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New covered bridge is fifth at site over Nashua River

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PEPPERELL — The grand reopening celebration for the new Pepperell covered bridge, the fifth at that location, is set to take place on Saturday, Sept. 4, at 10 a.m., and it seems like everyone in town will be involved in the occasion.

Celebration highlights will include:

* A re-enactment of Mrs. David Wright’s Guard. Local women will join a professional group of re-enactors to perform the heroic arrest made by a brigade of women, led by Prudence Wright in the dawn of the American Revolution. While their men were away fighting in Lexington, Concord and Breeds Hill, Prudence Wright organized a group of women to guard their town. Dressed in their husbands’ clothing, the women were standing guard at the bridge one night when a group of horsemen approached the bridge. Disobeying the order to halt, the riders turned to flee, but the women grabbed their horses, and the men were then ordered to dismount. Found were dispatches from the British field forces to the British general in Boston, and the men were taken into custody.

* The Nashoba Valley Chorale will perform patriotic songs.

* An antique car and tractor parade.

After the formal celebration, participants can enjoy pony rides at River’s Edge Horse Farm; a local arts and crafts show at the Covered Bridge Country Store; a farmers market, and an auction. Vendors will feature fresh food from local farmers prepared by local food vendors and live entertainment by local bands and musicians sponsored by the Pepperell Music Center. There also will be a second re-enactment at Town Field followed by saber drills.

Diane Cronin, who is the chairman of the Covered Bridge Committee, said that special seating will be available for senior citizens who will also get complimentary water. EMTs will be on hand to care for the crowd. The new Pepperell covered bridge is the fifth bridge to span the Nashua River near the Groton Street location since Colonial times.

The first bridge, built around 1742, was known as the cart bridge at Joseph Blood’s Fordway, and was not covered.

Historical records mention that the bridge was repaired in 1753, with Pepperell paying for the northern half of the bridge, and Groton for the southern half, with the line of demarcation at the center of the Nashua River. The towns’ responsibilities were further codified in an agreement that was dated Sept. 16, 1754, which stipulated that Pepperell would be responsible for maintaining the cart bridge at Joseph Blood’s Fordway, and Groton would be responsible to maintain another cart bridge at the “stony wading-place.”

On March 3, 1818, Jewett’s bridge — as it had come to be known — was destroyed by spring floods.

The bridge was rebuilt in 1847 from chestnut pegs and timbers salvaged from other bridges in the area. The 147-footlong bridge with a carrying capacity of 10 tons succumbed to age and was closed on July 6, 1958.

The Chester H. Walterous Bridge was dedicated on Nov. 4, 1963. This new covered bridge had a 20-ton carrying capacity, was 184 feet long and had two 8-foot walkways. Its price tag: $233,000. It was closed to traffic in April of 2008 and its demolition began in July of the same year.

The new Pepperell covered bridge is constructed to carry around 25 tons. It is 95 feet long and 47 feet wide, and cost approximately $7.8 million to build.