Covered bridges, for me, are iconic symbols of America. Every time I see one, whether on film or in real life, I experience a twinge of nostalgia.
When you consider great American bridges you probably immediately think of engineering marvels like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.
However I believe covered bridges should also be counted amongst the greatest bridges ever built in America.
These amazing wooden structures, which once dominated the rivers and streams of the American landscape, share a story about the nature of America in days gone by.
In the past 200 years as many as 15,000 covered bridges were built in North America. Alack and alas, fewer than 1,000 still stand.
Having watched the movie The Bridges Of Madison County, I assumed most of these structures could be found in Iowa or Vermont. To my great surprise I discovered I live right beside a state which boasts 130 surviving covered bridges.
A quick drive across the Ohio river and covered bridge country awaits in our neighboring state of Indiana.
This summer we visited Parke County, Indiana which is home to 31 surviving covered bridges. At one time as many as 53 covered bridges spanned the rivers of this rural Indiana county which lies to the west of Indianapolis.
In today’s post I thought I would publish some of the photos I took on our little tour, and share my love of covered bridges.
Now don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with engineering facts and figures, but instead I’ll focus on the charm and romance of these architectural beauties.
I couldn’t resist taking a shot or two of the interior woodwork of these utilitarian structures.
I stood in awe beneath the beams, marveling at the dedication and skill of bridge builders of old.
These nostalgic symbols are sometimes called “kissing bridges”, in recognition of the couples who have strolled hand-in-hand under their arches and planks over the years.
Each bridge seems to whisper its own inviting story, standing as a physical reminder of a simpler time.
The purpose of the covering was not only to shelter courting couples, but to protect the wooden structural components of the bridge from the weather.
Uncovered wooden bridges have a very short life span of only 10 to 15 years, their wooden trusses being exposed to the constant adverse affects of rain, wind and sun.
Another advantage was to keep horses from shying away from water.
I even found evidence of modern day horse crossings in one of Parke County’s wooden bridges. Our Amish neighbors continue to use these bridges to this very day.
Timber trusses allow bridges to span great distances.
The width of some of Parke County’s red wooden landmarks is simply amazing.
Most of the bridges we visited in Parke County bear the inscription “Cross This Bridge At A Walk” atop the entrance.
I discovered this instruction dates back to horse and buggy days, and was painted on either end of the bridges.
Believe it or not the rhythmic trotting of horses’ hooves can cause more structural damage to a wooden bridge than the weight of a modern day truck.
When marching soldiers crossed these bridges in days gone by, they broke cadence to limit the forces the bridge needed to bear.
I hope that not only historians and those who love bridges can appreciate the important legacy of America’s covered bridges.
I’m quite certain there are some who merely see these structures as obsolete nuisances from the past.
But I hope, like me, you too appreciate them as evidence of our ancestors’ technological ingenuity.
Just as I hope for thatched cottage preservation in Ireland, I hope for covered bridge preservation in America.
Covered bridges may be nostalgic icons of America, offering us a glimpse of simpler times.
But I hope they are not merely seen as venerable symbols of the past, but instead recognized as vulnerable structures we cannot afford to lose.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
P.S. You can learn more about the bridges of Parke County here.