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Parke County Covered Bridges

Updated on March 8, 2015
Bowsher Ford Bridge
Bowsher Ford Bridge | Source

Parke County rightly declares itself to be "The Covered Bridge Capital of the World." It has over 30 bridges that date from 1856 to 2006. The local tourism group has laid out 5 different driving routes that pass through or by covered bridges. They also have four bicycle routes. You can get these at the Visitors Center, which is in the old train depot in Rockville.

The Bridges

There are 31 covered bridges in Parke County. Some have been moved, but none have been moved from other counties into Parke County. In addition, there were another 30 in the county that are no longer standing. Some locations have had three different covered bridges. Nearly all of the bridges are the Burr Arch Truss design. These have large curved arches on each side.

The West Union Covered Bridge is the longest in the county at 315 feet. The shortest is the Phillips Covered Bridge, which is only 43 feet long. 10 bridges are closed to traffic. Covered bridges were great when agriculture and travel depended on the horse. Horses do not like open bridges over water. With covered bridges they didn't see the water. Also, entering a covered bridge was like going into a barn for a horse. Modern farm equipment has become quite large, and cannot fit through covered bridges. Therefore in some cases it has been necessary to bypass covered bridges. Active covered bridges are maintained by the county highway department while Parke County Incorporated maintains the ones which have been bypassed.

The West Union Covered Bridge is the longest covered bridge in Parke County
The West Union Covered Bridge is the longest covered bridge in Parke County | Source

Bridge Construction

Theodore Burr, cousin to Aaron Burr, the vice-president under Thomas Jefferson, invented the Burr Arch Truss. He was awarded a patent for it in 1817. All but one of the 31 covered bridges still standing in Parke County use this design. Steam was used to bend big timbers into arches. The bridges usually took about six months to build, and bending the arches took up a good chunk of this time.

In the early days, the bridges were built on site. The builder would cut local timber and make it into boards and posts. Poplar was generally used for most of the bridge. Poplar is resistant to rot, and relatively easy to work. Oak, which is harder, was used for the flooring, The abutments which the ends of the bridge sit on were made of sandstone until about 1900. After 1900 they were typically made of concrete.

The Burr Arch in the Zook's Mill Covered Bridge
The Burr Arch in the Zook's Mill Covered Bridge | Source

Bridge Builders

Numerous builders constructed Parke County's covered bridges. Two of the most prolific were Joseph J. Daniels and Joseph A. Britton.

Joseph J. Daniels built 60 covered bridges in Indiana. 27 of those were in Parke County, and 11 are still standing. His first bridge in Parke County was the Jackson Covered Bridge in 1861. He built his last, the Neet Covered Bridge, in 1904 at the age of 78. Daniels also built the Medora Covered Bridge in Jackson County, Indiana. At 450 feet, it is the longest covered bridge in the United States.

Joseph A. Britton was born in Parke County, just a few miles west of Rockville. His first covered bridge was the Narrows Covered Bridge near Turkey Run State Park. Because it is close to Turkey Run which draws a lot of visitors, it is one of the most photographed covered bridges. Britton had seven sons, and they helped him in the bridge construction business.

Parke County Events

Parke County holds numerous events each year to attract visitors. Here are a few:

  • Covered Bridge Festival
  • Parke County Covered Bridge Bike Tour
  • Maple Syrup Fair

In early October, the Covered Bridge Festival attracts thousands of visitors. The trees are starting to turn to their fall colors at this time of year and much of the county seems to be geared toward this festival. Traveling vendors also appear at various locations around the county during the Covered Bridge Festival.

The Bike the Bridges bicycle tour is held each year. All routes start and end at Rockville Lake Park. Loops of 32, 36 and 41 miles are available. Those wanting longer rides can combine two or even three loops, In 2012 the ride drew about 200 rides despite very cool temperatures.

The Maple Syrup Fair is held on two consecutive weekends in late February / early March. That's when the local maple syrup producers will be tapping sugar maples for their sap and boiling down into maple syrup. During the festival you can tour the county & the maple syrup camps where they are hard to work. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of that delicious maple syrup. The local theater group, the Parke County Players, performs at the Ritz Theater in Rockville on Maple Syrup Fair weekends.

2012 Bike the Bridges bicycle tour
2012 Bike the Bridges bicycle tour | Source

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