Ebenezer Bridge in Mingo Creek County Park, Pennsylvania, is the site
of the annual Covered Bridge Festival held the third weekend in
September. (Photo: Courtesy of Jim Smedley)
At the turn of the 20th century, Pennsylvania's covered bridges were being replaced rapidly by steel and iron structures and, eventually, by today's modern concrete bridges. Many of the early covered bridges could handle the weight of the automobile easily, but even some of the most well-constructed bridges could not handle the heavier load requirements of trucks and buses.
The number of covered bridges in Pennsylvania declined until the 1940s mostly through neglect, but often by fire and natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. When a small group of bridge enthusiasts noticed the unfortunate decline, they organized to protect and preserve the covered bridges. Now, almost 70 years later, the two most notable groups are the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania, established in 1959, and The National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, founded in 1950. Their members donate money, conduct fundraisers, and voice their concerns to local politicians about the need to preserve these historic treasures.
Covered bridge enthusiasts also donate their time to promote the upkeep of their beloved bridges. Theodore Burr Society members frequently gather to clean up an area surrounding a bridge, as they did for Red Bridge in Perry County. In June 2008, members of the Burr Society painted the portals of the Sachs Bridge in Gettysburg, Adams County.
Knecht’s Covered Bridge – located in
Springfield Township, Bucks County,
Pennsylvania – is made of hemlock.
(Photo: Courtesy of Jim Smedley)
In the last couple of years, some bridges have undergone major rehabilitation. Funding came from state and federal highway funds as well as from money raised by the county and historical societies where the bridges are located.
The Academia Covered Bridge in Juniata County was restored recently after engineers determined that repairs needed to be made to prevent it from collapsing. The restoration included a fire retardant chemical, interior lighting, and surveillance cameras. Today, it stands as the longest covered bridge in Pennsylvania, a two-span, 279-foot structure crossing Tuscarora Creek.
Many of the covered bridges still in use on roadways today have steel I-beam supports underneath to enable them to safely withstand heavy traffic loads. The structure itself remains authentic, but the stress on the flooring is reduced because of the steel supports.