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Q: Covered bridges ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Covered bridges
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: groendog-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 27 Apr 2003 20:44 PDT
Expires: 27 May 2003 20:44 PDT
Question ID: 196356
Originally, what was the purpose of covering a bridge?
Subject: Re: Covered bridges
Answered By: tlspiegel-ga on 27 Apr 2003 21:32 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi groendog,

What a wonderful question!  I thoroughly enjoyed doing this research,
and must admit even though I've been on many a covered bridge in my
day I never thought to seek out the information on "Why are they

Frequently Asked Question: Why Covered?

"The Frequently Asked Question about covered bridges has to be: why
were they covered? There is a short answer. Wooden bridges with
exposed superstructures are vulnerable to rot. Covering and roofing
them protects them from the weather, and so they last longer.

In one sense, that just puts off the question. Why so many wooden
bridges? And why especially in Pennsylvania and the U. S. Northeast?

In eighteen hundred, the northeastern United States was a country in
need of bridges. It is a fairly narrow coastal plain cut by many short
rivers and creeks. In the "tidewater" region, these little streams and
the great estuaries such as the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays had been
highways and lifelines. But now the population was surging beyond the
tidewater region, drawn both by the growth of agriculture and the call
of water-powered industrialization. Inland farmers needed overland
transport, and that meant fords or bridges. But the water-powered
mills sought out the very places where the streams could not be forded
-- the falls and rapids -- and they too needed transportation.

So bridges were needed. The American northeast was a forest country:
wood was a plentiful building material, especially in the remote areas
where the smaller bridges were needed. And the climate favored wooden
construction. The climate of the region is harsh, by European
standards -- hot in the summer and icey in the winter, with a
freeze-thaw cycle that would overturn stone pavings. But this sort of
climate is less destructive of wood than the mild, moist climate of
Britain (or Oregon). So wooden bridges there would be.

The young United States had one other necessary ingredient in plenty:
ingenuity. Lewis Wernwag, Theodore Burr, Menander Wood and the rest
were just as essential as the material and the need. Without them,
there would be no historic covered bridges."


A Guide to Old Covered Bridges

"Covered bridges symbolize small-town America. Something from the
nineteenth century, a little archaic and strange to nineteen-nineties
eyes, picturesque and sentimental, "kissing bridges" recall a time
when life was simpler and closer to the land -- if only in our dreams.
Covered bridges complement autumn leaves and autumn emotions.
Photogenic and often remote from the Interstate Highways and cities of
the twentieth century, covered bridges lure the explorer to find the
little streams and dirt roads that the twentieth century has almost
passed by."


Where the covered bridge originated:

"The covered bridge concept originated in central Europe. It featured
a roof and siding that protected the wooden truss structure and
contributed to its longevity. Even after the introduction of iron into
the bridge building process, covered wooden bridges were inexpensive
solutions for spanning the many creeks and rivers in West Virginia."


The longest covered bridge in Europe: Black Forest Tourism FAQs

"The longest covered wooden bridge in Europe is in the town of Bad
Säckingen of "The Trumpeter of Säckingen" fame? The bridge crosses the
Rhine into Switzerland, is 400 years old and 200 metres long."


The most famous covered bridges - Madison County, Iowa:

"Cedar bridge became world famous in 1992, when it played a prominent
role in Robert James Waller's novel The Bridges of Madison County. In
the book, Cedar Bridge is where Francesca Johnson goes to meet Robert
Kincaid to help him take photographs. A photograph of Cedar bridge
adorns the cover of this world-wide bestseller.

In 1993, Oprah Winfrey broadcast one of her shows from Cedar Bridge.
Calling The Bridges of Madison County her favorite book of the year,
Oprah brought author Robert Waller and her entire crew on location.
The wooden stairway built next to the bridge for the show are
affectionately known locally as the Oprah steps."


"Cedar covered bridge was destroyed by a fire set by an unknown
arsonist on the evening of September 3, 2002. The Madison County Board
of Supervisors are planning to rebuild.

Although Cedar and its 119-year history can certainly never be
replaced, residents feel that rebuilding the bridge with the same
methods and materials used in its original construction will be a
positive response from the community for this cowardly act. We want to
make sure future generations remember this wonderful old structure."


The Covered Bridges of Madison County

"Originally boasting 19 covered bridges, six remain today, all listed
on the National Register of Historic Places. The bridges were covered
by order of the County Board of Supervisors to help preserve the large
flooring timbers, which were more expensive to replace than the lumber
used to cover the bridge sides and roof. Usually, the bridges were
named for the resident who lived closest."
An amusing story about the Roseman Covered Bridge 

"Built in 1883 by Benton Jones, it is 107 feet in length and sits in
its original location. Also known as the "haunted" bridge, Roseman is
where an county jail escapee was trapped by posses on both sides in
1892. Uttering a wild cry, the man rose up straight through the roof
of the bridge. He was never found, and it was decided that anyone
capable of such a feat must be innocent. Roseman was renovated in 1992
at a cost of $152,515. In Robert James Waller's novel The Bridges of
Madison County and the movie of the same name, Roseman is the bridge
Robert Kincaid seeks when he stops at Francesca Johnson's for
directions; it is also where Francesca leaves her note inviting him to


Preservation societies:

The Institute for the History of Technology & Industrial Archaeology
IHTIA Covered Bridge Project


Google Search a combination of the following keywords: 

covered bridge history origin structure Madison County longest oldest

Best regards,

Google Answers Researcher
groendog-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Thanks for the very thorough and fascinating answer. The question
originated when we attended a Belgian Sheepdog National Specialty dog
show in Allentown, PA last week. Driving home, my friend said WHY ARE
COVERED BRIDGES COVERED? Hmmmmmm.......that kept us occupied for at
least 100 miles. Thanks again!!!

Subject: Re: Covered bridges
From: tlspiegel-ga on 28 Apr 2003 07:19 PDT
Hi groendog,

Thank you for the rating and the very generous tip!  I'm happy you
enjoyed the answer... it's a fascinating subject.  Lots of history.  I
was born and raised in PA and basically just accepted covered bridges
as being a part of the landscape.  Then I moved to the midwest and saw
many more in Iowa.

Belgian Sheepdogs - great dogs!  :)

Best regards,

Google Answers Researcher
Subject: Re: Covered bridges
From: richard-ga on 29 Apr 2003 10:40 PDT
Fun fact about covered bridges:

In New England winters, snow had to be shoveled ONTO the bridge
surface so that horse-drawn sleighs could pass through.

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