Road Trip: Keene Color
The Bridges of Cheshire County provide a good excuse for a drive along some colorful tree-lined roads, spotting the six covered bridges that cross the Ashuelot River in the southwest corner of the state.
Leave Keene on Winchester Street (Route 10), perhaps stopping for a lunch of crispy-tender fried clams at Ocean Harvest at 433 Winchester St. Not far past Ocean Harvest, turn left onto tree-arched Matthews Road. (If you have your bicycle with you, you can follow this same route on the almost parallel bike path.)
At the end of Matthews Road, drive through Cresson Bridge. There is a handy place to park beside the river to the left, a good idea, since the best view of the bridge is from the other end. Look back and you can frame the well-kept red barn and flamboyant maple tree framed by the bridge. This parking spot accesses a put-in on the Ashuelot River for kayaks and canoes.
Turn left at the end of the road to head south on Route 32. A left on Carleton Road leads through Carleton Bridge. Reconstructed from original timbers in 1997, the bridge is thought to date from the 1790s, one of the state’s oldest.
Return to Route 32 and continue south (left), following Swanzey Lake Road to the right, through farmlands with weathered barns. When it ends, turn right into West Swanzey, where a left on Main Street leads through Thompson Bridge, built in 1832 in the town lattice style. It is unusual for the covered sidewalk along its south side.
Straight ahead is Route 10, where you turn left. Two covered bridges lie just off the road to the south. The first is on Westport Village Road, which forks to the left. An arsonist destroyed the original 1862 Slate Bridge in 1993, but local residents raised money to reconstruct it on its original abutments.
That road rejoins Route 10, and just south is Coombs Bridge Road and (not surprisingly) Coombs Bridge. This 1837 bridge stands on a base entirely of dry stone construction.
To find one more, continue on Route 10 into Winchester, first stopping at the Swanzey Historical Museum on the left with collections and exhibits on local history.
A right on Route 119 leads along the river into the village of Ashuelot. Here the longer, more elaborate Village Bridge crosses. It was built in the “town lattice truss” style in 1864.
As you enter each bridge, think about horse-and-buggy days, when young men trained their teams to linger in the dim interiors if they had the right female company on board. Oldtimers still occasionally refer to them as “kissing bridges.”
Although there are no more covered bridges in the neighborhood, if you follow Route 119 into Hinsdale, you can choose a scenic route back into Keene. But before turning right onto Route 63, stop to admire the fine brick Town Hall at the corner. Next to it is the Oldest Post Office in the United States.
Route 63 takes the high route along a ridge and through Chesterfield, with its attractive cluster of brick, stone and clapboard buildings. When it crosses Route 9, turn right, past Spofford Lake and stop to explore Chesterfield Gorge, a deep crack in sloping layers of bedrock, gradually worn deeper and wider by rushing little Wilde Brook, until it formed the gorge. A detour to the left on Chesterfield Road, passes Stonewall Farm, a farm education center with barns to visit, a farmstand and ice cream.
Length of trip: About 40 miles