Landmarks of Monroe County  


Union Covered Bridge

  Union Covered Bridge   

Reprinted here with permission of: The Quincy Herald-Whig - Quincy, Ill., Newspaper
By Edward Husar-Herald-Whig Staff Writer-August 1998

PARIS, Mo.--One of Northeast Missouri's most distinctive landmarks is also one of the region's most serene settings.
    Union Covered Bridge, 10 miles southwest of Paris, has been attracting scores of visitors since it was built 127 years ago. It is one of only four covered bridges still standing in Missouri. At one time Missouri had at least 30, according to state officials.
    The 120-foot-long structure spans the Elk Fork of the Salt River. It's been closed to vehicle traffic since 1970 - the same year an overweight truck damaged the bridge's support structure. That also was the year the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
    Union Covered Bridge was built in 1871 by Joseph C. Elliott of Payson, Ill., who built several covered bridges in Monroe County. All are now gone except for the Union bridge, named for the former Union Church that once stood nearby.
    Unlike the three other covered bridges still standing in Missouri, Union bridge is the only one made of "Burr-arch" construction. That type of design, patented by Theodore Burr in 1817, features huge wooden arches that add strength to the bridge's wooden truss superstructure. Extra strength was deemed necessary because two previous uncovered bridges failed to hold up after being erected on the same spot in the 1840s and 1850s. That's why county officials
decided to pay Elliott $5,000 to build a bridge that would last.
    Elliott's covered bridge lasted nearly a century before it needed major repairs. In 1968, the bridge underwent a major overhaul. According to Herald-Whig news files, much of the material used to restore the bridge came from several former covered bridges that stood in Monroe County.
    One former bridge salvaged for parts was the so-called Mexico Covered Bridge, which crossed Elk Fork about five miles southeast of Union bridge. News files show the century-old Mexico bridge collapsed in a flash flood in July 1967.
    After the Mexico bridge was lost to the ravages of nature, state officials stepped up efforts to preserve and protect the four remaining covered bridges, all of which are now owned and maintained by the Division of State Parks - a branch of the Missouri Department of Natural
Resources (DNR).
    One of the agency's missions is to preserve the state's natural features and cultural landmarks. "Covered bridges certainly do fit into the cultural landmarks of the state," said Sue Holst, public information officer for the division.
    "The bridges themselves give a connotation of something of the past. A lot of people come to see them because they are a little bit different. That's one reason we want to keep them as a part of history."
    After its initial rehabilitation in 1968, Union Covered Bridge went 20 years before it needed another overhaul. This time, in 1988, a more massive rehabilitation was required. The bridge was sagging severely in its mid-section, and some rotting structural timbers had to be replaced.
    The $250,409 restoration also involved replacing some clapboard siding, tuck pointing the bridge's limestone foundation and painting the structure.
    Holst said the bridge sustained some damage earlier this year when a tree fell on part of it during a storm. Repairs are now under way.
    The bridge continues to be visited frequently by tourists and local residents. It's a magnet for children as well as couples and families who like to picnic in the area. It also serves as a popular backdrop for photographs and occasional wedding ceremonies and baptisms.
    Covered bridges everywhere received a public relations boost several years ago with the release of "The Bridges of Madison County," a best-selling book that became a movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. The story focused on a romantic relationship that developed in a rural Iowa county where seven covered bridges are located.
    Holst said the movie's publicity blitz sparked some extra interest in Missouri's covered bridges. "A lot of people didn't realize that we have four covered bridges," she said.
The others are:
* Burfordville Covered Bridge, built in 1858 in Cape Girardeau County.
* Sandy Creek Covered Bridge, built in 1872 in Jefferson County.
* Locust Creek Covered Bridge, built in 1868 in Linn County.

Generously Donated by Ed Husar

 Graphics courtesy of Rhiossampler