Swanzey Covered Bridges Half Marathon—A New Race Bridging Past and Present, and Highlighted by New Hampshire’s Natural Beauty
The Covered Bridges Half Marathon will run in Swanzey, New Hampshire, crossing four historic bridges. It is new, and it will be exciting. Bring family and friends to share the enjoyment--a tour of the Monadnock Region in the splendor of rural, historic New England.
Posted Wednesday, 24 August, 2005
New Races can generate excitement, and the Swanzey Covered Bridges Half Marathon is definitely one of those events. When new races are well planned and organized, they bring a surge of anticipation and creativity, and in this case--combining a beautiful course with four historic bridges--it could be a strong contender for “New Race of the Year”. The Swanzey Covered Bridges Half Marathon will run on Sunday, September 4, starting at 8:30 a.m. It is a unique race in just the right place, the Monadnock Region of Southwestern New Hampshire.
The 13.11-mile course will run entirely within the town limits of Swanzey, a counter-clockwise loop through several villages within the town. It traverses mostly rural byways and a section of a rail trail, crossing six bridges in all—four of them historic covered bridges that give the event its name. Although the Monadnock region is known for hills, this course is almost entirely flat. And it rolls through farms and forests, past historic homes and mills, crossing the beautiful Ashuelot River several times.
The course is well planned, and relaxingly scenic. Folks come from throughout the country to view these famous, picturesque bridges, and running through them will be a special thrill. And in spite of the rural ambiance and quiet byways, Swanzey is only 60 miles from Manchester, New Hampshire, and 95 miles from Boston. This event will be grand, convenient, and exceptionally enjoyable.
The Swanzey Covered Bridges Half Marathon is sponsored by Endurance MultiSport, 122 Key Road, Keene, New Hampshire, and directed by Elijah Barrett, an experienced endurance athlete. Check with them at (603) 357-3232, or e-mail Info@gotEndurance.com.
What a Course--Wow, Those Bridges
Yes, the course is special right from the gate. It begins in Center Swanzey on State Route 32, in front of the Town Hall and adjacent to the Monadnock Regional High School. Along side the town hall sits the Mount Caesar Union Library, an historic structure built in 1835. From 1835 to 1885 it was the Mount Caesar Seminary for Boys, a resident academy. The owner and headmaster, Mr. Carpenter, sold it to the Mount Caesar Trustees on condition that a community library be established within. It was, and it is.
Across the street is the Golden Rod Grange Hall, #114. And just beyond the start line is a large sign marking a unique facility, the Potash Bowl. The Potash Bowl is an outdoor entertainment center, a natural amphitheater, which seats hundreds and has room for hundreds more on the grassy slopes with lawn chairs and blankets. Performances there are highly regarded. It was, as the name implies, once a large potash works, producing thousands of tons of this commodity for New England and beyond.
Just after the start, runners will turn left on Eaton Road, run 4/10ths mile to a right turn on Sawyers Crossing Road. And only one mile into the course, the first covered bridge will appear. It is the Cresson Bridge, also called the Sawyer’s Crossing Bridge. It is the longest of the four at 158 feet, five inches, with two clear spans. It is one of the most photographed in New Hampshire, and sits just south of the confluence of the Ashuelot (from the north) and South Branch, which meanders from the southeast to northwest. This bridge is also on the Clarence DeMar Marathon course. The Cresson Bridge was rebuilt in 1859 at a cost of $1,735.64 just prior to the Civil War. It was originally built in 1771, prior to the Revolution.
Just 2/10ths beyond the bridge, runners will turn left or southwest on the rail trail. This enjoyable trail runs for 1.2 miles and includes a railroad bridge that re-crosses the Ashuelot, and carries runners to Railroad Street. After 3/10ths of a mile on Railroad Street, the field will turn right on Main Street in West Swanzey. There are several very interesting buildings on Main Street, including Whitcomb Hall and the Stratton Free Library. They will catch your eye, along with many historic homes. Shortly thereafter, the course crosses the Thompson Bridge, three miles into the race.
The Thompson Bridge is older than the first, originally built in 1832 at a cost of $523.27. It is 136 feet, 10 inches long with two clear spans. It is very unusual in that it had pedestrian walkways built on both sides. The upstream walkway was removed, but the downstream one remains.
Just beyond Thompson Bridge the course will make two quick left turns, first on Swanzey Street, and then on West Street. Then runners will then turn right on Winchester Street, a straight, flat road with an interesting mix of old mill buildings and residences. After running 7/10ths on Winchester, participants will merge onto State Route 10, turning left or south. There will be a 6/10 stint along Route 10 before turning left on Westport Road. On Westport Road, 4.9 miles into the race, runners will cross Slate Bridge.
Slate Bridge was named for a farmer who owned the adjacent fields along the river north of the crossing. As with the previous two bridges, it spans the Ashuelot River near the sites of several mills. It is 142 feet, three inches, but has one clear span of just over 123 feet. All three of these bridges are the “town lattice truss” design. Slate Bridge was originally built in 1842, replacing the previous bridge of 1800. However, the 1842 structure was destroyed by fire, and rebuilt.
Just beyond Slate Bridge, the course will turn left on Westport Village Road, and, at 5.8 miles, turn right on Swanzey Lake Road.
Swanzey Lake Road is a very scenic, quiet meandering rural road, with hay fields and forests. It is mostly flat and tree-lined, peaceful and pleasant. It is lined with Hemlock and White Pine, as well as Red Oak, Sugar Maple, Ash, Yellow Birch, White Birch. This wooded region provides habitat for a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. Roads such as Cram Hill, Rabbit Hill, and Honey Hill intersect at quiet corners. At 7.6 miles, runners will pass Swanzey Lake, a terrific town recreation location with picnic areas and a public beach.
At 9.6 miles the course will return to Route 32 for a brief half mile heading north. Runners then will turn right on Carleton Road, and at 10.4 miles, the course will cross Carlton Bridge.
Carlton Bridge is the smallest of the four, spanning the South Branch of the Ashuelot. But in several ways it is one of the most interesting. It is of the “queenpost” design, the only one in the region, and is just 67 feet, three inches long. Its trusses are similar to those of a barn. Barn builders originally constructed it in 1869, the year the transcontinental railroad was completed. It sees far less traffic than the other three. The Carlton Bridge is 10.4 miles into the race.
Just beyond Carlton Bridge (3/10ths), the course will turn left or north on Whitcomb Road, and at 12.4 runners will intersect Oliver Hill Road. A left on Oliver Hill will take participants back to Route 32, where they will turn south (left) at the post office for the last 4/10ths, a sprint to the high school and the finish. When runners cross the new bridge on Route 32, or Old Homestead Highway, they will have only 1/10 mile to go. The finish will be located in the parking lot adjacent to the high school.
Running this beautiful course with the spectacular scenery of the Monadnock Region and the quiet roads of Swanzey will be a real treat on Labor Day weekend.
Awards—and the Post Race Party
Simply running through these bridges seems reward enough for many, but other awards are plentiful. There are 12 age groups for women, and an equal number for men, including 19-and-under, 20-29, 30-39, and five-year increments from 40 to 80+. Prizes will be awarded three deep in each division, plus top three overall.
Runners will be rewarded with great food at the post race party, including a barbeque and old-fashioned corn roast.
“The best way to congratulate and award the finishers is to give them a wicked good post race party/barbeque,” said Race Director Barrett. “The Swanzey Fire Department will be cooking from 9:30 a.m. until everyone has been fed. Fresh-picked corn on the cob, fresh-picked tomatoes and other veggies, all will be provided by Barrett’s Greenhouse in Swanzey. They will have barbequed meats on the grill as well,” he said. In addition, the standard race fare of bagels, bananas, drinks, and more will be provided.
And the greatest reward of all will be the excitement, enjoyment, and sense of accomplishment--the thrill of participating in a new and unique event in a destination region. You can’t do them all unless you participate in the first.
The Town of Swanzey
The town of Swanzey is immediately south of Keene, a cultural and educational center and the seat of the Cheshire County. Also bordering Swanzey are Marlboro, Troy, Richmond, Winchester, and Chesterfield. Swanzey encompasses 45.3 square miles, including the villages of Westport, West Swanzey, East Swanzey, and North Swanzey, in addition to Swanzey Center. The population is 7,043.
Swanzey is famous for its bridges, and is referred to as the “Covered Bridge Capital of New Hampshire”. The four bridges in Swanzey, as well as two in neighboring Winchester, the Ashuelot and Coombs Bridges, are six of the remaining 54 in New Hampshire. Once there were over 300.
Founded as Lower Ashuelot in 1733, the name was changed to Swanzey when it was chartered in 1753, having been rebuilt following a raid. Settlers came from the east over the mountains, but also from the south, traversing the Pioneer Valley of the Connecticut River.
The Ashuelot River Watershed
The Ashuelot River and tributaries once powered many mills, and made life possible in this area for natives and later settlers. Bridges were required to improve transportation and communication, and the bridges of the 1700’s and 1800’s were often covered in New England. The building-like structures allowed bridges to last longer, although in winter locals had to carry and pack snow inside for sleighs and sleds.
The Ashuelot Watershed system drains 268,000 acres, including parts of 25 New Hampshire towns and two of Massachusetts. It is the largest watershed in southwestern New Hampshire, and a major tributary of the Connecticut. This watershed area begins well north in the towns of Alstead, Lempster, Marlow, and Washington, as well as rising from the flanks of Grand Monadnock in the east. It flows generally southwest and joins the Connecticut River at a wide sweeping bend a few miles north of the Massachusetts border. It is a remarkably diverse and ecologically significant river system. And the region it encompasses is a beautifully delightful location for running.
Excitement is Building for this New Event
This is one new event everyone will want to be a part of. Because of the rural roads and small scenic bridges, the field is limited to 1,000. That may be a problem, so get in on it early. Half marathon specialists will not find a better course. Those who like flat and scenic courses, well, it does not get any better. For those on a late fall marathon schedule, this is also perfect. Scheduling, organization, scenery, history, and just plain fun—that is what running is all about. New events are exciting, and none more so than the Swanzey Covered Bridges Half Marathon.