here with permission of: The Quincy Herald-Whig - Quincy,
By Edward Husar-Herald-Whig Staff Writer-August 1998
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
* Sandy Creek Covered Bridge, built in 1872 in Jefferson
* Locust Creek Covered Bridge, built in 1868 in Linn County.
Generously Donated by Ed Husar