A Love Story that Began
on a Covered Bridge
Robert Clifton Hampton was born in 1924. He received in education in the Rutland, Vermont, public schools, he was reared in a Methodist household, he married me, he traveled around the world to help people, he served his country, he died in my arms, and he rests less than a mile from where he was born.
When I was a junior in high school our lockers were along the east side of the second-floor hall. The senior lockers were directly across the hall. I don’t remember the exact day, but it was the second or third day of school when Bobbie stepped across the hall and asked me to be his date for homecoming. I was so surprised because I didn’t know that he even knew my name.
We went on several dates that fall. To show how routine we were, there was homecoming, the state fair, several Saturday nights at the Paramount on Center Street, the annual church picnic, and the community hayride at Halloween. At Christmas we sang together in the church caroling choir. During the winter we ice skated every chance we got at Lower Eddie Pond. We didn’t see each other much after he graduated in June, but late in July Bobbie called and asked me if I liked covered bridges. I thought that was the stupidest excuse ever for asking a girl on a date, but Bobbie was asking me if I wanted to take a ride over to New Hampshire to see a covered bridge. I would do anything or go anywhere to be with Bob. The drive across the state was beautiful. Bobbie was a good and cautious driver and we got to the bridge in about two hours.
I had no idea that Bob liked covered bridges, but the conversation that day in 1942 was centered entirely on covered bridge history and lore. That was the day that I realized that if I loved Bob, I loved covered bridges, too! I was thrilled that Bobbie wanted me to join him in his covered bridge obsession, but he had plans and there was no way to say otherwise.
That September Bob left Vermont for college. He must have studied every minute of the next three years. He finished a Bachelor of Science degree in three-and-a-half years and enrolled in medical school for the September 1945 term. What came next is certainly only my opinion, but the best of Bob’s accomplishments came in the summer of 1943. He came home for a visit and we took a ride over to Pittsfield. It is only 20 miles from Rutland to Pittsfield – we couldn’t go too far because of the gasoline rationing at the time – but we found the old Goodnough Bridge.
We walked to the center of the bridge and peeked through the “diamond-shaped windows” at the water below. Bobbie held my hand that day and just as we had seen enough, he dropped my hand, and stood right in front of me and said, “Mary, will you marry me?”
After I said, Yes!, and on the way home that day Bobbie suggested that we get married at the Goodnough Bridge – which we both thought was a great idea, but it didn’t happen as planned.
Bob finished medical school and had started an internship at the hospital in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, when he was drafted for service in the army. There were dozens of hours of discussion about the future in the following few days. In the end it was Bob’s decision, but the whole family agreed. He would enlist and make use of his newly acquired skills as a doctor. In the end he served in Korea from November 1952 to July 1953 with the “8209” M*A*S*H.
Bobbie came home in September 1953. I didn’t know at the time, but he later confessed to me that he was very frugal with his “army-pay.” He had almost nine-hundred dollars in the bank and with that money we drove my father’s 1952 Chevrolet Bel Air around at least twenty-six states, from Maine to Florida and New Jersey to Kansas, looking for a place for Bob to establish a medical practice.
Bob never lost his interest in covered bridges. During the last months of 1953, as we traveled about, the first question Bob would ask of the motel registration clerk was whether there were covered bridges in the area. We saw at least a hundred in those five months.
No one will ever know how difficult it will be for me to give my covered bridge postcards away. We bought every covered bridge postcard we ever found and have seen and walked or rode across most of them. It must happen soon; I will be 98 in only three weeks. I only need to find someone who wants them. The cards below show Vermont bridges that were our favorites.
I’m not sure anymore because I haven’t seen any of these bridges for at least a dozen years, but you should make sure to visit them if you like covered bridges and you’re ever in Vermont.
The Creamery Covered Bridge was built in 1879. For more than 131 years it crossed Whetstone Brook in West Brattleboro, Vermont.
Known as the Pine Brook Bridge is located at what is known as the center of Vermont. The construction of the bridge ended in 1872, but no one remembers who built it or how it was paid for. It was one of Bobbie’s favorites among Vermont’s 107 covered bridges. Sometimes, on hot summer days, we would drive over to Waitsfield and wade in the Pine Brook River and picnic and watch the traffic. Some days we would see six or seven cars.
The Paper Mill Bridge is plain but in some ways, it is the most beautiful one in Vermont. Do you know that having a bridge covered helps prevent horses from being “spooked” by the noise of raging water? It’s true! One day in September 1959 Bob and I met Robert Frost at this bridge.
The covered Batten Kill bridge was built in 1852. It is one of Vermont’s oldest. Even some covered bridge enthusiasts don’t know that many covered bridges in Vermont were used as meeting places for political rallies, religious meetings, and even romantic trysts. “Meet me at the covered bridge,” was a common expression for many decades. Bob kissed me one day in the middle of this bridge and a troop of Boy Scouts saw us. We were both embarrassed, but the boys had a good laugh.