In Search of Covered Bridges by Norm Brown

Each spring for the last few years, my brother Curtis and I have pooled our resources for a week- long vacation to explore some part of the US that neither of us has ever visited before. We both live in Texas, but over 250 miles apart. So, we meet halfway between at our other brother’s home near Dallas and fly from DFW airport. At our chosen destination, we rent a large RV for our base camp and a small car for roaming around. This May, we decided to check out New England, a region I only knew a little about from American history classes.

On some of these vacations we have a national park or other specific destination in mind, but this year the goal was just to explore and see what we could find. In Boston we would tour the historical sites and we knew we wanted to make it a little ways into Maine for a Maine lobster meal within site of an Atlantic lighthouse, but for New Hampshire and Vermont I came up with a more general goal. These states are famous for their fall colors, but we were off season for that. So, I went with the next most photographed feature—covered wooden bridges. A recent hurricane damaged or destroyed a few, but there are still some beautiful examples if you’re willing to drive around the countryside to find them. But hey, that was our main goal all along.

Below is the bridge over the Pemigewasset River in New Hampshire. Well maintained, it was originally constructed in 1886. I’m just glad I don’t have to pronounce the name here.

Penigewasset River Bridge

In the small city of Bennington, Vermont, we were surprised to discover a museum dedicated solely to the subject of covered bridges, where we learned probably as much as anyone would want to know about these things. For example, did you know that local residents used to manually shovel snow inside the covered bridge in the winter? Otherwise, the horse-drawn sleighs of yesteryear would have had a hard time sliding through on the rough wooden surface. Also, some of the early covered bridges were intended for trains, until it became obvious that fire was a constant danger from the steam engines.

Here are two bridges still in use near the Bennington museum.

Paper Mill Bridge – Bennington, VT

Henry Bridge – Bennington, VT

I’ll include one more bridge in New Hampshire. This one is a foot bridge built over a river gorge in 1938 from a single huge pine tree called the Sentinel Tree, which once stood nearby. You can clearly see the sturdy inner structure of roughhewn timbers in the second photo. This latticework of wood is what gave these bridges their support, while the protective roof provided for a long existence.

Sentinel Tree Bridge

Sentinel Tree Bridge interior structure

The covered bridges alone were worth the trip, but searching them out allowed us to wander through some of the most beautiful countryside in the US and meet some of our northern citizens. Good trip.

Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.

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10 Comments

Filed under fun, Norm Brown, photographs, Travel

10 responses to “In Search of Covered Bridges by Norm Brown

  1. Great post, Norm. That’s a part of the country I would like to explore. I lived in Bar Harbor, Maine one summer, but I was working three jobs, so couldn’t venture far from the immediate area. If you ever get up to see the bridges of Madison County, Iowa, let me know! You won’t be far from our new parsonage. And — will there be a book set in New England sometime in the future? Looks like a perfect setting for your next one.

  2. What is the reason if there was one, for covering a bridge in the first place?

    • There was some speculation at the museum about the reason(s) for covering them. You’ll notice in the photos that there is no superstructure beneath the bridge at all. It’s all hidden under the cover. The most practical reason considered for the roof was that the wooden supports are protected from the elements and last a lot longer. Second was the fact that they are attractive and often became a focal point for the small town. Third was that originally many of them were toll bridges. The enclosure and doors make it easy to control access. Not all the bridges we saw were really old. Some were built in the 1970′s and 1980′s. I would guess those were covered for the eye appeal and tourist attraction.

  3. Susan Abernethy

    Some of the fondest memories of my childhood were going to the Covered Bridge Festival in Rockville, IN in the fall. Oh, the scent of apple butter cooking…..

  4. Wonderful read and photos! It is wonderful you explore parts of the country. I remember a covered bridge in a part of North Carolina where I used to work. It was gorgeous especially in the fall.

  5. Neat post, Norm. We saw the covered bridges in Bennington.

    Mickey, I’m not sure about this, but in Minnesota, when there is precipitation (snow, sleet) in the winter, the air under the bridge causes an icy layer on the bridge. You’ll be driving along in the snow and come to the bridge and it’s slide time. Dangerous. Although they had to shovel snow that had blown into the bridges, I’m wondering if one of the reasons was to keep the bulk of the precipitaion out for safety reasons.

  6. Becky Thomas

    Really enjoyed this. I had seen pictures in History books also, but after seeing the movie, the senery, quaintness, and basic need for these structures left me wanting to see more. I found it very interesting to see the similararities from Madison County, Iowa, Pemigewasset River Bridge, New Hampshire and the two in Vermont all red with white trim. Given the times of construction there had to be a reason for that also. Maybe to blend into the Fall colors and contrast with Spring. The stark differences, and distractions were the Road Signs of Vermont Bridges, of course the mind’s eye blocks these images and a pictures can’t.
    Thanks for sharing your travels. And—I like Sherrie’s question.

    • Curtis and I found it interesting that these bridges were all red like a lot of old barns, while most of the actual old barns we saw in the region were unpainted wood. The home styles up there are also definitely different than down south.

  7. Glad you had a big time exploring this neck of the woods. I know the bridges on the “Pemi” well, even those over Bennington way.

    In answer to Micky’s question, the “Cover” is all about keeping the weather off the wooden through truss, Without it, new ones wouldn’t last two decades, and old ones, well, there wouldn’t be any old ones

    I spent a few leisurely days crossing Texas diagonally a few back, you have some beautiful country there yourself.

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