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The Return of the Eustis Bridge

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--October 19, 2011.

larger_bridge.a.jpgOver the last three weeks, a piece of history has been restored to its rightful place on the Massawippi River. Work on the old Eustis covered bridge, which spans the river at a picturesque spot on Paquette Road, west of Waterville, has been ongoing since June.

At that time, the century-old bridge, which had been closed to traffic for over two years, was hoisted off of its abutments, dismantled, and transported in pieces to an off-site location for a complete overhaul.

larger_bridge.1.jpgHamlet Heavy Timberwork of Rigaud was sub-contracted by general contractor Chagnon Enterprises to undertake the specialized timber framing job. The total bill, involving investments from the Ministry of Transport and local municipalities, was reportedly in the half-million dollar range.

Now the bridge is being put back to where it belongs. With the exception of the original “ship’s knee” corner braces and some of the rafters, however, most of the bridge’s truss work has been replaced with new timber.

According to one employee this week, the trusses had to be replaced because of a previous, poorly executed repair job some years ago – “an experiment,” he said, which involved “cutting sections of the trusses, rendering them ineffective.”

Now, the employee explained, the trusses have been returned to their actual load-bearing role, and the proper camber (arch) restored to the all-important lower chords of the structure.

larger_bridge.2.jpgThe construction, or rather the reconstruction, of a covered bridge is not the common sight that it once was. Work is ongoing this week, and a fascinating thing it is to see.

The Eustis Bridge, which was built back in 1908, is one of only three remaining covered bridges in Quebec that feature a construction type known as the multiple kingpost truss. The other two examples are both located in the Eastern Townships. One, the Drouin Bridge, spans the Coaticook River near Compton; the other, the McDermott Bridge, spans the North Eaton River near Eaton Corner. Both of these bridges date to 1886.

larger_eustis.jpgThere are, as well, over a dozen other covered bridges in the Townships, including examples in Fitch Bay, Potton, Gould, Valcourt and Stanbridge. In all, there are just under one hundred of these structures left in Quebec. Yet, these numbers pale in comparison to the thousand or more covered bridges that existed in the province at the time the Eustis Bridge was built at the turn of the last century.

The Eustis Bridge takes its name from a once-thriving copper mining village of the same name, a community that a century ago boasted a large mining complex, dozens of company houses, a general store, a church, a train station, and even a baseball team. Today, few traces of the village remain, apart from copper slag, the occasional house, and, of course, the covered bridge. Today, Eustis is virtually a ghost town.