Covered bridges were built on narrow dirt roads as safe passages across scenic winding streams in the 1800s. They remind us of a simpler time when horse and buggy were the mode of transportation between small rural towns. Today, these charming iconic landmarks are located in picturesque settings virtually untouched by the years. They are both appealing and a reminder of their significance as part of our heritage.
Sadly, only a fraction of these wooden bridges remain since maintaining these old beauties takes a concentrated effort. We once had over 10,000 covered bridges scattered throughout the United States, but now only around 750 have survived.
Parke County, Indiana, is one such gem of a location, the self-proclaimed "Covered Bridge Capital of America," with 31 covered bridges. They are #1 for having more covered bridges than any other county in the United States.
When you compare Parke County's 31 covered bridges to the top six states covered bridge count: Pennsylvania (211), Ohio (144), Vermont (104), Indiana (98), New Hampshire (60), and Oregon (49), that's a lot of covered bridges in one centralized location!
Parke County once had 58 known covered bridges, of which only 31 remain. Twenty-one of these bridges can still be driven through. While the other ten have been retired and are only open to pedestrian traffic.
All the Parke County Covered Bridges are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the “Parke County Covered Bridge Historic District,” except for Bridgeton Bridge, which was rebuilt in 2006 after the historic bridge was lost to arson.
What is a covered bridge?
Not every bridge with a roof is a true covered bridge. A covered bridge must have a wooden truss framework to distribute the weight of the load-bearing deck. The truss’s design complexity determines how long the bridge can span and how complex it is to build. Then the truss system has to be covered to make it an actual covered bridge.
Why were bridges covered?
Back when bridges were constructed of wood, not only did the cover strengthen the structure, but it protected the wood from the elements, which would cause it to weather faster and rot. An uncovered wooden bridge might only last 15 to 20 years but adding the cover significantly increased the bridge’s lifespan. These bridges are over 100 years old!
Why are the Parke County covered bridges inscribed with “Cross This Bridge At A Walk"?
Today, this is more historical than anything else, although many Amish families who live in the Parke County area still travel by horse and buggy, so it’s a good reminder for them.
Driving around Parke County, you will see historical markers identifying the Ten O'Clock Line. This boundary line runs beside Big Raccoon Creek.
You can find one of the markers near the town of Bridgeton. The town sits about as close to the Ten O'Clock line as possible. The sign is on the far side of the bridge.
J.L. Van Fossen constructed this single-span Burr Arch truss bridge in 1907 out of white pine instead of using poplar like most other Parke County bridges. At 192 feet long, it is said to be the fourth longest single-span covered bridges in the world.
J.L. Van Fossen and his brother, J.P. Van Fossen, worked closely with J.J. Daniels while working for the Parke County Road Department.
A mill was constructed here in 1835 by Solomon Jessup and Zimri Hunt, but when the covered bridge was built just downstream from the mill, it was named after George Wilkins, the mill’s second owner.
Wilkins opened a store nearby in 1853 before purchasing Jessup and Hunt’s mill in 1855.
When bidding to replace that iron bridge, Britton's bid raised the new bridge five feet to prevent future flooding. It was also contingent on reusing the old iron bridge abutments and the Burr Arch trusses from Henry Wolfe’s 1854 Armiesburg Covered Bridge which was also destroyed by the flood that year along with the Plank Road and Hargrave Covered Bridges.
The Billie Creek General Store, circa 1850-1860, was moved to the village from Annapolis. The town was once a thriving Quaker community, but began to decline after the B&O Railroad decided to go through Bloomingdale instead.
It was first moved to Bloomingdale, before being moved to Billie Creek in 1968.
I am the 8th photographer in 4 generations of my family. Back in 2006, my husband accepted a job traveling, and I jumped at the chance to go with him.
I blog about long scenic drives and places that I find interesting around the United States.
A Travelers Musings
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