Covered bridges are not only nostalgic but historical and many times the subject of film and literature. The earliest documented covered bridge was the Permanent Bridge, constructed over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The 550 foot bridge was built by Timothy Palmer in 1805.
There are many ideas about why the covered bridge was invented, one being to provide shelter during inclement weather so horses wouldn’t be afraid to cross over water. But history states the real reason was to protect the structure supporting the bridge. Without protection from the weather, the wooden support for the bridges would decay and eventually rot would give into collapse. By keeping the structures dry, the bridge would last much longer.
Wikipedia describes the meaning of the covered bridge as “a timber-truss bridge with a roof, decking, and siding, which in most covered bridges create an almost complete enclosure.The purpose of the covering is to protect the wooden structural members from the weather. Uncovered wooden bridges typically have a lifespan of only 20 years because of the effects of rain and sun, but a covered bridge could last 100 years”.
Some covered bridges were built as railway bridges, using very heavy timbers and doubled-up lattice work. Most of them were built to cross streams and virtually all of them were single lane. There were multiple designs that were created, one of the most popular designs was that of the Burr Truss, which was patented in 1817. This design used an arch to bear the load while the trusses kept the bridge rigid. Other designs were dubbed King, Queen, Lattice and Howe trusses.
In 1847, an American engineer, Squire Whipple, published the first analysis of the way a load is carried through the truss, which enabled him to design stronger bridges with fewer materials.
Approximately 14,000 covered bridges were built in the United States between 1825 and 1875. Today, there are less than 1,000 surviving covered bridges. The longest historical covered bridges remaining in the United States are the Cornish-Windsor Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont. The Medora Bridge, which spans the East Fork of the White River is in Indiana. Both of these bridges lay claim to the superlative depending on how the legend is measured.
In South Carolina, the only historical surviving covered bridge is Campbells Covered Bridge. Campbell’s was built in 1909 in Gowensville and named after Lafayette Campbell, owner of a nearby grist mill. Campbell allowed the bridge to be constructed on his property. It was Campbell’s thought that the bridge would make access to his mill easier for farmers. The beautiful pine structure is 35
feet long and 12 feet wide and has a four-span Howe truss system. It was permanently closed to traffic in 1980 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009. Major renovations were made to the structure in 1964 and again in 1990. Today, the bridge serves as a centerpiece of a passive park where visitors can picnic and enjoy the Beaverdam Creek.
The Klickety-Klack Bridge, located along the Cherokee Foothills Byway, is the handy work of two men and a tractor named “Old Blue”. The structure spans a wide drainage expanse next to a driveway that leads to Look Away Farms.
Owner Don Spann recruited his friend Troy Coffey to help him build the covered bridge in 2000 as a gift to the Dark Corner area of upper Greenville County. Spann designed the intricate pattern of beams, rafters and vertical supports that ensures the integrity of the bridge. Since the bridge was built in 2000, it is not considered a historical structure.
Although not in South Carolina, Humpback Covered Bridge in Covington, Virginia is one of the most beautiful in the United States. With an unusual arc shape which reaches four feet higher in the middle than the sides, it is Virginia’s oldest still standing covered bridge. Built in 1857, it was part of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike. The original bridge on the site was built in the 1820’s but was washed away in a flood in 1837. A second bridge was built but also fell victim to a flood in 1842. There was even a third structure that gave way in 1856 and was replaced with the still standing structure of 1857. Although traffic on the bridge ceased in 1929 and was replaced with a steel bridge which was used mainly for storage until the 1950’s, funds were raised to restore the bridge and was reopened to the public in 1954.
A bit further north is the Arthur A. Smith Covered Bridge in Colrain, Massachusetts. Named after a civil war army captain, the last surviving Burr arch truss in Massachusetts, originally crossed the North River between Shattuckville
and Griswoldville. The bridge fell into disrepair and was moved several times but has since been renovated and is now in its current location of Colrain.
In Newfield New York, the Newfield Covered Bridge is the oldest of 29 covered bridges built. Newfield was constructed in 1853 by Benjamin Starr and Samuel Hamm & Sons and connects across the Finger Lakes wine region. It is the last survivor of three original covered bridges in Tompkin County. The bridge is 115 long and 16 feet wide. It was constructed by men who worked for $1.00 per day and the cost of lumber was just $6.00 per thousand board feet. The total cost of the construction was $800. The bridge is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
There are many other beautiful covered bridges across the United States, including some in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, California and Indiana. A tour of such timeless structures are well worth the visit.