In Episode 229, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger take a drive to Campton, New Hampshire, to cross the cursed Blair Bridge. A picturesque covered wooden bridge that dates back to 1829, this structure has seen more than its share of tragedies. From the time Lem Parker burned it down because he said God told him to, to the time a doctor’s horse drowned here, to the time Tropical Storm Irene fired tree limbs at the bridge like missiles, maybe this old bridge really is cursed?
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JEFF: So we’ll make a right here off of Daniel Webster Highway…
RAY: Blair Road?
JEFF: Yup, Blair Road is where we’re heading. Annnd our destination issss right there.
RAY: Oh cool! It’s an old, wooden covered bridge.
JEFF: That’s Blair Covered Bridge. We can pull over right here.
[CAR STOPS DOORS CLOSE]
RAY: I love these old covered bridges. They’re picturesque New England. And this one in Campton, New Hampshire, is no different. It seems like all of these bridges have a story.
JEFF: And Blair Covered Bridge is no different there. They say this bridge is cursed!
JEFF: Cursed. There’s stories of a mysterious arson fire, a horse who drowned, and maybe even the wrath of God all competing to destroy this bridge forever.
JEFF: Hello, I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to Episode 229 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We’re a community of legend seekers who love connecting with our history and communities. And we love when you get involved! There are so many ways to connect with us. There’s our Web site that features our entire archive of episodes plus video clips from the New England Legends television series available on Amazon Prime right now. There’s our free New England Legends app for your smart phone that has this amazing map to every location we’ve covered so far, so you can check it out for yourself. You can find Jeff and I on social media, and there’s our super secret Facebook group where thousands of people are sharing their favorite local legends.
JEFF: Before we explore this cursed and haunted bridge in Campton, New Hampshire, we want to take just a minute to thank our Patreon patrons!
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RAY: So Jeff, this covered bridge in Campton is the picture of New England.
JEFF: It is. The bridge spans the Pemigewasset River… or the Pemi, as locals call it… and connects Route 175 to the east and Route 3 and Interstate 93 to the west at the end of Blair Road. But this bridge is a bit longer than your typical covered wooden bridge.
RAY: Yeah, I can see that.
JEFF: The Blair Bridge is just shy of 293 feet in length. Almost a football field.
RAY: I love the sign over the top of the bridge. It reads: Five dollars fine for riding or driving on this bridge faster than a walk. I have to believe that’s an old sign. Five dollars to speed seems like a bargain!
JEFF: The sign is quaint, I’m sure the local Campton police would write you a ticket north of $5 bucks for speeding here today. The first version of this bridge was constructed by Hiram Merrill in 1829 at a cost of $1,000 dollars. It stood for 40 years until something bad happened. Something bad that may have been dictated by the highest authority. So let’s head back to 1869 and find out.
RAY: It’s July of 1869 here in Campton, New Hampshire, and something is disturbing a local man named Lem Parker.
RAY: In the coming days, Parker becomes convinced that God is telling him to burn down the Blair Bridge.
JEFF: We can only speculate as to why Lem Parker… or God for that matter… would want this bridge destroyed. But there’s a hint of a clue from the August 14, 1868, Boston Evening Transcript newspaper.
RAY: That’s almost a year ago…
JEFF: Right. This is a letter from a person signing herself only as H, who writes in about the splendor of the region.
H: Among the numberless letters appearing in your columns descriptive of places, familiar and unfamiliar, resorted to by countless numbers during heated term, possibly an account of a trip in the Granite State may interest some of your readers. We left Boston by the Boston and Maine Railroad and reached Plymouth, New Hampshire, after a ride of six hours, which was very pleasant. Leaving Plymouth, which is well known to travelers in this region, we rode seven miles farther, to West Campton, which if not as well-known as the former place, certainly deserves to be so, for a more charming spot could hardly be selected among the numerous attractive localities with which New England abounds.
JEFF: H. Goes on to describe the great beauty of the Pemigewasset valley, and how the town is built on both sides of the river, West Campton and Campton village. And how does one cross that river?
RAY: The Blair wooden bridge.
JEFF: The Blair wooden bridge. So here in the summer of 1869, tourism has picked up. Word is spreading that Campton is a place worth visiting. How it’s nestled so close to the majestic White Mountains in the central part of the state. It’s quaint… and now…
[CROWDS OF PEOPLE]
JEFF: It’s getting a little too crowded for the likes of Lem Parker.
JEFF: This town was perfectly quiet before these damn tourists started coming here. There’s more here than last year. They just keep showing up. These strangers! These people from the big cities with their money and fancy clothes and their sinning ways. Lem can’t take it anymore….
RAY: It’s the evening of Wednesday… July 28th, when Lem Parker sneaks onto the Blair Bridge… There’s no one around. It’s quiet… So quiet. Feeling that these actions are good and just because God told him to do it… Lem sets fire to the bridge.
RAY: Not satisfied to light one small fire, he sets the wooden bridge ablaze in several spots. Then races off into the night.
[RUNNING FOOTSTEPS FADING OUT]
RAY: By the next day, nearly one half of the bridge is completely wiped out by the fire. Crossing the Pemi River here is not possible now.
JEFF: A few things are clear right now to Campton authorities. This fire was intentionally set. And the damage is going to cost about $5000 dollars to repair. It’s costly. Folks in town immediately start asking each other: who would do such a thing?
RAY: That’s when Lem Parker sounds off.
[RAY ALTERED VOICE: MUMBLING… GOD TOLD ME TO DO IT!]
JEFF: The Campton locals stare at Lem. Sure, he’s a little off. But this hurts everybody in town. Parker is arrested, but when he stands before the judge, the charges are dropped.
RAY: Why would you drop the charges when the guy says he did it?
JEFF: First, there were no witnesses. And second, the judge isn’t sure he believes ole Lem. The guy is delusional. Maybe he’s taking credit for a crime he didn’t commit. So the case is dropped. But the Blair Bridge is still destroyed… and Lem parker claims it was because God wanted him to do it.
RAY: Okay, that’s unfortunate, but these things DO happen.
JEFF: They do. As with many town projects that cost a bunch of money, Campton decides to percolate on the issue for now. No one likes committing a small fortune in haste.
RAY: It’s just a few months later when a second event speeds up the town’s decision.
RAY: A local doctor is riding along Blair Road. He needs to cross the river. Everyone understands the bridge is out, but he figures… logically, I might add… that the bridge was built here because this must be a shallow area of the river, and probably one of the most narrow places to cross. So the doctor rides his horse into the water.
[SPLASHING] [RUSHING RIVER]
RAY: (DRAMA) But the river is deeper and stronger than the doctor figured. And suddenly the horse and doctor are swept by the current…
[RUSHING WATER FADE]
RAY: The doctor is pulled from the water, but his horse tragically drowns in the Pemi river.
JEFF: This event seals it for the town of Campton. Reconstruction of the Blair Bridge begins immediately.
JEFF: By 1870, the bridge is open once again featuring a sign at the top warning of a five dollar fine for traveling across the bridge at a pace faster than a walk.
RAY: The Blair Bridge stands for another century. But wood doesn’t last forever, no matter how well you take care of it. The bridge is open to the elements. And now cars and trucks are passing over the bridge.
RAY: Those vehicles weigh a lot more than horses and carriages. It’s more wear and tear on the structure.
JEFF: By 1977, the bridge needs to be rebuilt. Covered bridge expert Milton S. Graton is called in.
JEFF: At a cost of almost $60,000, the Blair Bridge is back to its former glory. The bridge is New Hampshire’s only surviving example of a truss-designed bridge patented by Col. Stephen Long.
RAY: While the arson fire and the drowning horse are a distant memory at this point, little events continue to occur on this bridge.
RAY: Some cars crash into the bridge damaging both the structure and the vehicles.
JEFF: Well, car crashes happen.
RAY: Sure they do, but when they occur, people think back to every other bad thing that happened here. But then another event strikes… this time, an act of God.
[BUILDING HURRICANE WINDS]
RAY: It’s August 28, 2011, when a storm the likes the region hasn’t seen in our lifetime hits Campton.
RAY: Hurricane Irene… now a tropical storm, strikes the area bringing with it 11 inches of rain. The gale force windows snap trees like twigs, and sends several mighty branches launching at the Blair Bridge like missiles….
RAY: Damaging the bridge and making it unusable once again.
JEFF: At this point, the state of New Hampshire steps in and recommends replacing the bridge with a stronger, steel version, but the people of Campton won’t hear it. So at a cost of $2.5 million dollars…
JEFF: The Blair Bridge is rebuilt once again. And I love that the $5-dollar fine sign is still here. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: So is the curse lifted now that there’s a new bridge here?
JEFF: Welllll…. There are still accidents here. Back in February of 2021, a truck too tall to clear the bridge hit the structure and caused some damage…
RAY: Which makes people look book at all of the other bad events and reach the logical conclusion that the bridge is still cursed.
JEFF: Clearly. Today, the Covered Bridge Farm Table sits on the western side of the bridge, so people come here to eat and then can take a short walk over the picturesque bridge.
RAY: A bridge that cost $1000 dollars to build in 1829, $60,000 to rebuild in 1977, and $2.5 million to rebuild after 2011. Talk about inflation! Now I also read online about the bridge being haunted?
JEFF: The haunted reputation likely comes from people confusing this covered bridge with others in New England.
RAY: That makes sense. This isn’t the first covered bridge we’ve explored on the podcast.
JEFF: No, we explored Emily’s Haunted Bridge in Stowe, Vermont, back in Episode 13, and the Eunice Williams covered bridge in Greenfield, Massachusetts, back in Episode 82.
RAY: I guess it’s like an old house… at some point you assume they’re all haunted.
JEFF: This bridge has the look, for sure.
RAY: Still, between the arson, the accidents, and the hurricane, you can’t help but wonder why this bridge has had more than its share… of problems…
JEFF: A curse is a curse if you believe in it.
RAY: We’ve seen that before in all kinds of places.
JEFF: That we have. We didn’t say it earlier, but Happy New Year to you and yours. We’re grateful to have you with us. If you ever feel like calling or texting your ole buddies Jeff and Ray, you can do that anytime by reaching out to our Legend Line at 617-444-9683. You can even leave our show closing on there for us if you want to hear yourself on a future episode.
RAY: Also, if you don’t already subscribe to our podcast, do it! It’s free. We also deeply appreciate it when you post a review or share your favorite episodes on your social media. It goes a long way in helping our community grow.
JEFF: We’d like to thank Lisa Strykowski for lending her voice acting talent this week. Lisa has a brand-new podcast called Visit With Spirit that you should check out. And of course our theme music is by John Judd.
RAY: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.