Monday, October 20, 2008

PA: Covered Bridges Ride

Sunday, October 19th: Fifteen Bedminster Flyers participated in the Central Bucks Bicycle Club's 28th Annual "Covered Bridges Ride". We tackled the challenging, hilly, 50 and 63 miles routes through central and upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania, passing through historic covered bridges.

After an unusually warm early October the temperatures dipped to freezing overnight and sunrise revealed frost in the fields. It was going to be a perfect Fall day for cycling, sunny with a chill in the air.

Six of us started the 63 mile route at 9:00 a.m. We rode at a sensible, steady, pace and enjoyed the beauties of the day. It was a great ride.

The event was very well organized and I especially appreciated the silence of riding on narrow country roads,the home baked goodies at the rest stops (especially the brownies with M&Ms at rest stop 2), and the police at the tricky intersections (of which there were only a few) that stopped traffic for us. Even though the route was entirely marked with arrows on the roadway it was a good idea to pickup a cue sheet which had mentioned these potential hazards:

-Assume there is gravel at every turn!

-The covered bridges on this ride have wooden plank road surfaces that are uneven and may present a hazard for cyclists. At each bridge please take extra caution, and for ensured safety, dismount and walk your bike through the covered bridges.

Photos: Covered Bridges artwork; event check-in; the 63 mile hilly riders: Teddy (12!, he forgot his cycling shorts so rode in his jeans), me, Kathy, Carlos, Josh (13!, Teddy's brother, he wore his pyjama bottoms to stay warm), Eddie. Note: Teddy and Josh are AWESOME cyclists; at the first covered bridge; the wood construction of a bridge, notice road surface of wooden planks; various ride photos; river scene as we neared the finish; the finish picnic area. Thanks to Lee and Kathy for supplying additional photos.

Covered Bridges background:
The covered bridge is an important and significant historic structure in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Not only does Pennsylvania have the most extant covered bridges today, it probably had the most during the height of, the covered bridge period 1830 to 1875. Estimates have been made that Pennsylvania once had at least 1500 covered bridges, historically known as "kissing" or "wishing" bridges because young couples used the shaded passages to steal a kiss while others would make a wish before entering a new bridge for the first time. Not only is the sheer number important, but Pennsylvania had the first known U.S. covered bridge, as well as the prototypes for most of the major truss types.

The first US covered bridge was located in Philadelphia over the Schuylkill at 30th Street and built in 1800 by Timothy Palmer, a master carpenter from Newburyport, Massachusetts. The investors asked to have it covered in the hopes of extending the life of the bridge and Palmer reluctantly agreed. The value of the covered design was quickly recognized. The true reason for covering bridges was to extend the life of the bridge by protecting the side supporting timbers (not necessarily the floorboards) from exposure to the weather, thus lowering maintenance costs of the bridge.

From the completion of this first bridge, the age of the covered bridge was upon Pennsylvania. Not only were the truss types of Burr and others first tried out in Pennsylvania, but the covered bridge spread as the local carpenter adapted it to the local problem of crossing the numerous small streams and creeks throughout Pennsylvania. The covered bridge is also important in the history of bridge building. The early stone arch bridges were really only practical on smaller streams and then in areas with an abundance of good building stone. The peak of the stone bridge is Pennsylvania can be seen in the Rockville Bridge over the Susquehanna River built by the Pennsylvania Railroad and contains a quarter of a million tons of stone. The covered bridge was the transition from the stone to the cast-iron in most places.

Since the heyday of the covered bridge they have been rapidly disappearing through neglect, flood, arson and progress. Prior to the Agnes Flood of 1972, Pennsylvania had 271 covered bridges, spread across 41 of its 67 counties. Since that time the number has been decreasing at a fast rate.

The Delaware River and its watershed area of fourteen counties once had the most -- and some of the earliest -- covered bridges in Pennsylvania. At one time the Delaware River itself was crossed by twenty-one interstate covered bridges. All but the railroad bridge at Easton were originally built by companies interested in the tolls that could be collected.

Three top covered bridge architects built across the Delaware River; the 1806 Theodore Burr Bridge between Morrisville and Trenton, second oldest covered bridge in the United States; the 1806 Timothy Palmer Bridge at Easton; and the 1814 Lewis Wernwag Bridge at New Hope. None of the 21 bridges remain.

The northern watershed area of Wayne, Pike, Luzerne, and Monroe Counties had only a handful of covered bridges originally and only one of these, the Bittenbender bridge in Luzerne County, still remains.

In the Lehigh River area the covered bridge was more abundant. Carbon County has only two remaining bridges, one of which was saved only by its removal by the Beetzville Dam project area. Lehigh has retained six of its original wooden spans but Northampton only one.

Bucks County today retains 13 of its original 36 covered bridges, most of them in Upper Bucks. The strict usage of the Town truss within the county is unusual and represents the largest number of Town truss bridges anywhere in the State.

The lower watershed area has seen the greatest disappearance of the covered bridge. Originally six wooden bridges spanned the Wissahickon Creek alone; today only the Thomas Mill bridge remains. In an area that saw the birth and development of the covered bridge, these rare survivors are the only remaining examples of an important stage in the development of bridge technology and history.

Sources of information: Covered Bridges of the Delaware River Watershed -- a National Register of Historic Places thematic resource nomination.

Covered bridges in Bucks County:

Bucks County at one time had 36 covered bridges, 13 of which still stood at the time of the first Covered Bridge Ride in 1981. Most have been well-maintained by the County and several have been restored (proceeds form the ride have gone towards maintenance of the bridges). The following are the 13 covered bridges of the original CBBC Covered Bridge Century.
Cabin Run Covered Bridge * ^Location: Covered Bridge Rd., Plumstead Twp.Height Limit: 11 ft. 10 in. Width: 15 ft.Length: 82 ft. Weight Limit: 3 tonsBUILT in 1871, this bridge crosses the Cabin Run Creek, so named for the small houses that dotted its banks in the 19th century. It is located a short distance downstream from the Loux Covered Bridge and just down the road from historic Stover-Myers Mill.
Frankenfield Covered Bridge * ^Location: Hollow Horn and Cafferty Rd., Tinicum Twp.Height Limit: 11 ft. 3 in. Width: 12 ft.Length: 130 ft. Weight Limit: NoneBUILT in 1872, the Frankenfield Covered Bridge crosses Tinicum Creek in an area once known for its abundant turtle population and only two miles upstream from where the creek flows into the Delaware River. This bridge is one of the longest covered bridges in the County.
Erwinna Covered Bridge ^Location: Geigel Hill Rd., Tinicum Twp.Height Limit: 11 ft. Width: 15 ftLength: 56 ft. Weight Limit: 29 tonsALTHOUGH the National Historic Register lists the date built as 1871, county records suggest this bridge was built in 1832. The Erwinna Covered Bridge, which crosses Lodi Creek, is a good example of the lattice-type construction and is Bucks County's shortest covered bridge.
Knecht's Covered Bridge * ^Location: Knecht's Rd., Springfield Twp.Height Limit: 11 ft. 6 in. Width: 15 ft.Length: 110 in. Weight Limit: 3 tonsBUILT in 1873, this bridge is also known as "Slifer's Bridge". Built of hemlock, it crosses Durham Creek, which was once known as "Cook's Creek".
The Loux Covered Bridge * ^Location: Wismer Rd., Plumstead Twp.Height Limit: 11 ft. Width: 15 ft.Length: 60 ft. Weight Limit: 15 tonsBUILT of hemlock in 1874, you'll find this bridge is one of two bridges to span the Cabin Run Creek. Nestled in a scenic valley, it was built at the insistence of local residents who complained about the dangers of crossing the creek.
Mood's Covered Bridge * ^Location: Blooming Glen Rd., E. Rockhill Twp.Height Limit: 11 ft. 2 in. Width: 15 ft.Length: 120 ft. Weight Limit: NoneBUILT in 1874 and spanning the Perkiomen Creek just outside Perkasie, Mood's Covered Bridge is one of the most used bridges in Bucks County. Its timbers were damaged by a truck in 1993 and it was subsequently restored, but was struck again by another truck in January 2004 and then was almost completely destroyed by arson in June of 2004. Due to repairs, the bridge is closed until further notice and its future is in doubt.
Pine Valley Covered BridgeLocation: Old Iron Hill Rd., New Britain Twp.Height Limit: 11 ft 10 in. Width: 15 ft.Length: 81 ft. Weight Limit: NoneBUILT in 1842 of native hemlock and pine, the bridge is also known as "Iron Hill Bridge". The bridge crosses Pine Run Creek, which was named after the hardy neighboring pine trees.
Schofield Ford Covered BridgeLocation: Tyler State Park, off Swamp Rd., Newtown Twp.Height Limit: 13 ft. Width: 16 ft.Length: 170 ft. Weight Limit: No Vehicle AccessORIGINALLY built in 1873, it burned down in 1991, and was rebuilt in 1997. Built of native hemlock and oak, this town truss bridge is the longest in Bucks County. Also known as "Twining Ford Bridge", it crosses Neshaminy Creek.
Sheard's Mill Covered Bridge * ^Location: Covered Bridge Rd., on the border of Haycock and E. Rockhill Twps.Height Limit: 12 ft. 1 in. Width: 15 ft.Length: 130 in. Weight Limit: NoneBUILT in 1873, this bridge spans Tohickon Creek and is one of several bridges built to aid farmers transporting grain to local mills.
South Perkasie Covered Bridge *Location: Lenape Park, Walnut St., PerkasieHeight Limit: No Vehicle Access. Width: 15 ft.Length: 93 ft. Weight Limit: No Vehicle AccessBUILT in 1832 of pine and oak, this bridge once crossed Pleasant Spring Creek until it was condemned to traffic and is now owned by the Perkasie Historical Society. It was moved to Lenape Park near the East Branch of the Perkiomen Creek in 1958.
Uhlerstown Covered Bridge ^Location: Uhlerstown Rd., Tinicum Twp.Height Limit: 11 ft. 3 in. Width: 15 ft.Length: 101 in. Weight Limit: NoneBUILT in 1832, this bridge is built of oak and has windows on both sides. It is the only covered bridge that crosses the Delaware Canal.
Van Sant Covered BridgeLocation: Covered Bridge Rd., Solebury Twp.Height Limit: 12 ft. 6 in. Width: 15 ft.Length: 86 ft. Weight Limit: 7 tonsBUILT in 1875, and also known as "Beaver Dam Bridge", this bridge crosses Pidcock Creek. You'll find this bridge is close to Bowman's Hill and the Thompson-Neeley House, part of Washington Crossing Historic Park.
Haupt's Mill Covered BridgeLocation: Kellerman Rd., Springfield Twp.Height Limit: ? ft. ? in. Width: ? ft.Length: 107 ft. Weight Limit: ?BUILT in 1872, this bridge over Cook's Creek was destroyed by fire in 1985 and was not rebuilt.
The Covered Bridge ride now also visits the only remaining covered bridge in New Jersey:Green Sergeant's Covered Bridge ^Location: Rosemont-Ringoes Rd., Delaware Twp., Hunterdon County, NJHeight Limit: ? ft. ? in. Width: ? ft.Length: 84 ft. Weight Limit: ?BUILT in 1866, the Green Sergeant Covered Bridge, a classic whitewashed structure spanning the rocky Wickecheoke Creek, is the only remaining covered bridge in New Jersey.
* denotes bridges on the 1993 Covered Bridge Ride metric century ^ denotes bridges on the present (since 1997) Covered Bridge Rides

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  1. Great info on covered bridges!!! Looked like a beautiful day for cycling. Love your photos! ;-)