American Precision Museum

American Precision Museum

covered bridge
Cornish- Windsor Bridge

RM and I stumbled onto several jewels of Americana on our recent visit to Vermont.  We took a road trip to Windsor, Vt., from our hotel-base in Stowe, searching for covered bridges.  Vermont is home to over 100 of these beautiful structures (we nearly found them all!) and Vermont and New Hampshire share the Cornish-Windsor Bridge, the longest wooden covered bridge in the United States, which we wanted to see. We wondered out loud … why did they cover bridges back in the day?  After a bit of research, we found that the answer is complicated and not clear.  To speculate, the biggest reason was to protect the wooden structure from the weather. Rain, snow, ice and the sun all make wooden bridges fail much faster. Covered bridges are also covered to help get cattle over the bridge, the sight of the rushing water scared the cattle and made them hesitate going over the bridge. Some towns used to fine people if their horses or other cattle went over the bridge too fast, claiming it was damaging to the bridge. Covered bridges were also covered to keep the rain and snow off the wooden deck of the bridge which would make it very slippery.

covered bridge 2
Longest covered bridge, from the New Hampshire side. Had to get off our horse to cross.

We found the stunning Cornish-Windsor Bridge rather quickly, drove over it and back a couple of times (in and out of New Hampshire three times), took these pics, admired the construction and its beauty, and then checked out our guidebook to see if there were other “must sees” in the area.  The American Precision Museum was less than a mile from the bridge.The museum, housed in the original Robbins & Lawrence Armory, holds the largest collection of historically significant machine tools in the nation. Right up RM’s alley of interests.  Tools and lots of them.

But, as I learned, precision manufacturing touches us all. Without it, we would not have the mass communication, rapid transportation, modern standards of sanitation and medical care, abundant food and clothing, or the leisure for universal education. To my surprise, many of the tools and the methods which make mass production possible were pioneered at the Robbins & Lawrence Armory in Windsor, Vermont. Using precision metal and wood cutting machines and high standards of accuracy, Robbins & Lawrence proved the effectiveness of a new type of manufacturing that was known as the American System. Across America, a powerful machine tool industry grew up, flourishing especially in New England and the northern Midwest.

Included in this collection, which spans a time of over two hundred years, are:

  • single and multiple spindle lathes
  • shapers
  • planers
  • milling machines
  • single and multi spindle drills
  • grinding machines.

We spent several hours in the museum, visiting with a retired, bearded machinist as he demonstrated how the old machines worked.  We were his only customers, and we listened and asked a ton of questions.  He gave us a grand tour, tons of old stories were shared and finished up our lengthy visit by making for us two tiny gifts with his own seasoned hands and the antique tools.  I received a tiny goblet and RM got a gear, stamped with the museum name.  One of those days and places we won’t soon forget.

goblet and gear

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