Road Trip: Go West – Claremont to Grantham and Lebanon
From Exit 13 off I-89 at Grantham head south on Route 10 through Croydon. To the right is Croydon Peak and the vast Corbin Park, a private hunting preserve. Covered bridge collectors should once again take the right turn to the Corbin Bridge, which was destroyed in a fire and has since been rebuilt.
South of Newport’s fine old brick downtown commercial center, turn right onto Route 11 to Kelleyville, and take a left onto Sugar River Drive. The road parallels the short Sugar River – it flows only from Lake Sunapee to the Connecticut River. Crossing it, less than a mile apart, are two rare covered railway bridges. Fewer than a dozen remain today of the more than 100 covered bridges that once carried trains through the Northeast, and these two are part of a 9.7-mile multipurpose trail that you can access from either bridge.
The first, Chandler Station Bridge, is nearly twice the length of the other, at 228 feet, the length needed to carry the train diagonally across the river. The second, the 1905 Wright Bridge, is the older, built a year before the Chandler bridge.
Sugar River Drive leads onto Chestnut St. in Claremont, where Thyme & Ewe Farm is worth a stop to meet the animals, tour the organic gardens and shop for herbal and other crafts in the farm store. Kids will be enchanted by the Story Book Trail, where they can meet favorite characters in their homes in the forest. Herbal Luncheons are offered every Saturday in July at noon and at 2 p.m. Reservations are required.
A left on South Street and a right on Broad takes you into the historic industrial center of Claremont, whose original brick mill buildings line the river. This complex is now a historic district. Leave the square on Sullivan Street, opposite the elegant Opera House. At 99 Sullivan Street look for the onion-shaped dome of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church. Ancestors of Claremont’s Russian population came to work in the mills.
Sophie & Zeke’s at 50 Pleasant St. in downtown Claremont makes a good lunch stop.
A right on Union Street takes you to Route 12/103. Go left, and about 3 miles from the center of Claremont is West Claremont. Take the left turn just after the bridge (this is where the original mills stood) and bear right at the next fork to find two of New Hampshire’s most historic churches. The state’s oldest Episcopal church building and the first Roman Catholic church in the state sit facing one another, surrounded by Claremont’s oldest cemetery. The town moved upstream to the falls and a better source of water power that provided enough head for Claremont’s several large mills.
Return to Claremont on Route 103 and turn left just past the main square, crossing the river and going left again on Route 120. Go left about 6 miles north of Claremont to Cornish City and Cornish Mills to find two covered bridges crossing Mill Brook. The Blacksmith Shop Bridge on Town House Road was built in 1881 and used by a single family. Dingleton Hill Bridge, on Root Hill Road, was built the following year, and is protected from high vehicles by cross beams at either end (called tell-tales).
Backtrack to Route 120 and continue north through Cornish to Meriden, home of Kimball Union Academy. Another side trip to the left on Main Street leads, in less than a mile, to Colby Hill Road and Meriden Bridge, over Blood Brook. It is much repaired, having been damaged by Hurricane Carol in 1954, and again in 1977, when its roof collapsed under snow. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Return to Route 120 and continue north to Lebanon, where you can rejoin Interstate 89.
Length of trip: About 58 miles