It may seem like a silly question, but why does one cross a bridge? Drum roll please….to get to the other side. Much like the chicken who crossed the road.
But there’s more to it. One crosses a bridge also to arrive on the other side in a safe manner, especially when the river, stream, or other waterway that’s being traversed is dangerous.
Years ago, back in my career days, I worked as a newspaper reporter/editor for a twice daily newspaper in a southwestern state. When my co-workers learned I was from the keystone state of Pennsylvania, I found myself answering some silly questions like “What exactly is a Nittany Lion?” and “Is there really a place called Slippery Rock?”
The city editor, a college sports fan, teased me mercilessly about two Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning: Penn State University and its mascot, the Nittany Lion, and Slippery Rock College (now Slippery Rock University). Those schools amused him to no end and he was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t attended either college but instead graduated from another university.
He just couldn’t imagine why a college was named Slippery Rock or as he called it, Slimy Pebbles. Well, for one reason only – the college is located in the town of Slippery Rock and there actually is a Slippery Rock Creek, named thusly because the rocks in the creek were exactly that – slippery.
Today on our Tuesday Tour, come along with me to an historic, wooden, covered bridge that crosses over Slippery Rock Creek in Slippery Rock Township, near Portersville in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Papa and I visited this landmark on a day trip back in August 2013.
You’ll find McConnells Mill Covered Bridge located in a state park by the same name, McConnells Mill, named for Thomas McConnell who purchased a gristmill for grinding grains – corn, oats, wheat, and buckwheat – back in 1875. The first mill on this site beside Slippery Rock Creek was constructed by Daniel Kennedy in 1852. After fire destroyed the mill, he rebuilt it in 1868.
In 1874, McConnells Mill Covered Bridge was erected on stone foundations over the slippery rocks of the creek to transport shipments to and from the nearby mill. However, while the gristmill once was an important part of the surrounding community, it closed in 1928.
The old mill and property surrounding it, including the bridge, was transferred to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to be preserved in the 1940’s. Eventually, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acquired ownership and the area became a state park dedicated in 1957.
Both the mill and the covered bridge are well-known historic landmarks in the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, also in McConnell’s Mills State Park. If you visit this scenic park, you can explore both sides of the gorge, view Slippery Rock Creek as it gushes through the ravine or whitewater kayak on it, go climbing and rappelling, or hike on trails, one being a pretty steep, challenging six-mile hike that’s part of the North Country National Scenic Trail.
For those who prefer safer outings, you can visit the two man-made sites: tour the old gristmill and drive through the quaint covered bridge.
McConnell’s Mills Covered Bridge is one of only four Howe truss designed bridges still in existence in Pennsylvania. To understand a Howe truss form of bridge construction, you can read this.
This bridge is also the longest, at 101 feet, of the four which had not been rebuilt, but it was repaired and revitalized in 1957, when steel girders were added to give better support. Several years ago, the historic bridge sustained damage from a fierce storm, but refurbishment, costing over $100,000 with many replacement pieces made by hand, restored it. Reportedly, some original bridge lumber is over 140 years old.
An interesting fact is that covered bridges were not prominent in Lawrence County, unlike the rest of the state’s counties. It is speculated that only five covered bridges were ever built in that particular county and McConnells Mill is one of two that remain today. The other one, Banks Covered Bridge, stands near Volant, Pennsylvania (a small, picturesque town that is an antique and specialty shop haven).
Today, you can tour the historic 19th century mill and drive through the bridge, which is open for vehicular traffic. McConnells Mill Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
No doubt this bridge was built to provide safe crossing from one side of a rushing, slippery creek to another. Perhaps we need to take a bit of inspiration from this old bridge. To avoid being swept away down slippery slopes into a rapid torrent of turbulent waters, we need to begin building bridges of respect and understanding instead of tearing others down.
“Bridges are built not to cross over it but it is built to lift you to the other side safely.” ~ Edwin Lawrence