The Laurel Highland region of Pennsylvania is one of the most picturesque regions in the United States. The beauty here is extraordinary, yet it becomes particularly enchanting in Autumn.
The fall foliage starts to unfold in mid-September when the first frost hits the mountains and peaks around mid-October. During this time of year, the landscape is adorned with a spectacular array of autumn colors ranging from yellows and golds to oranges, reds, browns, and even a little residual summer greens. Although the foliage is magnificent, there's also a lot more to admire here.
One of my favorite Laurel Highland road trips is the Somerset County Covered Bridge Tour. With ten covered bridges along the way, this drive is approximately 175 miles long, and it begins and ends in the town of Somerset. It sends you down country roads and historic highways while taking you through delightful small towns and past significant historic landmarks. And the scenic views of charming rural landscapes are everywhere you look. It's an easy two days of exploring, making it the perfect starting point for a weekend getaway.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love a covered bridge! These enchanting structures harken back to a simpler time when craftsmanship was highly valued, and these old wooden bridges were seen as harmonious extensions of nature.
Pennsylvania's Covered Bridge History
At one time, there were around 1,500 covered bridges in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia was the location of the first covered bridge built in America in 1800, and the technology swiftly traveled throughout the state.
Despite most of them being lost to the passage of time, Pennsylvania still leads all other states in the United States, with almost 200 covered bridges remaining. Somerset County owns ten of them and has been at the forefront of efforts to preserve and highlight these notable historical treasures.
Timber Truss Bridge Types
A covered bridge is just a wooden truss bridge designed with a roof and wood siding for weather protection. By sheltering the deck of a wooden bridge, it can prolong the bridge's lifespan from 10 to over 50 years.
Here are the most common truss types, and you will see several of these along the Somerset County Covered Bridge tour...
The Kingpost Truss is the oldest and most basic of truss designs. It comprises a central kingpost with two diagonal panels and a bottom stringer. It is generally used for spans ranging from 20 to 30 feet.
A 100 feet long span could be achieved with the Multiple Kingpost Truss design.
A variation of the Multiple Kingpost Truss was the Burr Arch Truss, which added long reinforced arches anchored at both ends for additional support. Many older Multiple Kingpost bridges were retrofitted with arches in response to increased weight needs during the early automobile era.
While there are many other styles of truss systems represented throughout the state, the predominant type of covered bridge in Pennsylvania is the Burr Arch Truss. It is also the most common truss used in Somerset County, where seven examples still exist. Additionally, Somerset County is home to three Multiple Kingpost bridges, two of which are historic bridges while one is a reproduction.
Walter's Mill Covered Bridge
Somerset Historical Center - 10649 Somerset Pike, Somerset, Pennsylvania
40° 04’15” N
79° 04’58” W
Milford Township petitioned Somerset County in 1853 to replace a deteriorating bridge over Coxes Creek four miles south of Somerset. After several attempts to get the project approved, Jacob Walter was awarded a contract for $318, and he completed the Walter's Mill Bridge in 1859.
Initially built in a Multiple Kingpost Truss design, the Burr Arches, were added around 1905 so the bridge could accommodate heavy farm equipment and automobiles.
In 1961, the county replaced the bridge with a concrete one, and it was moved to a private museum along Route 985 to save it from demolition. It was later donated to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1970 and moved to the Somerset Historical Center where the 60-feet long bridge now spans Haupt's Run.
Shaffer Covered Bridge
3071 Somerset Pike, Johnstown, Pennsylvania
40° 16’52” N
78° 57’50” W
Constructed in 1877 by William Kline, the Shaffer Covered Bridge stretches 68 feet across Bens Creek in a beautiful wooded setting. Half of the exterior of this remarkable single-span bridge is uncovered by siding, revealing most of the truss system of this Burr Arch Truss bridge. While the original stone abutments have been preserved, steel stringers were installed beneath the deck in 1978 to enhance its structural integrity.
Most recently, in 2021, Somerset County was granted $100,000 to undertake further repairs on this historic landmark.
Trostletown Covered Bridge
349 North Club Rd, Stoystown, Pennsylvania
40° 05’44” N
78° 56’43” W
The Trostletown Covered Bridge extends 104 feet across Stony Creek. The construction date of the bridge is a matter of contention. Most sources indicate this bridge was built in 1845, but the engraving on the bridge suggests 1873.
This bridge is one of the last two historic Multiple Kingpost bridges remaining in Somerset County. The triple-span bridge showcases three sets of Kingposts and still has its original cut-stone abutments and piers. Tension rods have been added to balance the bridge's framework.
By the mid-20th century, the bridge had fallen into severe disrepair. However, beginning in 1965, a meticulous restoration process was initiated by the Stoystown Lions Club, which continues to care for the bridge today. It remains at its original site, which is now known as Stoystown Lions Club Park.
Glessner Covered Bridge
Covered Bridge Road, Stoystown, Pennsylvania
40° 01’34” N
78° 55’14” W
The historic Glessner Covered Bridge was constructed in 1881 by Tobias Glessner for $412. It spans 90 feet across the Stony Creek.
This double-span bridge has a Burr Arch Truss. As typical with most Somerset County covered bridge designs, two-thirds of a bridge's exterior is clad in wooden planks, leaving one-third of the interior framework visible.
In 1969, a concrete pier was added, and the abutments were reinforced with concrete. Still, by 1995, the bridge had deteriorated and was closed to traffic. In 1998, Glessner Bridge underwent a significant rehabilitation. Many of the bridge's wooden components were replaced, and new concrete piers and steel beams were added under the deck.
New Baltimore Covered Bridge
Intersection of Water Street & Town Hill Road, Berlin, Pennsylvania
39° 59’13” N
78° 46’19” W
The New Baltimore Covered Bridge is a Multiple Kingpost Truss bridge that stretches 86 feet across the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River. An unidentified builder constructed the 1879 bridge that sadly succumbed to flood damage in January 1996. The bridge seen today was built in 1998 and is a replica of its predecessor.
Because it is a reproduction, this bridge is no longer on the National Register of Historic Places with Somerset County's nine historic covered bridges.
Pack Saddle Covered Bridge
682 Packsaddle Road, Fairhope, Pennsylvania
39° 52’03” N
78° 49’03” W
Packsaddle Covered Bridge is considered Pennsylvania's most beautiful covered bridge because of its picturesque location stretching over a waterfall. Spanning Brush Creek at only 48-foot-long, this is also Somerset County's shortest covered bridge.
Constructed in 1870, Packsaddle Bridge is one of only two remaining historic Multiple Kingpost Truss structures. This compact single-span bridge differs from the triple-span Trostletown Bridge by requiring only a single kingpost on each side. Unlike other partially open bridges, the Packsaddle Bridge is almost singular in its design among Somerset County's historic covered bridges due to its vertical board siding nearly reaching the eaves. New Baltimore Bridge is the only other closed-sided bridge in the county.
The Packsaddle Bridge was rehabilitated in 1950 and again in 1998 after it was heavily damaged in the 1996 flood. The most recent repairs included new steel stringers, a refreshed roof, a wooden deck, and stone-faced concrete abutments.
Burkholder Covered Bridge
Mason Dixon Highway, Garrett, Pennsylvania
39° 52’55” N
78° 02’04” W
Constructed in 1870, the Burkholder Covered Bridge is a Burr Arch Truss bridge that spans Buffalo Creek. At only 52 feet long, it is the second shortest bridge in the county.
Burkholder Bridge is unique because its extremely low sidewalls expose much of the structure. In the 20th century, steel stringers replaced the original timber stringers, and later, steel beams were added beneath the deck to strengthen it.
Lower Humbert Covered Bridge
2287 State Route 3007, Confluence, Pennsylvania
39° 50’25” N
79° 19’23” W
The Lower Humbert Covered Bridge, constructed by an unknown builder in 1891, is a Burr Arch Truss bridge built to replace an earlier covered bridge in the same location. Spanning 126 feet across Laurel Hill Creek, this is a relatively long bridge for a single span.
In 1991, the bridge underwent an extensive but historically sensitive rehabilitation. Significant reinforcement work was carried out on its abutments, a new pier was added to the middle of the bridge for additional support, and four steel beams were added beneath the deck.
King's Covered Bridge
Intersection of Scullton Road & T342, Rockwood, Pennsylvania
39° 56’15” N
79° 16’16” W
The Kings Covered Bridge, named after John King, on whose land it was constructed, stretches 127 feet over Laurel Hill Creek. The bridge was likely built circa 1860 as a Multiple Kingpost Truss bridge. Still, it underwent significant reconstruction in 1906 to accommodate car traffic by adding Burr Arches for extra support. A unique feature of this bridge is its unique lattice floor joist design, which you can see from the creek's bank.
In 1934, a new highway and bridge bypassed the covered bridge, rendering it obsolete. Ownership of the bridge fell into the hands of the King family, who took on maintenance responsibilities for the bridge, using it as a barn for their livestock until 1988.
Between 2004 and 2005, the bridge was carefully rehabilitated in a way that respected its historical significance, ensuring its preservation for many years. Currently, Middlecreek Township holds ownership of this historic structure.
Barronvale Covered Bridge
Barronvale Bridge Road Sr3035 , Rockwood, Pennsylvania
39° 57’09” N
79° 16’13” W
The historic Barronvale Covered Burr Arch Truss Bridge spans 162 feet 3 inches across Laurel Hill Creek. It is the longest-covered bridge in Somerset County.
In 1828, Mr. Peter Kooser first approached the Somerset County commissioners with a request to construct a bridge near his gristmill. The job was granted to Cassimer Cramer, who finished the project in 1830 for $300. In 1845, burr arches were added as part of a repair and reinforcement project costing an extra $750.
Other than its length, the most interesting feature of this bridge is that its two spans are different lengths, resulting in Burr Arches of varying heights. The vertical plank siding extends only halfway up the exterior. The siding is absent in the interior, so the truss system is mainly exposed.
Italian artisans were responsible for quarrying and setting up the stone supports in 1907, which cost another $773.85. The bridge was given a cedar shingle roof in the 1930s, which stayed until it was replaced by its existing metal roof in 1986.
The Barronvale Bridge was bypassed by State Road 3014 and has had minimal alteration since it is only open to pedestrian traffic. The bridge still retains its original cut-stone abutments and pier.
Somerset County Covered Bridge Map
For more information about Somerset County and the Laurel Highlands, visit Go Laurel Highlands.
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