Future of historic John Goffe's Mill bridge uncertain
By CASSIDY SWANSON Union Leader Correspondent
The famous Wayfarer bridge was taken down on Monday. While a nonprofit group in Wentworth hopes to give it new life as a footbridge, it won't receive funding from NHDOT for the project. (Courtesy/Rick Sawyer)
BEDFORD — The John Goffe’s Mill bridge — a landmark that became famous through the Wayfarer Inn’s role in the New Hampshire primary — was taken down Monday as developers dismantle the hotel, but its future remains uncertain.
John Meade, a resident of Wentworth, along with a group called the Friends of Wentworth Parks and Recreation, was able to secure ownership of the bridge last month from Hooksett-based construction firm Procon, which is handling the Wayfarer project. The group plans to rehab the bridge and, hopefully, have it installed in Wentworth as a covered pedestrian bridge over the Baker River, in the area of Village Road.
Meade said that he and a group of fellow Wentworth residents had approached the New Hampshire Department of Transportation about the possibility of using government funds to install the Wayfarer bridge in town to replace an aging footbridge.
While NHDOT was initially on board with the plan, Meade said, the organization has since done a “total reversal.”
“That has put a substantial wrench in the works when it comes to funding,” Meade said. NHDOT instead wants to install a five-foot-wide wooden walkway, set on recycled steel I-beams and wooden railings. The NHDOT-suggested bridge does not have lighting or benches, according to a flier from Friends of Wentworth Parks and Recreation.
By comparison, the Wayfarer covered bridge is 11 feet wide. The Friends group says it would be able to install the bridge, which has a life expectancy of another 75 years, with private fundraising and $60,000 from NHDOT.
The existing bridge in Wentworth was built in 1909, and could be placed on the National Historic Register if it remains standing. The bridge needs an estimated $800,000 in repairs to be operational.
Realizing that the funds for repairing the bridge would be difficult to obtain, Meade said, the town decided it wanted a covered bridge in its place. The 1909 bridge will be removed by NHDOT by the end of the summer. Meade said the Friends would like to start the installation of the Wayfarer bridge immediately after.
“By getting the Wayfarer bridge, that was saving us $100,000 in trying to put a covered bridge together,” Meade said. The Friends group is paying to have the bridge transported from Bedford to Wentworth, and would maintain the bridge through private donations and at no cost to Wentworth taxpayers, he added.
Meade did say that NHDOT had never promised it would provide the funds needed to install the Wayfarer bridge, but had indicated that it could, and gave no reason why.
Meade said there are no federal funds available to install the Wayfarer bridge because it would be for pedestrian use only.
“(NHDOT) is willing to put back in place the quickest and cheapest (bridge) they can,” Meade said.
A flier being distributed by the Friends group states that NHDOT has $60,000 “set aside” for replacing the old bridge with a steel walkway. But Bill Cass, director of project development for NHDOT, said on Thursday that was not an accurate description.
“We don’t have funding, we have staff,” Cass said. “We have DOT bridge maintenance staff that could go and build a pedestrian bridge there.”
Cass said the Friends group had approached NHDOT about helping with the cost of a Wayfarer bridge project, but Cass said his organization was “very clear” that there was no funding available and that suggesting otherwise was “wishful thinking.”
“I don’t have money that I could transfer, instead of paying my staff, to give to essentially a third party,” he said.
Meade maintains that not all of the $60,000 for replacing the bridge would go to pay staff.
“You’re still going to have to spend the money (on materials). Don’t spend the money; transfer it,” Meade said, adding that his group would accept just the funds that would be used to build the bridge and get the rest of the funds through other means.
Regardless of what happens, Meade said, the Friends would have to raise the money privately for the project, even if it takes years.
“I will not allow the historic Wayfarer (bridge) to just rot in the field,” he said.