I have taken covered bridges for granted my entire life. I grew up riding my bike on a 5-mile loop through two covered bridges. In the summer I’d put the canoe into the river at one bridge and float down to the take-out at the second bridge. It was normal to drive somewhere and go through a covered bridge on the way. This was Pennsylvania after all, the state that still has approximately two hundred of the wooden structures. And, the Pennsylvania county with the most, where I grew up, is Lancaster County, with 29. (The national winner with 31, according to Wikipedia, is Parke County in Indiana).
Utilitarian though they are, there is something about covered bridges (maybe like lighthouses) that offers a connection to the past. Covered bridges recall another era, especially when you see an Amish horse and buggy driving through one.
The ravages of flooding, usually caused by tropical storms and hurricanes, take their toll on covered bridges. One of my childhood bridges, the Pinetown Bushong’s Mill covered bridge, was built in 1867 by an active bridge builder named Elias McMellen (who was also a captain in the Union Army). No doubt it survived many floods until Hurricane Agnes caused major damage to it in 1972. It might have been replaced with a “modern” bridge had not the local residents raised their voices in protest and the Amish community helped restore it. Then the rising river caused by Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 knocked the bridge off its foundation, bowing its timbers, making it unsafe for use. Though it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, I feared this was not enough to save it a second time due to the escalating costs of repair.
I eagerly awaited the decision about the bridge’s fate. My father kept me apprised of any news. Finally the newspaper reported the bridge would be restored and raised about 2 feet higher to spare it from future flood waters. On a recent trip I surveyed the work in progress, fascinated by the placement of the cranes and the complex engineering involved.
I’m so proud that Pennsylvania places such value in preserving its covered bridge heritage. I can still jump on a bicycle and take a ride through covered bridges or canoe the Conestoga River (in the valley where the wagons were produced) and relish a heritage that has still managed to transcend time.
Thank you Lancaster County and Pennsylvania for preserving the bridges! Soon the Pinetown Bridge will be restored to its former glory.
True story: My father was almost run over by a buggy as he walked through this covered bridge. He had to jump up on a wooden beam curb to escape a crazed horse. Only in Lancaster County!