Landmarks of Monroe County  
 

 

The Builders of the Covered Bridges

The builders of the Monroe County covered bridges were Joseph C. Elliott and  his son William B. Elliott.

  • Stoutsville Covered Bridge 1856-1857

  • Paris Covered Bridge 1857

  • Mexico Covered Bridge 1858-1859

  • Santa Fe Covered Bridge 1859

  • Union Covered Bridge 1870-1871

Covered bridge have almost become symbolic of early America even though the first structure of this type was erected across the Euphrates River in Babylon in 783 B. C. The American covered bridges were built on a scale never attempted in any other country; some were more than a mile in length.

The first bridge patent was issued January 21, 1787. The covered bridge period never picked up momentum until the early 19th century. It is believed by many historians, that the first covered bridge in America was erected in 1804-1806 over the Schuylkill River at Philadelphia, Pa. However, this fact has not been definitely confirmed.

Distinguished pioneer builders of covered bridges were Ithiel Town, William Howe and Theodore Burr. Many builders passed their secrets along to their sons thus retaining a family identity as builders of bridges. Some had elaborate patented engineering plans while other built by Gosh and by Golly. Most of the early bridges were constructed with wooden pegs and hand cut square iron nails. On a typical 100 foot bridge more than 5500 holes had to be bored for the two-inch pegs used to join the boards together. Many covered bridges have been traced to Theodore Burr, resulting in his being called the Father of American Covered Bridges. Although crude in structure, the covered bridge was an excellent example of early American craftmanship.

Robert Fletcher, former dean of engineering at Dartmouth College, said most covered bridges violated nearly every law of engineering, yet somehow managed to carry astonishing loads of generations.

Henry Ford who nourished a vast nostalgia for early Americana, once bought a a Pennsylvania covered bridge and transplanted it, trusses, floor and roof, to his famed Greenfield village at Dearborn, Michigan. One flaw was quite apparent, the bridge lacked a river to give it the traditional scenic effect. Ford promptly ordered a river to be dug and the scene was soon complete with a river flowing under the bridge.

In the early days the covered bridge era there were record to show that the bridges were used as community meeting places, pavilions for dances and emergency shelter from the sudden storms. Of course each was know as the "Kissing Bridge" for obvious reasons.

 Graphics courtesy of Rhiossampler