When people think of covered bridges, they usually envision a wooden bridge with picturesque, romantic details spanning smooth, calm waters. True in most parks and private estates, but the building of covered bridges were originally done for practical reasons – protection and development.
In the early days of young America, barges and ferries were the only means of transportation in what was then a land filled with creeks, streams, and rivers. As villages and towns grew, there was an apparent need to provide safer and more economical means to transport huge numbers of people and merchandise across waterways. This mandated the construction of bridges for the growth and development of towns which grew on both sides of a river.
The early ones were crudely built and its span was usually that of the timber used to build it. As the need grew, so did the bridges, and the more people getting into the business of bridge-building, the more innovative it became. People started using trusses and arches to lengthen bridges and soon they started to use connected stringers.
Since bridges were not cheap to build and the materials and manpower used in the process started to cost more as the years went by, there was a pressing need to make sure the bridges last longer. Wood was the main construction material used back then and it easily rots if exposed to extreme weather conditions during winters and summers. To protect the bridges’ trusses and joints, it was a good idea to put roofs and walls – and little did the first innovators know that it would soon become the trend all over the country. The first covered bridge was just partially covered.
It was in New York during the early part of the century. But after 1830, the construction of wooden covered bridges spread quickly all over America and there were probably thousands built throughout the 19th century. Now the industry has a very rich past with people making their names in history because of the bridges they built.
Benton Jones is the most famous builder of covered bridges throughout the nineteenth century. His works include the famous bridges in Madison County which were featured in an academy award winning movie. Many of his work survived the ravages of time and commercialization and are now preserved as historic bridges. His best work which still stands is the Roseman Covered Bridge which has lots of romanticized stories that has made it one of the most famous bridges in American history.
Another amazing story about the people who built covered bridges was that of Horace King, a slave who grew up in South Carolina and was one of the most respected names in bridge building. King learned the art of building bridges from his master, John Godwin. For sixteen years the two of them built bridges together in states like Alabama, Georgia, and their hometown South Carolina.
But during the difficult years of the 1940s, King was granted his freedom by Godwin as a sign of friendship and partnership. The two continued to build good bridges all over the country until the year Godwin died. After that, three of King’s sons joined him in the bridge-building business. The Kings went on to become one of the most respected families in the business of bridge construction, building strong, sturdy bridges that still stand today. In Georgia, most of the remaining bridges were built by the Kings and are considered historic pieces protected by the National Registry of Historic Places.
Covered bridges have a rich history in America, and fortunately these days, they are treated like national treasures protected by law and are preserved to be enjoyed by generations to come.