• Covered Bridge History

    Covered Bridges can be traced as far back as 780 B.C. in ancient Babylon. Later in the 13th-century, a sketchbook by French architect, Villard de Honnecourt, shows a truss bridge, and the Italian Andrea Palladio’s “Treatise on Architecture” from 1570 describes four truss designs. Switzerland is home to several notable covered bridges. The Kappel Bridge (1333) of Luzern has been decorated since 1599 with 112 paintings in the triangular spaces between roof and crossbeams, depicting the history of the town and its two patron saints. Modern-style timber truss bridges were pioneered in Switzerland in the mid-1700s. In the 18th century, Switzerland built wood covered bridges of considerable length, notably an arch-truss bridge crossing the Limmat River in Baden with a clear span of 200 feet. The oldest surviving truss bridge in the world is the 687 year old, Kapellbrücke in Switzerland.

    A Covered Bridge is . . .

  • A Covered Bridge is . . .

    A covered bridge is a timber-truss bridge with a roof, decking, and siding, which in most covered bridges create an almost complete enclosure. The prime reason for the 'cover' was to protect the bridge's trusses and decks from snow and rain, helping prevent decay and rot to the wooden structure. The cover served other purposes as well; it kept horses from being spooked by the waters underneath, it was a reprieve from weather to the weary traveler, and it was used for political rallies, religious meetings, a night's sleep for tramps, town meetings, poker parties, sweethearts' rendezvous, drunken revels, dances, and even rainy-day luncheons took place on America's covered bridges. An uncovered bridge would typically last approximately 20 years, but a covered one could last 100 years or more. Most of the United States' covered bridges were built between 1825 and 1875. By the 1870s, most bridges were covered at the time of construction.

    Today, the state of Pennsylvania has the largest number of covered bridges in the nation with just over 200 bridges in 40 of its 67 counties. It was also home to the longest covered bridge in history. Built in 1814 in Lancaster County, at a distance of 5,960 feet (more than a mile), it was destroyed in 1832 by ice and high water. Ohio is second to Pennsylvania in remaining covered bridges with 138 at last count.

    The Bridgeport Covered bridge in California is the longest clear span bridge in the nation still standing, measuring at 233 feet long and built in 1862. It was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

    The oldest covered bridges still standing in America date back to the 1820s: the 1825 Hyde Hall, originally located on private property within the Hyde Hall estate, and Hassenplug bridges in New York and Pennsylvania, and the 1829 Haverhill-Bath bridge in New Hampshire and Roberts bridge in Ohio.

    Not only do covered bridges share a significant part in engineering history, but are also popular in folklore and art, featured in several American books and movies. Most notably "The Bridges of Madison County", and the main setting for Edgar Allan Poe’s “Never Bet the Devil Your Head,” where a man is gruesomely beheaded.

    In the United States . . .

  • In the United States . . .

    In the United States, more than 12,000 covered bridges have been built, about 3,500 of them alone in Ohio. As of 2019, approximately 800 authentic covered bridges still remain standing, though many are no longer in use, or have been moved to private lands and parks. Floods washing away the bridges created the need for redesigning them. Builders began to use a combination of iron and wood trusses. The invention of the automobile encouraged builders to use steel. But with World War I came a shortage of steel and wood bridges again became the norm, only now, they were being built with windows, laminated floors, asphalt surfaces and interior whitewashing. But floods remained the major cause of destruction of our covered bridges. Arsonists as well have been robbing us of this part of history for decades, and the wind and rain from hurricanes destroy several bridges every year. Then of course, the need to replace them with modern cement and steel structures is another major cause of their extinction because most are single-lane, have low width and height clearances, and cannot support the heavy loads of modern traffic.

    Canada was home to . . .

  • Canada was home to . . .

    Canada was home to approximately 1500 covered bridges, but between 1969 and 2015, the number of surviving covered bridges declined from about 400 to under 200. In 1900, Quebec had an estimated 1,000 covered bridges. Relative to the rest of North America, Quebec was late in building covered bridges, with the busiest decade for construction being the 1930s. Initially, the designs were varied, but around 1905, the design was standardised to the Town québécois, a variant on the lattice truss patented by Ithiel Town in 1820. About 500 of these were built in the first half of the 1900s. There are now 82 covered bridges in Quebec, including the Félix-Gabriel-Marchand Bridge, the province's longest covered bridge.

    In 1900, New Brunswick, Canada had about 400 covered bridges. Today, there are but 58 covered bridges in New Brunswick, including the world's longest, the Hartland Bridge.

    Before covered bridges, ferries transported horses, passengers and buggies to the other side of rivers. Many of these were run by merchants collecting fees from these ferries. This prompted taxpayers to build bridges that would be free to all travelers after a toll to help offset costs. Early bridges were built for utility. Only later were they also built with esthetics in mind.

  • King, Queen, Multiple-Kingpost Trusses

  • Town Lattice & Burr Trusses

  • Long & Howe Trusses

  • Spanning Large Crossings Efficiently

    Wooden truss bridges provided a means to span large crossings efficiently. These new bridges not only facilitated transportation but also increased awareness and interest in bridge building. As a result, builders developed a variety of truss types and built numerous wooden truss bridges throughout the nineteenth century, the heyday of wooden truss design. At the same time, the construction of wooden truss bridges heightened awareness of the potential of truss designs and resulted in new variations in iron and later steel bridges. Even though builders erected a small number of wooden truss bridges into the twentieth century, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, evolving designs in metal eventually eclipsed the use of wooden truss bridges and rendered them virtually obsolete by the end of the nineteenth century.

  • Preservation of Historical Covered Bridges

    This gallery of Covered Bridge images is dedicated to the preservation and history of our remaining Covered Bridges. As these historic bridges are disappearing at an alarming rate, we should give thanks to the societies, groups and friends of Covered Bridges who have devoted themselves to the bridges' survival, as well as the efforts taken for their costly restorations. If you have ever crossed a historical Covered Bridge, undoubtedly you understand the importance of their preservation. States where Covered Bridges are located are generally very proud of these historic treasures and often have organized "On Your Own" tours with maps, GPS coordinates, and written directions on how to find them. These can be found with a simple search on the internet, or through local government tourist agencies.

    Photographic Expectations . . .

  • Photographic Expectations . . .

    My photographic expectations when visiting these bridges was not capturing National Geographic quality images, although that would of been great. But instead, to circle each bridge (if possible) capturing images from as many interesting angles as possible to record a detailed photographic narrative of each bridge, it's surroundings, and current condition. Most of these bridges were photographed on "Bridge Chasing" expeditions, gathering images from multiple bridges. This resulted in some bridges being photographed with soft morning light, others in harsh mid-day glare, and others with the fading light of darkening evening skies. Nearly all of them were photographed as a one-time event, a "Get What I Get" expedition, no matter of light, or weather. Several of these bridges were photographed during severe rain storms and flash flooding. Not ideal conditions, but cameras see light and weather differently than the human eye, so those photos aren't as bad as they should be under such dreary conditions. Circling a slippery bridge in the rain and keeping the lens dry was an issue, and some photos may show traces of rain drops on the lens. There was no coming back later. Living in Costa Rica, it is doubtful I will return to those bridges shot during storms, nor those shot in the harsh mid-day sun, making this unique gallery a collection of "Got What I Got" images of hundreds of these remaining historical treasures.

    More 'Bridge Chasing' Expeditions . . .

  • More 'Bridge Chasing' Expeditions . . .

    More 'Bridge Chasing' expeditions are being planned for the next couple of years to those remaining states that are not currently included in this gallery. It is not practical thinking I can get to ALL of the surviving bridges, but visiting each of the 33 states that still have historical Covered Bridges is a more 'down-to-earth' goal. So please come back every several months to see which new states and bridges have been added to this growing gallery.

    A special thanks to Mary Carlton, Kitty Hughes, and Steve Tindall for accepting the essential role of navigator on several of my 'Bridge Chasing' expeditions. A majority of these bridges are located in hard to reach, near impossible to find, out of the way, rural areas, down unmarked dirt roads with no cell phone, nor GPS service. However, just walking through, or driving across these bridges makes it all worth the journey.  Saying so myself, "I am one fortunate fellow".

  • About the Photographer

    Having grown up within 10 miles of four covered bridges, enjoying fishing excursions with my father in the shadows of two of them spanning Delaware's  Brandywine River, covered bridges have always been dear to me. Covered bridges were part of the local culture, not just mine. When we first got our drivers licenses, a ride out to the bridge was the 'obvious' destination for a 16 year old with his/her first car. Bridges were the starting or ending points of rafting and tubing excursiones down the river, and the hot spot for many dates. Climbing up into the rafters we would spend hours sitting there, out of sight of the slow rumbling cars on the wooden planks below. These covered bridges were also the center for illegal, under-aged drinking, and for many local teenagers, the site of their very first beer.

  • Early Exposure to Covered Bridges . . .

    Early exposure to covered bridges was not limited to just those four bridges in northern Delaware. Just a few miles across the border into Pennsylvania, the number of bridges was staggering for a young venturous lad searching for things to do and places to see. As that famous old car advertisement goes, "See the USA in your Chevrolet!" The combination of being so close to Lancaster County (the most bridge filled county of Pennsylvania) and being born with a touch of adventure in my blood were reason enough to enjoy these architectural marvels. Chasing bridges was not the main reason for going out cruising, but certainly one of the benefits. Of course owning $25 cars with bald tires meant driving not too far away from home, nor from a gas station.

    Life is a series of changes, and being drafted into the Army in the mid-1960's at the age of 19 was a big change. Having spent my 20th birthday in Viet Nam, I was not the same young man when I returned in 1967. Those $25 cars were harder to find, and living in Delaware had less appeal, so like most young men back then, I was off to see the world. After years of traveling through Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, Central and South Americas, Delaware was the last place I wanted to be. Satisfied with living on a shoestring and sleeping in the woods, there was no need to go 'back home'. (Now 50 years later, I love going back to Delaware, but sadly, many of those covered bridges are now gone, but their memory still lives on.)

    Building a mountain bike . . .

  • Building a Mountain Bike . . .

    The mountain bike industry had just begun in California in the early 1980's, and during a several month visit to Laguna Canyon, I custom built my own  mountain bike while sleeping on the couch of Cook Bros. Racing, one of the pioneers in the 'Mountain Bike' industry.  When completed, and no real plan in mind, I pedaled  off on what eventually turned out to be a 10 year bicycle journey. Having worked as a photographer in Costa Rica, this journey provided the opportunity to use that skill, but in a much wider capacity. The digital age had yet to arrive, so taking photos was not cheap and involved carrying a lot of equipment and supplies, so every single shot counted. With the cost of film and developing, every snap of the shutter meant another $0.35, so focusing was a high priority. Several thousand of the images taken during this journey are currently on display at: www.earthlyphotos.com.

    The section of bizarre covered bridges from China in this site came as an unsuspected surprise. Cycling around China in the mid 1980's provided the freedom to get to unknown and unusual places. This small village was on a back road north from Macau. I was forced to take back roads as traveling by bicycle was not permitted in China at that time. The only way to get a bike into China was through the border at Macau. Even though I stood out no matter where I pedaled, it felt safer on back roads. But it also meant no hotels, and at times, no restaurants either, but the generosity of the Chinese people was surprising. GPS had yet to be invented and the only map I had was a small booklet of local maps published in Chinese, so I have no idea of the name of this village, how I got there, nor how to get back there again. Not knowing where I was going, or where I had been, resulted in some of the best surprises.

    Unfortunately it was raining the entire day that I biked through this area. Wish it had been a sunny day, but I did get to spend a dry night bedding down inside the biggest of these bridges and was offered food by some of the villagers. The entire village dressed in black, kind of spooky, and they did not speak Chinese as their native language. The bridges were all built with pegs and had no nails or screws to hold them together. If the following day had been sunny I would of stayed.  But the next morning it was still raining, so rolling up my blanket I pedaled slowly up the mountain, looking back many times fighting with the idea that leaving was the right thing to do.  From the crest, coasting at full downhill speed into a new unknown valley below, a totally different world awaited me. Never encountered any other covered bridges while in China, but crossed many spectacular bridges along the way during the two years of biking around this incredible and bizarre country.

    Now an elderly gent, I still get around taking photos of my favorite subjects, but no longer by the use of a bicycle, and no longer sleeping in the woods. Welcome to 'old age' and the 'new' digital world!

Sun rising over the Great Wall of China - 1986
Papua New Guinea Headhunter wearing 'market-day' headdress- 1989

Contact Me

If you should have any questions or comments on any of the Covered Bridges displayed in this gallery, or any other Covered Bridge that is not currently in this gallery, please feel free to contact me.

Millard Farmer

Bicycling Photography,  EarthlyPhotos.com   &   FireTruckWorld.com

Home is where the Heart is:

Santa Ana, Costa Rica

Phone

+011 (506) 2282-4564

You can email me at

millard@earthlyphotos.com

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