Covered bridges are great historical pieces that are protected by law these days. In the United States, there are at least 200 covered bridges registered under the National Registry of Historic Places because of their important role in a town’s or county’s history.
Most of the covered bridges still being used today are under the protection of the government and cannot be easily demolished or reconstructed without the prior permission of a local board set up to oversee the maintenance and preservation of these historic land marks. Most of them were built in the early nineteenth century when there was a huge movement of people from coastal cities toward the interior of the country where there are a lot of creeks, streams, and raging rivers. As towns developed, there was an apparent need for people to be connected and thus covered bridges were constructed.
But did you know that covered bridges’ history dates back at least two thousand years? There were ancient covered bridges in China and even in Babylon 780 years before the birth of Christ. These ancient covered bridges, according to written history, were more like architectural masterpieces used to accentuate the landscape of imperial palaces and gardens. But they also served a more practical purpose: covered bridges were perfect for protecting palaces and important places from being stormed by rebels or invading armies. Some ancient covered bridges were made of stone and because of its walls and ceilings, were perfect spots to hide from arrows and spears while fighting.
In America, covered bridges first appeared in the early part of the 1800’s. The first was built by Theodore Burr in New York. His name is also being used these days as a name of a truss usually used in building covered bridges: the Burr truss. The bridge spanned the Hudson River and was named the Waterford Bridge.
Waterford lasted for over a hundred years but since then the idea of covered bridges became more popular and started to gain popularity in the western part of the country. The first and second covered bridges in recorded American history can be found in Oregon City where they have become important infrastructures in joining communities developing in both sides of the river. They were eventually destroyed by heavy flooding in 1853.
Aside from the beauty and practicality of covered bridges, they were also a necessary move in ensuring the economic development of towns and villages in early America. In the days prior to their construction, ferries were the only ways to go around towns developing on opposite sides of a river. Because of the importance of connecting townspeople to important places like schools, government offices, and churches, ferries had the monopoly in transportation and could charge people, especially businessmen who needed to move heavy loads of merchandise, absurd amounts as they wanted.
That in turn created a demand from townspeople to the local government asking them to build bridges. Since financing the construction cost a lot, people entertained the idea of protecting these bridges with roofs and walls. Exposed wood can deteriorate quickly when exposed to harsh weather conditions, and since it was expensive to build bridges, taxpayers wanted them to be protected. And that ushered in the era of covered bridges in America.
Covered bridges also provided jobs for people in towns where they were built. And soon architects and carpenters were competing on innovative ideas. One idea was to make covered bridges look like barns as to make livestock crossing it more comfortable, avoiding dangerous stampedes common when forcing animals to cross rivers. Since the early 19th century, covered bridges have slowly made its mark in towns’ history and though it experienced a slow decline due to rapid commercialization and the introduction of cement and other modern building materials, covered bridges are now considered to be historic pieces worth preserving.