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American Icons in Covered Bridges

Updated on December 20, 2010
Christmas Run Park Covered Bridge in Wooster, Ohio. A famous Hubber lives nearby; (C.C.Riter)
Christmas Run Park Covered Bridge in Wooster, Ohio. A famous Hubber lives nearby; (C.C.Riter)
Columbia County, Pennsylvania
Columbia County, Pennsylvania
Twin Bridges-Columbia County          Pennsylvania
Twin Bridges-Columbia County Pennsylvania
Rural Pennsylvania Covered      Bridge
Rural Pennsylvania Covered Bridge
Bedford County, Pennsylvania
Bedford County, Pennsylvania
Cuppett's Covered Bridge 1882  Bedford, Pennsylvania
Cuppett's Covered Bridge 1882 Bedford, Pennsylvania
Jackson's Covered Bridge in Vermont-Built in 1876
Jackson's Covered Bridge in Vermont-Built in 1876
Thomas Malone Covered Bridge in   Beaver Creek State Park- Ohio
Thomas Malone Covered Bridge in Beaver Creek State Park- Ohio
Humpback Covered Bridge-Virginia
Humpback Covered Bridge-Virginia
Hartland Covered Bridge in   New Brunswick, Canada
Hartland Covered Bridge in New Brunswick, Canada
Grave Creek Bridge in Oregon-Built in 1920
Grave Creek Bridge in Oregon-Built in 1920
Bridgeport Covered Bridge in Nevada County, California
Bridgeport Covered Bridge in Nevada County, California

I always wondered why bridges from the past were covered and upon reading stories and conversations with many people, the story that seems to stand out the most is that perhaps the horses felt at ease crossing an enclosed span instead of one that was opened. Another reason was perhaps that the bridges would last longer if the wooden timbers were protected from the elements. Whatever the reasons may have been, covered bridges have a long history in the North America.

Like any bridge that is built, covered ones were roadways that spanned rivers and streams. They were supported on each side by a wooden truss and a roof. The frame that supported this were built from very heavy timbers which were referred to as "chords". These chords were designed into two tall walls and cross timbers were placed at the top, bottom, ceiling, floor, and the foundation. The trusses were connected by the chords. Lastly, trunnels which are tree nails, were made of hardwood,which held the entire bridge together.

The very first covered bridge was built in over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, The builders on this project wanted to protect their investment so they added a roof and weather-boarding on the bridge. The bridge was ready for use in 1805.

A popular design for covered bridges was the "Burr-Truss", named appropriately for Theodore Burr who patented it in 1804. In 1817 Burr also patened the Burr arch bridge. Another bridge designer was Ithiel Town who designed the Town lattice design. His achievement was patented in 1835. Five years later in 1840, William Howe patented anothr new design that combined iron uprights with wooden supports.

The original wood products for covered bridges were pine, chestnut, poplar,oak, and walnut. The early covered bridges built were usually privately built and owned and operated as toll bridges. The charge for a person crossing was usually one cent and the same charge applied for the passage of a cow. The charge for a horse-drawn carriage was around four cents. Many bridges had posted signs that warned that a two dollar fine would be imposed if horses were not properly walked across a bridge. The reason behind this was because the vibration of galloping horses' hooves could possibly damage the wood structures and joints over a period of time. Basically the bridge owners wanted to protect thier investment and ensure safely for all those who crossed.

Farmers benefited greatly from covered bridges during the 1800s because it was easy for them to take their cattle, sheep, and hogs and even produce to various markets. Without a bridge, this would have been virtually impossible. One group that did not like the bridges were the ferry operators because it cost many of them their livelihood.

In the early 1900s, the bridges for one reason or another became very vulnerable to fires and floods, so they were being replaced by the overhead steel truss bridges.

There are many covered bridges around today but pale in comparison to the big ones that were built in the early 19th century. One of those was the 5,690 Columbia Wrightsville Bridge which spanned the Susquehanna River between Lancaster and York Counties located in Pennsylvania. Sadly to say, in 1832 floods and an ice jam destroyed the bridge.

Data from the American Society of covered Bridges states that there are about 1500 covered bridges around the world today. Of this number the United States has over 870. Canada has about 180. The state of Pennsylvania can proudly stake their claim by having about 291 covered bridges existing today.

These iconic covered and useful bridges of the past added beauty to the landscape of countrysides two centuries ago and still hold that same beauty today with much nostalgia to share and go around.

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    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      C.C., I have to keep you happy because like I said before "you are a very nice and passionate guy. You must really love where your home is located. Is is a mix of country and city, or more rural? Anyway I'm glad I made your day.Until next time....

    • profile image

      C. C. Riter 

      9 years ago

      Laringo your beautiful and sweet. Thank you so much for that. i was so shocked to see it up there. Yep, that's it. Waht can I say? You made my day. Love now. It recieved little damage from a tornado that went right over the park a few years back and seconds later right over my house, at night too. Scared me to death almost and I ain't scared of nuthin'! LOL Like I said, it's just down over the hill from my home about 500 yards or so. thanks so much

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      Amanda, also in the film,Legend of Sleepy Hollow,a covered bridge was a safe haven of sorts for Ichabod Crane trying to escape the headless horseman. There is such variety and beauty on how these bridges were built. I envy people in the eastern part of the U.S. because there are hundreds of them. From now on when I travel I will try to make a point to see if any are nearby because I will defintely visit and take lots of pictures.

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      9 years ago from UK

      Hi Laringo,

      I read the book 'The Bridges of Madison County' (Such beautiful prose. If only I could write like that!) but until now, I've never seen pictures of them, nor read anything else about them. It's strange how these customs develop and spread, and it's great that they are being preserved, as they are part of your heritage.

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      Hey Cris, thanks for dropping by to read this Hub. There are so many more covered bridges and it was hard to decide which ones to place on this page. Anyway they are indeed iconic and beautiful. have a great day!

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      Oh my gosh C.C., I can't have you dissatisfied so take a look at the top picture . Does it look familiar. If not, at least it's in your hometown. Take care.

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      goldentoad, come on you can do it. My son and daughter-in-law drove 3 kids from St.Louis, Missouri to Sacramento Ca. in a Honda Accord. I'm not saying it was great and they didn't even drive the adults crazy. So I have confidence in you(lol) sorry.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      icon is a term used so casually nowadays, but this one fits like gloves to hands. They are indeed a beautiful symbol of your American heritage! Thanks for sharing :D

    • profile image

      C. C. Riter 

      9 years ago

      laringo this is great, but I am dissapointed too. In your research, and I have done this also, you had to have seen the one right down over the hill from my home right here in Wooster, Oh in one of our city parks. You never put it on here! It is included with the Covered Bridges of Ohio. I cross it a lot especially with my dogs. It spans Christmas Run. I forgive you though.

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 

      9 years ago from Free and running....

      Laringo, if they can ever sit past a half hour drive, I'd like to roll through NoCal, its been a long time for me.

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      JamaGenee, I am so intrigued by these bridges and hope to one day soon visit many of them. I am so gald that they are being preserved.

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      goldentold, I don't know of any in the south state where you are  but there are some in Northern California in Nevada County like  Bridgeport Covered Bridge, supposedly it is the longest single span wooden covered bridge. I modified this Hub to show  you what it looks like. Maybe one day you can take your family on a road trip.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I can personally attest to how awesome covered bridges are after visiting five of the (seven?) still extant in Madison County, Iowa, made famous by the book and movie "Bridges of Madison County". You really can't get a sense of the engineering that went into them from photos. You have to stand inside one and look at the workmanship. Nice hub!

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      Hi Bk, I agree with you....if a horse is spooked that could end up being a pretty bad situation,especially over large bodies of water. Thanks for the comments.

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 

      9 years ago from Free and running....

      Don't see those bridges around here. that's for sure. nice hub laringo.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 

      9 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Oh that's interesting. I think I like the idea of the horses not being spooked going over this span of water.

      I love info.

      Thanks for wrting this!

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