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New town bridge opens with music, dance, fireworks

The last time the Town of Middlebury constructed a bridge downtown, Benjamin Harrison was president, Thomas Edison took out a patent the motion-picture camera, and the region was hit with one of the worst blizzards of the time.

Now, 119 years later, Middlebury finally got a second downtown bridge, a modern structure spanning the Otter Creek that town officials propose will relieve traffic in the Addison County seat. Supporting the "buy local" theme, the span's concrete beams were manufactured locally.

The bridge is the result of a unique collaboration between the town and Middlebury College. Construction posed many problems, particularly the delivery of huge beams through the tight downtown streets, and yet the $16 million structure arrives on time and on budget. It took only 18 months to build, beginning with a groundbreaking in April, 2009.

The community celebrated the historic opening with a day-long party.

The celebration began at dusk night before, on Oct. 29, when the bridge was illuminated with a kaleidoscope of changing colors.

Searchlights panned the skies, signaling the beginning of the historic festivities

Through-out the day on Saturday, the bridge was open to pedestrians, who enjoyed entertainment on the bridge bandstand, locally-produced food and drink, and new views of downtown. The United State Post Office issued an historic hand-stamped postmark, available on the bridge - a memento of the event and a prized collectible.

Despite a gloomy October sky and misty drizzle, "First Across", the official opening ceremony, began at 4 p.m. In 1891, the first person across the old bridge was Henry Sheldon, who made the trip in a horse-drawn buggy. His "ghost" had the honor again, 119 years later, as a man dressed as Sheldon crossed the new bridge in an historic buggy pulled by two Morgan horses.

A street dance took over the bridge at 4:30, with local performers Jer Coons and the Grift on the bandstand. Coons, with a budding national career, grew up in Middlebury. His father is the local sheriff, Jim Coons.

The day ended with a wild fireworks display at 6:30. When the final blast exploded in the sky, the bridge opened to vehicular traffic, pedestrians and bicycles.

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