A 1969 encounter with an Unidentified Flying Object has recently been designated as an official historic event.  More about that later, but first, let’s start with the bridge.

In Sheffield, Massachusetts, the Old Covered Bridge, which is a rebuilt old covered bridge, spans the Housatonic River just off US Route 7, north of the village center. 

The bridge site is beautiful and idyllic.  Sheffield is a small village in the Berkshire hills, about 10 miles south of the larger town of Great Barrington. Route 7 is a long country route that extends south to Danbury and north through Vermont to the Canadian border. Almost every mile is magnificent, with some jaw-dropping scenery that traverses a pastiche of rolling green hills, small mountains, fields with rock walls, and quaint New England villages. The road is beautiful in all seasons. But in mid-October, the route looks transcendent. The sky becomes sharp blue and the leaves take on a glowing orange hue that can appear unworldly, as if you are on the plains of Mars and not western Massachusetts.  

The Sheffield bridge was originally built in 1837, using timber Town lattice trusses.  The trusses have closely spaced members that form the lattice.  The structure was one of the earliest examples of this particular structural bridge type.  The river is not very wide at the crossing, almost more like a wide stream than a river.  The bridge spans 91 feet.

Sheffield Covered Bridge Town Lattice Truss
Jack Schmidt via Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, teenagers set fire to the bridge in 1994.  It was rebuilt from the original plans in 1996.  One of the two original stone block abutments remain in use.  Otherwise, everything at the site is replicated from the original structure.

Pedestrians are allowed on the bridge today, but vehicular access is blocked by bollards. The approach road to the east provides space for a small park. 

Fifty years ago, the old bridge was still in use for vehicular traffic. On September 1, 1969, nine-year-old Thom Reed drove with his mother, brother and grandmother across the bridge.  After crossing, they saw a bright light rising out of the Housatonic River.  Soon after that, Mr. Reed remembers being taken from his family’s car to large building that looked like an airplane hanger.  Large, insect-like creatures walked around the building.  Mr. Reed ended up in a room in the building, and then he remembers being back in the car with his family shortly after that.  Apparently, everyone was seated in a different spot in the station wagon.  Mr. Reed thought that the ordeal seemed to last a few minutes, but in reality, two hours had passed.  That night, dozens of Berkshire residents called a local radio station to report unusual lights and loud noises.  Several had spotted a saucer-shaped aircraft hovering in the sky. 

In 2015, the Great Barrington Historical Society voted to recognize the 1969 encounter as an official historic event.  The vote was not unanimous and some members strongly opposed this designation.  However, the group’s consensus view was that encounter was independently documented by many viewers, both at the bridge and in several surrounding towns.  So, whether one believed in UFOs or not, clearly a notable event occurred on that date and the Society saw fit to acknowledge at least that fact.  Over the years, the 1969 incident has been the subject of publications and TV shows.  It is considered by some to be one of the most credible UFO sightings.  

Private donations were arranged for a park on the east bank of the covered bridge, and a granite marker was placed in 2017 along with some benches.  Mr. Reed assisted with development of the park.  A website with more information can be found here.

More recently, objections have been raised to the placement of the large granite marker.  The objections are separate from debates about extraterrestrial visits and are based on more terrestrial concerns.  The Town of Sheffield requires that public land not be used private functions.  The site of the UFO park was thought to be on privately-owned farmland.  The location had been discussed with the Town and initially confirmed to be acceptable.  But then a survey indicated that the site was, in fact, on town-owned land.  Per Town ordinance, public land could not be used for a private installation, regardless of the merit of the private use.  So, at this time, the UFO park appears to be embroiled in an earth-bound dispute. 

In 1969, I was about the same age as Mr. Reed.  My grandparents owned a cabin in nearby Monterey, and they would drive to Sheffield to go to antique stores on Route 7.  During my summer visits, we would travel along the remote and bucolic back roads to arrive at the river crossing.  We did not see any UFOs.  But even then, I was fascinated by bridges, and crossing the covered bridge was a highlight of the trip for me.  In 1969, and even today, the area away from the village is isolated, especially along the ridge of the hills.  If aliens decided to visit, you could imagine how they might blend in at night with no one being the wiser.  In the Berkshire woods, the sky is still dark and the terrain can be very remote.