olsen, the great-great-grandson of the bridge’s builder, Nichols Powers, shared family stories; and Fanchon Dwell Cornell, Blenheim’s oldest resident and former town historian, shared her own thoughts.
“This magnificent replica of Blenheim’s beloved bridge [the longest single span covered bridge in the world], built in 1855, stands as a monument to the genius of Nichols Montgomery Powers, noted bridge builder from Vermont and Grandpa Nick to some of his…descendants here today,” she said.