The Bridges of Delaware County

In Upstate New York, there is a town called Delhi. This we did not know about and this I can tell you with not enough emphasis that a Delhi we did not expect in the middle of Delaware County. But it is in the unfolding nature of a drive in the countryside that it shall throw your way places that are unforgettable, sometimes by virtue of their outlandish names. There is the congested city of Delhi in India with countless pockets of heritage left behind by the Rajputs, the Tughluks, the Mughals and the British, tucked in within its urban sprawl, and then there is this, its little doppelgänger in the quiet reaches of the Delaware River.

A Delhi in another continent, to be found where the hills roll into each other in a chain of thickening foliage, where the blue of the skies deepen before they touch upon the vibrant green of the hills as barns and silos turn up from time to time to relieve the monotony, where beauteous horses and calves roam the pastures in quiet bonhomie. That is till you step into the picture. Then the calves stare at you, the startle showing through their great big eyes of bovine beauty. And they hold still for a few minutes, before they scuttle behind the horses for shelter.

Pronounced Del-high, as opposed to the original Del-ee, the outré Delhi of Delaware County came to be around the late 1700s. It was named for the man who founded it, a judge called Ebenezer Foote. He must have lived a lavish lifestyle, for he was referred to as The Great Mogul. Thus the name of the town, which includes the hamlets of East Delhi and West Delhi.

Now Judge Foote had a rival, General Erastus Root. He who rooted for the name ‘Mapleton’ and reacted to the announcement of the town’s new title with the words: ‘Del-hi-hel-high! Better call if Foote-high!’

In Foote and Root’s day, Delhi would have been different. Just over a hundred residents lived around the valley of the River Delaware with its pine and hemlock woods. Eighteenth-century accounts say that Indians traversed through it with prisoners and their scalps at the time. If one of those Indians arrive in present-day Delhi through a wormhole, imagine his face. From the hundreds, the numbers of residents have swelled to a few thousands. Delhi is a vision of small-town utopia, with its line-up of diners, cafes, and the village square, where I can see in the mind’s eye, locals gathering at fairs and harvest fest.

It is just fitting in the scheme of things that Delhi should be home to a covered bridge. You know, those structures of sublime architectural beauty that span rivers, simple and yet commanding, evoking in the onlooker the twin feelings of thrill and romance, because well that book of Robert James Waller did spoil us all with its sentimental talk of the ‘songs that come free from the blue-eyed grass, from the dust of a thousand country roads’.

Covered wooden bridges were built all over the country during the early 1800s to allow horses a semblance of quiet as they crossed gushing rivers, with carriages and caravans in their wake. The cool dark of these bridges are a great respite from the heat of summers and they naturally inspire romance. Kissing Bridges, they call them too. The landscape around each of them is of extraordinary pastoral beauty. The sight makes you want to be an artist, whip out a canvas, start splashing it with brilliant colours and introduce a note of balance through the muted shades of wood.

The trail of covered bridges took us from Fitch’s Bridge in Delhi to Hamden, a canvas of small-town living, where the bridge spanned the West Branch of the Delaware River. The drives were filled with the freshness of colour that nature is suffused with at the onset of summer. We watched fawns leap across the roads with the grace of lithe ballerinas, whooped with delight, and came upon a turkey buzzard of the bald red heads and disproportionately large bodies feeding upon a dead animal. There was no whooping then, but scenes of inimitable pastoral beauty washed over us.

When we arrived upon the last in the trail for us, the Downsville Covered Bridge, we were overwhelmed by the tranquility of its location. The entire length of this bridge designed by a Scottish immigrant was reflected in the still waters. As we walked around the greens with its pergola, suggestive of happy unions, it fit in smoothly, the thought that this was the kind of place where you get married.

A bucolic romance fest cobbled together with bridges and hamlets and barns and silos later, we crossed the last of our covered bridges, Adi gliding the car through its timbered darkness, for what do they say?

‘Five dollars fee for driving faster than a WALK on the bridge.’

Scenes from Delhi

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Fitch’s Covered Bridge. Built originally in 1870 in the village of Delhi for the sum of $1,900. Fifteen years later, it was moved a mile away to its present location.
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The West Branch of the Delaware River past which runs State Route 10
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On a November day from 1977, the introductory lines of an NYT piece on Delhi read: ‘The big issue in the election here tomorrow is whether to go dry.’ We know which way the people leant.
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Gutted by a fire, the shire pub that is back in business
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Craftsman-style houses and Victorian-style farmhouses showed up

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Barns and silos, chock-full of character
A letter of Ebenezer Foote’s. Sourced from Note how he talks about the pure air of Arbor Hill, where he built his house in Delhi. The list of goods he sent to the receiver of the letter, including the cigar meant for a ‘social puff’, is engaging.  

Scenes from around the rolling hills 

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Oh hello!
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‘Now now, why is she yammering?’
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Bales of hay in the Catskills
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Mendicant in the Catskills
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Working barns


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Who said you should not pit yourself against the sun? Chuck rules.
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Cross-section of a rustic barn. The fingers itch to transform one of these into a cosy nest.


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The Hamden Covered Bridge, built in the mid-1800s, for a sum of $1000 by Robert Murray. It straddles the West Branch of the Delaware River. 

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Adi’s favourite bridge was this, Downsville Covered Bridge. Built by Robert Murray in the mid-1800s at a cost of $1,700. 
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‘Analysis destroys wholes. Some things, magic things, are meant to stay whole. If you look at their pieces, they go away.’ Robert James Waller. 
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‘The reality is not exactly what the song started out to be, but it’s not a bad song.’ Robert James Waller. 


Woodstock on the Ottauquechee

Last winter when we were in Woodstock – a few miles away from Winston Churchill’s family seat of Blenheim Palace in good ol’Blighty – sauntering down a quiet lane past a gaggle of Georgian cottages with their white-trimmed windows, limestone churches, Norman doorways and period buildings latticed with tangled ivy, I did not picture us in another Woodstock roughly a year later. A vastly different namesake.

But the passage of time is wonderful in that introduces change, an unsettling feeling which takes time to be slowly washed away by time itself, and along the way it also opens your eyes to places you would have not dreamt of seeing. As we found ourselves in this other Woodstock, I scoured google. It turned that there are 34 Woodstocks in the world if you will believe that, 22 of them in America alone. How utterly odd that people in 33 places around the world had the same brainwave – apart from the fact that these might have been settlers who possibly wanted a slice of home in new lands. I wondered if they had been enamoured of the old Woodstock. If they had found themselves warmed to the cockles of their heart on a cold, grey noon as they sat in an ancient pub there with a fire going in its equally ancient fireplace bordered by duck-egg blue walls, food procured locally and prepared with an expert touch.

If you are thinking of the Woodstock where the sixties peaked with the famous music festival that was the epitome of hippie grooviness, I have to quickly point out that we were not in That Woodstock in upstate New York.

We were in the Woodstock in Vermont that sits on the Ottauquechee river and was named after the Oxfordshire Woodstock as homage to one of Churchill’s ancestors, the 4th Duke of Marlborough.

At a glance it was obvious. Woodstock in Vermont has the patina of old money. It is written large over its central square designated the Green, the historic inn built by the Rockefellers where people tend to take many selfies, in its antique shops and leafy streets bordered by houses reflecting a mix of old styles of architecture. Late Georgian, masonic temples with Greek columns…The air of wealth arrived with industry in the 1760s when the first settlers set up a gristmill and a sawmill. They made scythes and axes, wool processing machines and woollens, guns and furniture and carriages and leather – leaving behind a legacy of industriousness. After all, wealth does not come about from sitting on one’s haunches.

There we had brunch in an old-style cafe, omelettes fattened with feta and veggies, fluffy pancakes and black coffee served by women who looked like they had been put on a permanent diet of pancakes. We overheard little girls sing birthday songs for themselves, friends exchange travel notes, a man telling the staff that he used to live there years and years before, possibly twenty years ago, which reminded me of that wonderful O.Henry story ‘After Twenty Years’. Then we set about town, peering at the old library and county house, stoked by signages that pointed the way to genteel ski resorts like Suicide Six where they say skiing started in the country. And then those covered bridges, ah. They stood upon the river that the Abenaki called the Ottauqueechee, ‘place of mushy land’, combining romance and functionality within their covered timber frames with such ease.

But the most interesting part of the day, as it is with any traveller, was a leisurely natter with a local. An elderly owner of an antique shop where we examined many vintage objects, Victorian wicker doll buggies, antique Dutch book presses, a gym dandy, grinding mills, old China ware…you know the kind of antiquated things that lie forgotten in those stores, waiting to be owned and loved all over again.

It was an unusual conversation. For the first time I met a woman who spoke differently of her country’s leader, that ‘my grandma would have turned over in her grave if she had heard the kind of disrespect people show to their own president’; that she dressed in black for Lady Di’s funeral; of lines drawn in the sand, the Sykes-Picot line and her brother, a director of Broadway plays, who’s been travelling to Israel for years seeking truth, the kind of truth that is hardly disseminated among the public, and of his screenwriter who has fixed notions and refuses to be budged by his view of the truth. A flow that bespoke stream of consciousness thoughts but you know how thoughts mingle – and when they mingle how they reveal fascinating aspects of people and their lives.

And there it lay – the crux of what travelling does for me. Introducing me to different ways of thinking, different lives, different stories, different characters, the ability to observe and distance the self from an obvious predilection towards judgment – it feels somewhat like reading a hundred different books at the same time.

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Taftsville Covered Bridge, built in 1836, lies on Route 4.
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The comparatively newer Middle Bridge located by the Green in Woodstock.
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Homesteads in Woodstock
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Congregational churches built in the 19th century
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The kind of stores where you can lay your (greedy) hands on precious junk.


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Adi, chuffed by the sight of Suicide Six. 
English muffin, omelette and fried potatoes
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Reminded me of Bettys tearoom in Harrogate
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Signages that tell stories

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Masonic temple
A house upon the Ottauqueechee
A gym dandy
Dutch book press
What kind of grinding mill could this be?
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Victorian doll buggy


Teagle’s Landing named for a printer called Frank Teagle who lived in Woodstock, one who it is said took care of those overlooked and worked to make things better.