Covered Bridge Trivia
There are several reasons for this. First, the major builders of the bridges were from this area or close by. Second, Parke County is rich in the natural resources used to build bridges in those days. Thirdly, Parke County has countless meandering streams and creeks, seemingly more than other counties, and needed many bridges. Most bridges were built around small villages and communities and were usually associated with a mill. Fourth, the trade was so well known that the bridges were built to last. It takes arsonists, an act of God, or deliberate demolition to destroy a covered bridge.
How long did it take to build a covered bridge?
It took anywhere from 6 months to a year to build a covered bridge. This was because most of the materials had to be brought to the site by horses. The arches were bent using steam which also took considerable time. The sandstone foundations were extracted from local quarries and brought it with horses as well.
What kind of wood was used to build the bridges?
Most of the bridges In Parke County are made of Poplar. The reasons for this wood selection were because it was, and still is very abundant in the area, it's strong and it's naturally resistant to termites. We do have one bridge, however, that is made mostly of white pine. That's the Conley's Ford Bridge in the southern part of the county. The interior of the bridges are made mostly of oak, obviously for its strength. This includes the arches, larger support beams, floor boards and upright trusses.
How strong are they?
By design, the entire weight of the bridge is supported by the arches. Similar to the curve of an egg shell laid lengthwise in one's hand, when compressed their strength is directly proportional to the load placed on the arch. Weight limits placed on covered bridges are determined for the smaller floor boards. But since the weight is not concentrated there, the wooden giants are virtually limitless in strength.
If the bridges are so strong, why have so many been bypassed?
One has to remember that Parke County’s economy is based mostly on agriculture. Modern farm equipment cannot access the bridges any longer due to size. To support and accommodate our economy, we must bypass certain bridges.
What are the foundations made of?
The foundations, or abutments, of the covered bridges are generally made of either sandstone or poured concrete depending on when they were built. As a rule, those built before 1900 had sandstone abutments and those after 1900 were concrete. Although few, there are exceptions to this rule, such as an older bridge being moved to another part of the county and given a concrete foundation.
Why do the covered bridges look different from one another?
With one exception, all of Parke County's remaining covered bridges are of the Burr Arch Construction. The Phillip’s Bridge on the Brown Route has a King Post construction (no arches). A few of the larger bridges are double-arched bridges meaning there are four arches from abutment to abutment. If a bridge is a double-span bridge, there will be a middle foundation called a pier.
Why did they put windows in them?
When a covered bridge was built on a curve, this usually called for windows in the ends to allow visibility of oncoming horse and buggy traffic. Some bridges are painted white on the inside about 1/3 of the way to the ceiling. This improved headlight visibility at night.
Who were the builders of the bridges?
Parke County had two major builders of the covered bridges. J.J. Daniels’s bridges are trademarked with the rounded opening or portal. J.A. Britton's bridges are denoted by a squared portal with angled corners. Two other builders have squared openings and they are William Hendricks and Henry Wolf.
What does "CROSS THIS BRIDGE AT A WALK" mean?
The inscription "CROSS THIS BRIDGE AT A WALK” dates back to about 1.880. A team of horses at a trot will coordinate their pace with one another. It was believed this cadence vibration could do damage to the bridge. So, the driver would have to slow his team to a walk to avoid this. Also, a lot of Civil War troops trained on and around the bridges. Their marching could do similar damage so they had to obey the same law.
The writing remains on some of the bridges for traditional purposes only. It does not mean you have to dismount your vehicle to cross the bridge!
Why did they cover the bridges?
Early attempts at wooden bridge building were at the expense of an uncovered bridge called a plank bridge. With no means to treat the wood such as pressure treated creosote as we have today, they quickly rotted and fell in. Soon they figured that they needed to cover them. A good example was the two uncovered bridges at Bridgeton which collapsed throwing people and animals into the creek below. So they did, in fact, build a covered bridge that lasted 138 years before being lost to arson.
A secondary benefit of covering the bridges also aided the horses, some horses are leery of crossing a bridge especially when they can see or hear the running water beneath. By placing the floor boards close together and painting the bridge red (If one looks closely at a Parke County covered bridge. It looks much like a long barn would). It helped the horse go right through the bridge with no problems. Another secondary benefit of a bridge being covered was for the gentlemen. During horse-and-buggy days, it was proper to court your lady in your carriage. What better place to do this outside of the watchful eyes of the public than inside a covered bridge? This gained them the title of "Kissing Bridges" for a short time.
Who takes care of the bridges now?
If the bridge is still in use the county highway department, takes care of them. If it has been bypassed, Parke County Incorporated and the Adopt-A-Bridge program oversee the upkeep. Some bridges are on state properties which are cared for by the State of Indiana.
Weren't there covered bridges moved here from other counties?
No. All covered bridges in the county are Parke County originals.
Was there any metal used in the construction of the bridges?
The only metal originally used were the bolts and nuts connecting the large timbers. Some bridges now have steel roofs, stabilizing cables, or steel rods for added support.
Have they always been painted red?
No. In fact, not until later years. If a bridge was painted at all it was painted white. One bridge, named The Red Bridge, was traditionally painted white with red ends. Today, the white ends on the remaining bridges improve visibility. Parke County has three bridges, the Jackson Bridge, State Sanatorium Bridge and Portland Mills Bridge, which remain white. The Nevins Bridge is unpainted. All others are the traditional red with white ends.
What's the longest bridge in Parke County?
The longest would most definitely be the West Union Bridge which is 315 feet long. The Jackson Bridge still has the reputation of being the longest single-span covered bridge still in daily use In the United States, standing at 207 feet long.
What's the shortest bridge in Parke County?
This would be the Phillip’s Bridge. It's only 43 feet long. The Catlin Bridge runs a close second at only 54 feet long.
How much did it cost to build a covered bridge?
It cost anywhere from $800 to $20,000 to build a bridge. Contracts were awarded to the lowest bidder which often brought on fierce competition and low prices!
What do you do with the covered bridges in the winter time?
This is a lasting joke among Parke County residents but nevertheless stemmed from an actual question from a visitor. Actually, the bridges stand in place 365 days a year. A good answer to bring a laugh is this: "We fold 'em up and put 'em in the basement of the courthouse."