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Fun Fact Friday: What exactly is a covered bridge?

Sometimes called “kissing bridges,” covered bridges can be found in over half of the United States, providing protection to pedestrians and vehicles alike. These bridges have a long history in America, and many are listed within the National Register for Historic Places. Read on to learn more about these iconic bridges, and to see some of our favorites still standing today!


So what is a “covered bridge?”

In its most basic form, a covered bridge is a timber-truss bridge that has both a roof and siding. This roof and siding can create either a completely enclosed, or almost enclosed structure. The “truss” in a truss bridge refers to the architectural design of the bridge’s support beams – trusses typically form a series of triangles to provide support to a structure. There are at least eight different types that have been historically used in bridge construction.

The Smolen-Gulf covered bridge, the longest covered bridge in the United States.
The Smolen-Gulf covered bridge, the longest covered bridge in the United States. Reprinted from Ohio’s Covered Bridges by Elma Lee Moore (pg. 124, Arcadia Publishing, 2010).

While popular folklore may refer to many of these bridges as “kissing bridges” for their reputation as a rendezvous point for young sweethearts, most covered bridges were built with a much simpler purpose: to protect the wooden bridge beneath from the elements. A typical wooden bridge will only survive 10-15 years if not covered. Before the advent of iron and steel, it was vital to protect bridges from damage, so that they could extend the life of what was a typically expensive bridge.

Covered bridges were especially popular in America prior to the steel revolution, and some states had over 1,000 covered bridges at their peak. However, these numbers have significantly reduced, as many were either replaced after the creation of steel bridges in the late 19th century, or have simply deteriorated due to their age. Those that have survived have found themselves as National Historic Sites, visited by thousands of fans yearly.

Our Favorite Fun Facts about Covered Bridges

While they may seem simple, there’s plenty of fun trivia about covered bridges in America:
  • Land of the Most Covered Bridges: Although Pennsylvania was the leader of the steel revolution, it seems that they thought steel bridges should only be used in other states. Covered bridges were built long after the advent of iron in the Keystone State, and today Pennsylvania has the most covered bridges in the country, with about 219 still in existence.
 
  • A Covered Bridge Festival: For the covered bridge enthusiasts, Parke County, Indiana hosts a yearly fall festival called the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival. The festival celebrates the county’s 31 covered bridges, the most of any county in the United States. The festival is extremely popular, with over 2 million attendees each year!
The Longdon Covered Bridge in West Finley Township, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has more covered bridges than any state in the country.
The Longdon Covered Bridge in West Finley Township, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has more covered bridges than any state in the country. Reprinted from Pennsylvania’s Covered Bridges by Fred J. Moll, courtesy of Thomas E. Walczak (pg. 94, Arcadia Publishing, 2012).
 
  • The Longest Covered Bridge in the World: While Pennsylvania may have the most covered bridges, but California has one of the longest in the world. The Bridgeport Covered bridge is the longest clear span bridge in the world, measuring at 233 feet long. Built in 1862, the state set aside $1.3 million USD in 2014 to restore the bridge in two phases. It was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
 
  • The Bridges of the Entertainment World: Covered bridges are featured in several American books and movies, most notably The Bridges of Madison County, where historic covered bridges serve as the main setting and focal point of the story. A covered bridge is also the main setting for Edgar Allan Poe’s “Never Bet the Devil Your Head,” where a man is gruesomely beheaded.
 
  • The Oldest Covered Bridge in America: The distinction of oldest covered bridge in the US goes to Hyde Hall Bridge, located in Glimmerglass State Park, New York. Built in 1825, the bridge was originally located on private property within the Hyde Hall estate. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, and was last renovated in 1967.

A Gallery of Covered Bridges

With so many covered bridges throughout the county, we’ve gathered some of our favorites here to share with you!

Hyde Hall bridge, the oldest covered bridge in the US.
Hyde Hall bridge, the oldest covered bridge in the US. Reprinted from New York State’s Covered Bridges by Bob and Trish Kane (pg. 41, Arcadia Publishing, 2014).

The new Arthur Smith Bridge in Lyonsville, Massachusetts. It was completed in 2006.
The new Arthur Smith Bridge in Lyonsville, Massachusetts. It was completed in 2006. Reprinted from Massachusetts Covered Bridges by John S. Burk courtesy of the author (pg. 54, Arcadia Publishing, 2010).

Bennett’s Mill Bridge in Greenup County, Kentucky. This bridge was built in 1855, and last renovated in 2004.
Bennett’s Mill Bridge in Greenup County, Kentucky. This bridge was built in 1855, and last renovated in 2004. Reprinted from Kentucky’s Covered Bridges by Robert W.M. Laughlin and Melissa C. Jurgensen courtesy of  the author (pg. 119, Arcadia Publishing, 2007).

To read more about American covered bridges, check out the books below.

Is your state one of the 30 with a covered bridge? Let us know in the comments below!
 
Posted: 7/27/2018 12:00:00 AM| with 0 comments


Related Titles from Arcadia & The History Press
Massachusetts Covered Bridges
From hidden valleys in the Berkshire Hills to the North Shore, 275 documented highway and railroad covered bridges have been constructed in Massachusetts from the early 19th century onward, a figure that often comes as a surprise to those who traditionally associate these uniq...
Ohio's Covered Bridges
More than 200 of Ohio's historic covered bridges, some of which have survived and many that have not, are once again captured in Dr. Elma Lee Moore's Ohio's Covered Bridges. Classic images of these treasured bridges that have spanned Ohio's rivers, creeks, streams, and gorges ...
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New York State's Covered Bridges
New York State's Covered Bridges explores the old timbered spans that crossed New York waters. The state at one time had more than two hundred fifty such bridges; today, it has only twenty four original covered bridges remaining, plus some replicas. Vintage postcards, many o...
Kentucky's Covered Bridges
Kentucky is well recognized for bourbon, bluegrass, and the Kentucky Derby. When thinking of covered bridges, the commonwealth is not the state that readily comes to mind. Many of Kentucky's covered bridges were built by such men as Wernwag, Bower, Carothers, Day, Stone, and L...
Pennsylvania's Covered Bridges
Starting in the early 1800s, Pennsylvania's rich forests provided natural material for the construction of more than 1,500 covered bridges across the state. The first covered bridge was built in 1805. Pennsylvania's Covered Bridges looks at the earliest covered bridges as well...
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