In the spring of 1952 The Advertiser published its annual apple blossom issue with a photograph of a covered bridge on its cover. The caption on the photograph read: “The old covered bridge at Avonport, 1876 – 1952.”
Condemned for various reasons, the bridge had been torn down (or burned down) early in 1952 and replaced with a temporary Bailey bridge. According to the caption, the bridge had spanned the relatively narrow section of the Gaspereau River at Avonport for 76 years; which is a long lifetime for a structure built in a period when wood was the main component in bridges.
However, the covered bridge may have been around longer than 76 years. Before I get into this, it should be noted that the bridge is likely one of a kind, that is, it’s the only covered bridge ever built in Kings County. Local folklore says there was a covered bridge at one time on the Cornwallis River at Port Williams. And there’s a website on the covered bridges of Nova Scotia that says there was one at Port Williams. However, the webmaster of this site tells me this reference will be removed shortly, apparently because there are no valid records to back this up.
Getting back to the lifespan of the Avonport covered bridge, I’ve found several dates for when it was built. In his history of Avonport, Gordon Haliburton quotes a petition that was presented to the government in 1794 for replacement of the “lower bridge crossing the Salmon (Gaspereau) River” which had been carried away by ice and tide. The use of the word “replacement” establishes that the bridge existed before 1794. Haliburton goes on to say that the correct date for building the covered bridge is uncertain and “one source says 1869 and another says 1876.”
Another source, a handwritten history of Avonport (author unknown) is in the files of the Kings County Museum and it says the bridge was built in 1864. A long poem saluting the bridge and lamenting its demise was published in the Hants Journal circa 1953. The author, Harry Reid, estimates the bridge was built in 1874. Reid’s grandfather, Joshua, is believed to have been one of the designers of the bridge and had worked on it as a carpenter.
Apparently the only date that’s likely correct is one of the two Haliburton gives – 1869. In his book on place names of Nova Scotia, C. Bruce Fergusson clearly states that the bridge was constructed in 1869. Fergusson served as the assistant provincial archivist from 1946 to 1956 and as provincial archivist from 1956 to 1977, and as such would have access to valid historical records. From this we have to assume that the covered bridged was built the year Fergusson says it was.
The covered bridge at Avonport was one of at least 15 and perhaps as many as 20 that was built in Nova Scotia, of which there were five in the Annapolis Valley. A covered bridge once spanned the Avon River, connecting Falmouth and Windsor; built in 1836, the bridge was destroyed by fire in 1888. A second covered bridge on the Avon may have been located higher up the river at Windsor Forks.
There were three covered bridges on the Annapolis River, at Bridgetown, Lawrencetown and Brickton. Most of these covered bridge lasted well simply because they were covered. The covered bridge in Kennetcook (the last one in the province) stood for nearly a century until about 1960. The reason bridges were covered was the protection they offered from the elements. This was the main purpose for building them – and the fact that horses often balked at crossing open bridges was a good reason as well.
Today, only people of the senior generations recall Avonport’s covered bridge, and few living today can say they crossed it. If you drove across this bridge, as I did many times, you probably remember the tricky turn at the entrance on the Avonport side. The author of Blomidon Rose saluted this approach to the bridge, Esther Clark Wright calling it an “inconvenient and dangerous angle” that wasn’t corrected when the Bailey bridge went up.