FredPIX2 - Beaverkill Bridge


Beaverkill Hides

While working on dismantling the approaches to the Beaverkill Covered Bridge during the winter of 2016-17, the bridge restoration work crew unearthed a cache of hides buried within the earthen ramp leading to the bridge’s eastern portal. These hides assumedly date back to the nineteenth century tannery of Wm. Ellswoth & Co. that was located at what is now the Beaverkill Campsite, next to the bridge.

The on-sight clerk of the works, Jeremy Brunner, contacted the Sullivan County Historical Society to see if there would be any interest in these hides; if not they would bury the hides back into the newly built bridge approach. A Society representative went up to the site the next morning to look over the hides. It was a good-sized pile, perhaps filling the bed of a pick-up truck. The hides also appeared to be well preserved, especially having been buried within the ramp for well over a century.

The Historical Society contacted Dr. Joyce Conroy, town historian for the Town of Rockland, to see if there was any local interest in the hides. She contacted the Town of Rockland Supervisor, Rob Eggleton, who, in turn, asked the highway department to send equipment to the bridge site and pick them up. The hides were taken to the Town of Rockland highway facilities.

Upon inspection, Dr. Conroy determined that the hides had been tanned. She also discovered that the outside edges of some hides showed signs of burn marks. This discovery helps clarify the history of the area along with providing evidence as to the date of these hides.


During the early morning hours of March 31, 1885, the fifty-four-year-old tannery located along the Beaver Kill caught fire and burned to the ground, destroying all the machinery and much of the building’s contents. Stored in the drying lofts were 3.000 sides of sole leather, some of which, judging by what was found by the recent bridgework, apparently survived from being totally consumed by the conflagration.  


That following December, a winter storm brought heavy rain to the Beaver Kill valley. The resulting high water rampaging down the river caused considerable damage throughout the valley. Though the bridge upstream at Shin Creek was torn from its moorings and washed away, the bridge at Beaverkill, along with its piers, survived. However, the incline leading to the bridge’s eastern portal was damaged. Throughout the following winter, workmen repaired the damaged approach, and apparently the burned and unmarketable tanned hides that survived the tannery fire were used as fill within the reconstructed ramp.


After careful excavation by the bridge’s restoration crew, the cache of hides shows little degradation as a result of its long entombment. Throughout the following year, numerous historians, organizations and members of the local community have expressed interest in the hides and acquired samples of this bit of local history. The story of these hides, beginning with their burial to their happenstance discovery one hundred and thirty-two years later, has not only opened a window to our past, but is also evidence for today’s reverence, here in the twenty-first century, for the preservation of our ancestors’ legacy.   - Fred



Fig 1 - 1883 view of the Beaverkill dam and Covered Bridge


Fig 2 - This past year, the Beaverkill bridge had been restored. During the restoration, tanned hides were found buried within the bridge's ramp.

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