A Vermont Floating Bridge Spans Generations, Connects a Community
July 14, 2016
The famous Vermont floating bridge is making a buoyant comeback in Brookfield.
Since reopening to vehicular traffic in May 2015—after being closed since 2008—the Floating Bridge is attracting visitors from near and far. The bridge, first built in 1820, spans 321-feet across scenic Sunset Lake.
The newest bridge is the eighth version of the original floating bridge that was built after a resident fell through the ice and drowned crossing the lake in 1813. In response to that tragedy more than 200 years ago, townspeople decided it was time to finally build a bridge across the lake and pitched in for the cost of materials and labor. The bridge’s first incarnation was no more than logs bound together on top of the ice. When the ice melted, the logs floated, and the first Brookfield Floating Bridge was born.
Over the past two centuries, the bridge has been the focal point of this small community in Orange County. Sunset Lake, which is 200 feet in some places, is too deep for traditional bridge pillars or pilings. The Brookfield Floating Bridge is one of only three floating bridges in the United States and the only one east of the Mississippi.
“Reopening the bridge really put Brookfield back in the public eye,” says Perry Kacik, a member of the Brookfield Historical Society who helped organize last year’s celebration of the bridge’s reopening. “We’re getting a lot of people visiting the town this summer. We have a population of 1,200, and 2,000 people came out for last year’s celebration. Everyone around here has a story about the bridge.”
Rebuilding the Only Floating Bridge in Vermont
The bridge, which is part of Vermont Route 65, closed when thin Styrofoam-filled plastic barrel pontoons were leaking and the bridge was sinking. The newest bridge is expected to last 100 years, and only the timber will need replacing in 30 to 40 years. The new bridge is also the world’s first fiber-reinforced composite floating bridge with a timber deck and railings that conceal pontoon rafts connected underneath.
Brookfield, located 17 miles south of Montpelier, is home to New Yorker cartoonist Ed Koren and sculptor Jim Sardonis, who created the well-known whale tails sculpture near Interstate 89 in South Burlington (it was originally in Randolph and later moved). Sardonis also made the hippopotamus sculpture at the eastern end of the Brookfield Floating Bridge in Hippo Park.
The bridge and the town’s historic village, known as Pond Village, are part of the National Register of Historic Places. When visiting, you can swim or fish in the lake, or stroll across the bridge.
While the bridge will close to traffic from November to April, it is open to pedestrians year-round. If you don’t make it to Brookfield this summer or fall, all is not lost. On the last Saturday in January, the town hosts the annual Brookfield Ice Harvest & Winter Carnival on Sunset Lake.
**If You Go: From Interstate 89, take Exit 5 to Route 64 east and take a right onto Stone Road south to Brookfield village and Sunset Lake.