About This Location
The A. Frederick Oberlin Covered Bridge, nestled in the charming town of Hamden, Connecticut, stands as a beautiful testament to architectural innovation and the enduring spirit of history. This covered bridge, spanning a length of 72 feet across the tranquil Mill River, is a remarkable structure that harkens back to the early 1800s.
Built in 1980, the A. Frederick Oberlin Covered Bridge is a faithful replica of the original Ithiel Town bridge that was commissioned by none other than Eli Whitney himself. Eli Whitney, known for his contributions to the industrial world with the invention of the cotton gin, had a vision for his little industrial village that extended beyond ginning cotton. He recognized the importance of transportation and the need for reliable bridges.
The architectural firm of Noyes Vogt, responsible for the reconstruction of this historic bridge, took a unique approach in keeping with the Eli Whitney Museum's mission of educating children about invention and engineering. They engaged local youths to assist in rebuilding the bridge, adhering to Ithiel Town's groundbreaking truss design of 1820. This collaboration with young minds not only paid homage to the spirit of invention but also ensured that the knowledge of this historic design would be passed down to future generations.
Ithiel Town's bridge design, characterized by the lattice truss, was a revolutionary innovation. The lattice truss consisted of an uninterrupted series of closely spaced diagonal timbers, forming a web of overlapping triangles. This design effectively distributed stress to all members, rendering the bridge exceptionally strong and durable. It utilized ordinary pine or spruce planks for the diagonals and wooden connecting pins, or tree-nails, to fasten the members at their points of intersection. The lattice truss resembled a "garden trellis fence" but concealed a truss design of remarkable strength.
What set Town's design apart was not only its strength but also its affordability and ease of construction. Unlike previous bridges that required complex mortises and tendons, Town's lattice-truss design could be assembled by common carpenters without the need for custom fittings to piers or abutments. The lightweight timbers reduced the labor required for construction, making it an attractive choice for the expansion of the nation's transportation network.
The original bridge commissioned by Eli Whitney stood a distance north of its current location and fell victim to flooding around the turn of the 20th century. In 1979, students from Eli Whitney Vocational-Technical High School embarked on the admirable endeavor of reconstructing this historic bridge. Though the bridge is built atop abutments from an earlier factory bridge, Ithiel Town's ingenious design would have been robust enough to span the river even without additional supports.
Today, visitors can experience the charm and historical significance of the A. Frederick Oberlin Covered Bridge. Parking is conveniently available just steps from the western entrance of the bridge, adjacent to the Eli Whitney Museum & Workshop. The bridge serves as a living testament to the legacy of Eli Whitney, the ingenuity of Ithiel Town, and the collaborative spirit of the local community in preserving history for future generations.