Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: The Bridges of Somerset County

Each time I view photos of the covered bridges I highlight today in this Tuesday Tour, a certain title of a book and movie come to my mind.

You see, these structures are three out of 10 remaining covered bridges in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. And each time I think “the bridges of Somerset County,” my mind leaps to a book written in the 90’s, one that became a popular movie in the same decade, The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller.

“First you must have the images, then come the words.” ~ Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

The story involves star-crossed lovers: a professional photographer, who travels to Madison County, Iowa to take photos of famous covered bridges there for National Geographic, and a lonely farmer’s wife. I can honestly say I didn’t care much for either the book or the movie (which starred Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep), but for some reason, that title sticks in my mind.

So here are some of the bridges – not of Madison County, but of southern Somerset County – which we visited by happenstance last summer. In the midst of the you know what, Papa and I needed a get-away, so one Saturday we embarked on a day trip out into nature, one where we wouldn’t encounter a lot of people.

After arriving at the 20,500-acre Ohiopyle State Park, which serves as a gateway into the Laurel Highlands, we hoped to enjoy a view of Ohiopyle Falls, a 20-foot waterfall on the Youghiogheny (pronounced YOK-i-gay-nee) River.

But the place was crazy busy with people who had the same idea, so we nixed that,  shelving it for a week-day another time when it might be less crowded. After finding a quiet spot for a picnic lunch, we meandered down country roads and wound up in Somerset County in search of three covered bridges that all cross the same ribbon of water, Laurel Hill Creek.

The first one we encountered was the Lower Humbert Covered Bridge, near Confluence, PA, about a 25-minute drive from Ohiopyle. Also called the Faidley Covered Bridge, it’s located at an intersection of Humbert and Covered Bridge Roads in Lower Turkeyfoot Township.

At 126. 5 feet in length, 12.3 feet in width, and 8 feet high, the double span bridge was constructed in 1891, using Burr arch truss and King-post design. Maintained by the county, Lower Humbert was rehabilitated 100 years later in 1991 when two steel beams were added in order to support vehicular traffic and a concrete pier, encased in stone, near the bridge’s mid-way point was also included.

Today, this covered bridge, is in good condition and we enjoyed driving through it. Research revealed that it was not the only covered bridge that existed in that area in the past. One called the Upper Humbert Bridge, which also had a King-post design, once stood about one mile upstream from the Lower Humbert. Unfortunately, an arsonist destroyed that bridge in 1969 and it was not rebuilt. 

We next found King’s Covered Bridge, also located in Middlecreek Township just off Route 653 about 12 miles southwest of Somerset.  We appreciated the fact that there were ample parking spaces in a park-like setting so sightseers can walk through the bridge, which is not open to vehicular traffic, and that a picnic pavilion is adjacent to it. The site is owned and maintained by the township.

The date this 127-foot long and 12-foot-wide bridge was constructed is not certain. At one time, King’s Bridge was believed to have been built in 1802, but that conflicts with the fact that covered bridges were not erected in that area until the late 1800’s. Research on covered bridges indicates that the first confirmed American covered bridge was bult in 1805 in Philadelphia, PA across the Schuylkill River.

So more than likely, a bridge (not covered) may have been erected there in 1802 but was replaced by King’s Covered Bridge using multiple King-post trusses. Then in 1906, the bridge was rebuilt using Burr arch trusses.

After being bypassed in the 1930’s by a modern, steel bridge, King’s Covered Bridge fell into disrepair and actually was used as a livestock barn for several decades, Thankfully, it was rehabilitated in 2008.

It is beautiful from the outside. However, what disturbed me most about this link to the past was, after waiting for a couple of bicyclers to pass through the bridge (photo at beginning of this post), we walked inside to find its interior walls covered in spray-painted graffiti. What a shame.

King’s Covered Bridge is not far from the ski resort areas of Seven Springs and Hidden Valley. It’s also a short distance from Cole Run Falls, which is a popular set of waterfalls.

Just a few minutes away from King’s Bridge, we located another covered bridge, which I think is my favorite of the three.  (Maybe because there were old-fashioned roses and daisies in bloom beside it.) Barronvale Covered Bridge, the longest of the 10 remaining covered bridges of Somerset County at 162 feet in length, is also known as Barron’s Mill Bridge.

This nearly 14-foot wide, two-span Burr truss structure is not open to vehicular traffic and can be found in Middlecreek Township in a beautiful setting. It is in very good condition, but it is privately owned so visitors need to be respectful of that. Sightseers can park and walk through the bridge though.

A placard at the bridge details its history, stating that a miller named Peter Kooser petitioned county commissioners in 1828 to build a bridge near his gristmill for his patrons. By 1830, Barronvale’s construction was completed by builder Cassimer Cramer at a cost of $300.

In 1845, the two-span bridge needed repairs to strengthen it so heavy Burr arches were installed, which allegedly cost the county $750. Repaired again in 1907, stone supports, which came from a nearby quarry, were installed.

All three of these historic covered bridges were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. They serve as reminders to the past and are worthwhile remembering and visiting.

“The heart never forgets, never gives up, the territory marked off for those who came before.” ~ Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: a link to the past

I embarked on a quest quite a long time ago: to visit as many of our 50 states in the United States of America as I could.  I‘m pleased to account that, so far, I’ve visited 40 with 10 more to check off the list.

I suspect I acquired this desire from my father, who loved to travel and enjoyed poring over a Rand McNally road atlas of America just imagining all the trips he could encounter. He managed a number of those with my mother, but after she passed away, his zeal to journey too far from home waned. But he still studied those road maps.

For the last year, the you know what slapped the kibosh on our own travels, which is why I’m looking back over places we’ve visited in the past including the covered bridges featured on my Tuesday Tour.

A few years ago, Papa and I traveled to the New England states on two separate trips to check them off my to-do list. Our first trip took us to parts of New York state we had never visited before and then on into Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

On our second excursion to New England in the summer of 2018, we ventured into Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. And it was in Vermont that I discovered I liked photographing covered bridges, although with our packed itinerary, we only visited two that we happened upon while on our way to other sightseeing stops.

The first covered bridge that caught my eye was West Dummerston Covered Bridge which we passed on our way from Brattleboro to Weston.  Papa graciously turned the car around and drove back to the site so I could jump out of the car to snap photos.

This historic covered bridge, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, is named the longest entirely covered bridge, at 280 feet long, in the state of Vermont. And we just happened upon it by chance.

Spanning the West River in a small town named Dummerston, Windham County, the bridge, which stands on stone abutments and a central stone pier, features two spans, flush vertical boards on its sides, wooden clapboard ends, and a corrugated metal roof.  The interesting feature, I think, of this one-lane bridge is its side walls which have diamond-shaped openings in them admitting light inside.

I found this one so picturesque, we drove through it twice and I took multiple photos of it. In my research later, I learned that it is the only known surviving architectural example of a renowned master bridge builder named Caleb Lamson, who constructed it in 1872.

Back on the road again, we stumbled upon another covered bridge on our way to Woodstock, Vermont that same day in Taftsville. This wooden bridge is one of the oldest remaining covered bridges in not only the state of Vermont but also in the United States as it was constructed in 1836.

Located along US Route 4 in Windsor County and spanning the Ottauquechee (pronounced (AWT-ah-KWEE-chee) River, the Taftsville Covered Bridge is 189 feet long and 20 feet wide (with a roadway of 16 feet) and was designed with kingpost trusses with arches on a central pier.

Prior to 1836, three bridges once stood in that spot but were destroyed by floods. A local resident, Solomon Emmons III, was then contracted to build the timber-framed bridge that still stands today and is used for vehicular traffic. The bridge was so busy, we only drove through it and I only managed photos from inside our vehicle. The photo at the beginning of this post is from inside the Taftsville Covered Bridge.

Having stood the test of time, the Taftsville Covered Bridge is one of over 100 covered bridges still existing in the state of Vermont, where at one time there were more than 600 such structures.

At the time we visited Vermont, I hadn’t yet developed an interest in seeing more covered bridges, but now, I’d love to travel back to New England – preferably in the fall to be awestruck by the colorful foliage – and visit more of these charming reminders of days gone by.

A link to the past – that’s what these quaint and picturesque bridges symbolize to me. They take me back in time to an era when life was simpler. And I think we need to remember our past in order to secure a better future. Not make the same mistakes, learn from history not erase it, and use that knowledge today.

“Today is the bridge between the past, regarding which we unconditionally accept that
everything has occurred according to God’s plan, and a future where we place our unconditional trust in God’s omnipotence and His benevolent design for our lives.”
~ Jonathan Lockwood Huie

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in Life, photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: to safely cross

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

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in Life, photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: a bridge to serve

Located in many communities, throughout not just America but internationally as well, are groups of people whose motto is “We Serve.”

I’m referring to a non-political, service organization known as the Lions Club. I have a bit of knowledge about the good and beneficial projects these clubs perform because Papa once belonged to a Lions Club and even served as King Lion (President) of a local chapter.

So how does the Lions Club pertain in any way to my Tuesday Tour of covered bridges? Read on please.

Venturing around some country roads in Pennsylvania’s Somerset County back in the summer of 2012, Papa, our oldest daughter, and I discovered the Trostletown Covered Bridge, one of only two surviving multiple kingpost bridges in that county.

The three-span structure features three pairs of kingpost trusses with queenposts and is covered with half-height plank siding and an asbestos shingled gable roof.  Located in Quemahoning Township near Stoystown, this historic bridge was built over Stonycreek River near property that once was owned by Daniel Trostle’s mill. 

Conflicting dates appear concerning the year of its construction. Some indicate Trostletown Bridge, also known as Kantner Bridge, was erected in 1845 by an unknown builder. Other research shows the bridge being built later in 1873.

However old it is, this 104-foot long and 12-foot, 8-inch wide covered bridge is one of 10 in Somerset County, still stands in its original location on original cut stone abutments and stone and mortar piers, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. 

By the 20th century, the bridge had become time-worn and deteriorated, but in 1965, the Stoystown Lions Club stepped up to the plate to restore and preserve it. The bridge now stands in the Stoystown Lions Club Park and is privately owned by the club. 

Because of the ongoing preservation of the bridge, Trostletown Covered Bridge, which was re-dedicated in 1993, is in good condition but is now only used for pedestrian traffic.

Since our visit back in 2012, a new attraction has been added to the bridge. Visitors can view a restored conestoga (covered) wagon parked inside this interesting piece of history.

Thanks to the Lions Club extending their hands of service, Trostletown Covered Bridge remains a link to Pennsylvania’s past.

We could all take a lesson from the Lions Club by building our own bridges, lending a hand to others in service, and providing a link from one person to another for a better world.

“Build a bridge by extending your hand.” ~ Ken Poirot

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: hard work and effort

You met me at the bridge today!

Last week, I announced my intention of taking Mama’s Empty Nest readers on another excursion of sorts via a few of my photographs.

Last year, we traveled on my Tuesday Tour of lighthouses I’ve photographed. Today begins our new tour of historical covered bridges.

I’ve often viewed covered bridges, particularly because we live in a state where we have a plethora of them still existing. But I didn’t capture photos of them until July 2012. Back then, one of our chicks, our eldest, had flown back into this empty nest while planning her upcoming wedding.

On a whim, the three of us hit the highway on July 4th for a day-long road trip to Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Our main stop was to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville (site of the third plane downed on that fateful September 11, 2001 day), since our daughter had never seen the site and we hadn’t viewed new landmarks added there since our previous visit several years before.

After our somber viewing of the memorial grounds, we climbed back in the car to meander around some country roads.  Less than two miles from the memorial, we found the Glessner Covered Bridge, north of Shanksville in Stonycreek Township.

This historic two-span structure is one of 10 remaining covered bridges in Somerset County. Originally constructed in 1881 by Tobias Glessner, the 90-foot-long and 12-foot-wide bridge crosses over the Stonycreek River, a tributary of the Conemaugh River.

When Glessner built the bridge at a reported cost of $412, multiple kingpost and burr arch style trusses were utilized in its design. Now that didn’t mean a thing to me so I had to research what those terms meant.

I found that a kingpost style, considered to be a simple truss form, is often used for short-span bridges and roof trusses. It consists of two diagonal lengths of wood meeting at the apex of the truss, one horizontal beam tying the bottom end of the diagonals together, and a king post connecting the apex to the horizontal beam below.

For a bridge, the builder would need to use two kingpost trusses with the driving surface between them. Covering the bridge with a roof would require side by side trusses where the diagonals are rafters, and the horizontal serves as a ceiling joist.

A burr arch truss is a combination of an arch and multiple kingpost trusses. Burr arch trusses were devised by Theodore Burr in 1804 and used especially in covered bridges. If I understand it correctly, the arch truss along with a kingpost truss makes the bridge more stable and capable of supporting a greater weight.

If you’re architectural/construction deficient like me, that is as clear as mud, so I needed a visual to understand that. You can see the trusses on the inside of the bridge, which is covered with a tin gable roof, in the photos below. Two-thirds of the bridge’s exterior is covered with vertical wood planks and one-third of the interior is also planked.

Years took their toll on the Glessner Covered Bridge by 1969, so a concrete pier was added and abutments were reinforced with concrete. However, by 1995, the structure had deteriorated so much, it was closed to traffic.

A major rehabilitation project consisting of a new concrete pier and abutments, replacement of some of the wooden components, and the addition of steel beams underneath the deck were accomplished by 1998.

Currently, Glessner Covered Bridge is in good condition, open to vehicular traffic, and owned and maintained by Somerset County. In 1980, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the aspects of this particular covered bridge striking me most is the amount of know-how and hard work the builder must have put into constructing it. Maybe these old covered bridges can teach us a lesson – a lesson from those days of yore that we should utilize now during our uncertain times and into the future.

When we exert a good deal of effort and we work hard at the task before us, our dreams can become reality.

“Effort and hard work construct the bridge that connects your dreams to reality.” ~Daisaku Ikeda

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in photography, Spring, travel

Don’t be a sap

Just the other day, while Papa and I drove down that winding road that passes our country home, I noticed something that caused me to do a double take. Good thing I wasn’t driving!

Nearby neighbors are tapping a maple tree in their yard. And by tapping, I don’t mean they were knocking on the tree bark, or smacking it lightly with a tool. Instead, a maple syrup tap was attached to the tree in order for sap to flow from the inside of the tree to an attached container.

Of course, I knew about tapping maples in spring to gather sap for making pure maple syrup, but this is the first time I can remember actually seeing someone nearby performing this spring-time task.

Tapping trees for syrup usually begins in late February or early March when tap holes are drilled into the trees. By the way, doing so does not harm the tree in any way. After a metal or plastic spout is hammered into the hole, a covered bucket is hung to collect the sap, and plastic tubing is attached from the spout to the container.

So what exactly is maple sap and why must it be collected each day? Maple trees store a combination of water in their roots. During the summer time, the trees produce natural maple sugar. As winter wanes and the weather begins warming, water flows up from the tree roots, combining with the natural sugar, and a thin, clear sap is produced.

When the sap freezes at night, then thaws the next day, it is pushed out into the spout and drips into the bucket. But sap needs to be collected each day because until it is boiled, it is perishable, so it can be a time-consuming task, both in acquiring enough sap and actually boiling and bottling the syrup.

A few years ago, Papa and I embarked on an early summer vacation to New England with stops in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. One of our visits included a trip to a maple syrup/cheese making farm in the Green Mountain State.

We traveled back some country roads which eventually deposited us at our destination, Sugarbush Farm, a family-owned venture where they make delicious cheeses, wax coated by hand, and tap acres of maple trees to produce pure syrup.

The farm, owned and operated by the Luce family since 1945, is located off the beaten path near Woodstock, Vermont, but is so worthy of a visit.

Upon entering the farm’s work room, which is open to the public, we were greeted warmly and asked if we’d like to try some cheese samples. Not an easy decision when there were 15 different kinds of cheese all made right there on the farm.

After we sampled several cheeses and declared all delicious, we learned facts about the 100% natural maple syrup the farm produces each year. Beforehand, we never knew that there are actually four different grades of syrup based on the color and intensity of flavor: Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark. And we sampled each of the four.

Golden is described as having a “delicate taste,” not as much flavor and suggested for pouring over ice cream or yogurt. It is made early in the season. Amber is a bit darker (light amber in color) and has a “rich taste” or a more classic maple syrup flavor.

Dark definitely had a more pronounced maple flavor, described as a “robust taste,” and is, of course, darker in color. Apparently, when weather gets warmer as spring progresses and trees begin producing buds, the syrup tapped from the tree has a darker color and a stronger maple flavor.

And then there is Very Dark – whew, to say it has a “strong taste” is putting it mildly. Those who prefer a very strong maple flavor may like it on their pancakes, waffles, etc., but it is used more often in cooking for glazes, sauces, or in pies, and can actually be a substitute for granulated sugar. It was too strong for our likes. We preferred the Golden or Dark.

We took a self-guided tour of the syrup producing area of the farm, including the Sugarhouse, and came away with a new-found appreciation for pure maple syrup. And after visiting the gift shop, we brought several containers of Sugarbush Farm’s syrup and delicious cheese home with us.

Our enlightenment about maple syrup included learning how healthy it actually can be as opposed to the man-made artificial maple syrups so readily available in grocery stores and much cheaper to purchase. It’s true pure maple syrup is a tad expensive, but it is a 100% natural food since no preservatives, added sugars, or artificial coloring is added.

But who knew that pure maple syrup, especially the darker grade, also gives us quite a few health benefits? It contains minerals like zinc and manganese which help our immune systems and heart health. It also contains 24 polyphenol antioxidants that reduce inflammation in our bodies and can fight the effects of arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and heart concerns.

Research also indicates that maple syrup is a less harmful sugar because of its antioxidants and can protect our bodies’ cells from DNA damage and may have protective effects on brain cells as well. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to get all the help I can on protecting my brain cells!

All of this tells me one thing: don’t be a sap. Spend the money for pure maple syrup, a God-given gift to us, instead of the cheaper, fake versions.

Admittance to Sugarbush Farm is free and samples are also free. You can order their products online too. For more information on Sugarbush Farm, click here. (This post is also my own opinion about Sugarbush Farms; I received no incentive, monetary or otherwise, to write about this Vermont treasure.)

“Sugaring season is the season when you tap the trees for sugar that turns into maple syrup. I’ve married someone from Vermont, so it’s an expression I kept hearing, and I’m like, ‘What is that? That’s just so beautiful.’ I like the idea it’s the very, very first murmurings of spring.” ~ Beth Orton

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in pandemic life, photography, travel

Meet me at the bridge

In this time period of you know what, (my euphemism for pandemic) when one day is much like the one before and when travel too far away from home is restricted, I’m a bit stagnant when it comes to ideas for blog posts.

So, I resort to a process I’ve often relied on in the past – photographs. Photographs speak to me, they inspire me, they conjure up ideas to ponder upon because I am a visual kind of person. Although I adequately use words to express myself whether thinking, writing, or speaking, I also often think in pictures.

When my blogging fodder is running low, I scan back through the myriad of photographs I’ve taken over the years in hopes an idea will percolate, permeate, and present something new to write about.

My photo cache didn’t fail me this time either. A few Mama’s Empty Nest readers shared with me that they enjoyed the Tuesday Tour series I wrote this past year on lighthouses Papa and I visited on various sightseeing trips/vacations in the past. Searching through pictures and researching each lighthouse certainly gave me something enjoyable to occupy my time during this you know what.

So, I’m planning to venture again on another Tuesday Tour and I do hope you join me on this journey. Each Tuesday for the next few weeks, I will showcase other gems, some historical landmarks worthy of viewing. Covered bridges.

Although they are not quite as alluring to me as lighthouses are, covered bridges still intrigue me and cause me to pull out my camera to capture them in their usual scenic surroundings. And they are situated by water, which always seems to draw me near.

At one time here in the United States, almost 14,000 timber-trussed structures covered by a roof, deck, and siding and often completely enclosed, spanned creeks, streams, and rivers. Most of them were one-lane bridges originally designed for wagon, carriage, and foot traffic, but eventually automobile traffic could also be accommodated as well.  

A multitude of covered bridges were built between 1820 and 1900. But time, weather, and even technology caused them to fall into decay and disuse. Currently, less than 900 such structures still exist, but grants for restoring and rebuilding some of those have been available.

About 550 authentic, wooden covered bridges, some over 150 years old, exist in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Vermont. Papa and I are fortunate enough to live in Pennsylvania where the most covered bridges still stand – around 200 located in 37 counties – and the state next door to us has the second most. We have not visited all those sites, that’s for sure.

Before we set off on our tour, maybe you’ll find a few facts establishing background information about these quaint historical landmarks from another time period interesting. You may have wondered, as I did, why these bridges were covered in the first place.

According to research, I discovered the answer is simple: wooden bridges exposed to the elements are exceptionally vulnerable for deterioration. In other words, they rotted easily so covers protected them from weather and resulted in the bridges lasting longer, since, according to bridge engineers, a covered truss made of timber possessed a three times greater life expectancy than an uncovered one.

Uncovered wooden bridges usually only lasted about 20 years and then needed repaired or replaced where covered ones could and have lasted as long as a century. Another fact was that a roof over a bridge would strengthen the entire structure.

Some other explanations for covered bridges have also been offered. Some believe that because the covered spans resembled barns, it was easier to drive farm animals through the structures since they wouldn’t be frightened and possibly stampede. Other theories are that coverings were simply to keep the oiled planks from becoming slippery in rain or to just keep trusses from view because they were unsightly.

Yet other explanations were that covered bridges provided a shelter from storms for travelers and, the most romantic reason of all – that a young man could court his young lady there in private and secretly kiss her, which provided a nickname for covered bridges as “kissing bridges.” I’ve even heard stories of couples getting engaged in modern times inside a covered bridge.

Philadelphia became the first known site of a covered bridge, constructed in 1805, with a length of 550 feet, and crossing the Schuykill River. A nearby land owner suggested that bridge be roofed, sided, and painted. From that suggestion, covered bridges become a popular and common sight on American roads spanning the country.

Eventually with the onset of iron production after the Civil War, wooden bridges were replaced with iron and steel beamed bridges because, of course, metal was more durable than wood. During this time, covered bridges were considered old-fashioned, yet we Pennsylvanians must have still appreciated their charm because at least 1500 covered bridges were newly erected in the state from 1830-1880. And many of those still stand today in 2021.

I do hope you meet me at the covered bridge next Tuesday. (I promise, by the way, there will be no kissing!) That’s when I’ll begin another Tuesday Tour spotlighting my pictures of covered bridges here in Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Ohio. Someday soon, we hope to resume longer road trips to visit more of these picturesque structures.

“A bridge is a meeting place. a possibility, a metaphor.” ~Jeanette Winterson

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in Groundhog Day, travel

Prognosticator Phil

Today is February 2 – Groundhog Day.  It’s a pretty big deal here in my home state, especially in this part of the commonwealth – western Pennsylvania – and not just because it was the subject of a Bill Murray movie by the same name in 1993.

“It’s a freakin’ holiday entirely based on the power of a psychic rodent. If that isn’t the epitome of awesome, I don’t know what is.”  ~Flying LlamaFish

What may seem bizarre and absurd to others is normal in the small hamlet of Punxsutawney, where the weather predicting groundhog Phil lives and prognosticates.

When our famous rodent emerges from his hibernating hidey hole (or burrow) to check on the state of the weather, a bright sunny day will cause him to see his shadow on the ground.  

Supposedly, this rattles him enough to cause him to scurry back into his comfy home and stay there for six more weeks – hence predicting more winter weather to come.  

But if the day proves cloudy, there won’t be a shadow to frighten Phil back into hibernation, so the groundhog stays above ground indicating spring weather is on its way.

I grew up with this folklore legend and can remember, as a child, cheering for his spring prediction and groaning over the thought of six more weeks of winter with my classmates in elementary school.  

How did this unique tradition begin? According to history, German immigrants living in the Punxsutawney area observed Groundhog Day as early as 1886. February 2 became Groundhog Day because they based it on a European tradition of predicting the length of winter by noting weather conditions on Candlemas, which was an ancient Christian festival held on that day.

“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another fight;
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.” ~old rhyme

Furthermore, if Candlemas Day proved sunny, the legend stated an animal, such as a hedgehog, would cast a shadow and that indicated more winter weather to come. The immigrants found no hedgehogs in Punxsutawney but there were plenty of groundhogs.

So voilà! The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club was established in 1899 and to this day, the club’s inner circle (the guys who wear formal wear and top hats on Groundhog Day) are the officials responsible for Phil and the Groundhog Day celebration at Gobbler’s Knob.

Gobbler’s Knob.  Isn’t that a hoot of a name? Supposedly, the name originated from gatherings of the Groundhog Club, who would actually hunt groundhogs and “gobble” up what they bagged or some say it may have come from the abundance of turkey gobblers in the area.

During our visit there, we didn’t see any turkeys, but we did spy a groundhog darting into the brush, although it wasn’t the famous Phil.  He hangs out in his own private burrow in town, a climate-controlled spot located in the Punxsutawney Memorial Library. You can watch Phil from inside the public library or from the outside where we said hello to him.

Because we visited Gobbler’s Knob on a quiet summer Sunday afternoon, we had to imagine thousands of people gathered there on a February morning just to witness Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his burrow during all the hoopla. After wandering around, I captured photos of “the spot” where Phil publicly declares his weather forecast during the celebration (shown below).

Groundhog Day at Gobbler’s Knob is quite an event, as ascertained by our oldest daughter who visited the site with friends during her college years because it was something to check off her bucket list. Of course, this year due to the pandemic, the celebration will undoubtedly be much smaller, all masked up and social distanced, and actually a live-feed virtual broadcast will take place.

After departing Gobbler’s Knob, we drove back into the quaint and friendly little town of Punxsutawney where we spied Phil in his not-so-private “burrow” and strolled the streets to locate large groundhog statues painted in various arrays and stationed in front of shops or public buildings. (The photo at the beginning of this post is one of those positioned outside the library.)

According to Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day powers that be, ol’ Phil really IS old. They say he is the original groundhog, the only one after all of these 100 plus years, because he drinks a magic elixir every year that keeps him going for seven more years.  Uh-huh.

But just because Punxsutawney Phil is ancient doesn’t mean he’s behind the times.  He’s got his own Facebook page, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

You can check those out and everything else you wanted to know about Punxsutawney Phil but were afraid to ask at the official website. You can even order Punxsutawney Phil souvenirs from the shop, Groundhog Stuff here.

Whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not, spring eventually will arrive since the official first day of spring noted on the calendar is six weeks from now. I guess we don’t need a prognosticating groundhog to tell us that, but it’s still a fun tradition. 

“The trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.” ~Patrick Young

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in photography, travel

When the end is really not the end

All good things must come to an end. But who says so?

That often used proverb usually means nothing lasts forever. In other words, enjoy the here and now. Find your happiness today because it may not exist tomorrow. What makes you happy now is only temporary. Perhaps that is so, if you listen to all the doom sayers.

Just as my Tuesday Tour series on lighthouses Papa and I have visited came to a conclusion last week, it’s not a closure with finality. I’m hopeful my posts provided a nice distraction from all that’s taken place in our world in the last several months. I know ‘revisiting’ all of those beautiful spots provided a source of happiness for me.

Hopefully, Papa and I will once more hit the road on our empty nest travels and when we do, we will enjoy good things like lighthouses again. In the meantime, we still continue our day trips here and there within driving range of our country home.

This past fall as we drove northward to catch sight of some fall foliage, we found a spot, just by happenstance, we’ve never seen before or even heard of – Peace Park on Lighthouse Island, a privately owned 20+ acre island located along the Allegheny River in Tionesta, Pennsylvania.

My mind couldn’t believe what my eyes beheld as I spied this little hidden gem while we were driving along. A lighthouse! An inland lighthouse, which isn’t a navigational aid to water vessels, located approximately 60 miles away from the only real shoreline Pennsylvania has along Lake Erie? Come again?

Of course, we had to find our way there so I could stop to snap a photo. And when we located the Sherman Memorial Lighthouse, an illuminated 55-foot tall lighthouse 16 feet in diameter, we also were pleasantly surprised to find it situated on a lovely park named Peace Park.

Sherman Memorial Lighthouse was erected as a family memorial by a local Tionesta resident, Jack Sherman. The tower was completed in 2004 and 76 stairs inside it join seven floors. On each floor, Mr. Sherman displays items pertaining to his family’s heritage and his collection of lighthouse art and miniatures.

Even though the park is privately owned, it is open to the public but to tour the lighthouse’s interior, you must either arrange for a private group tour appointment (donation asked) or visit when it is open to the public a few times a year during the local Lions Club fundraisers.

When we visited the lighthouse was closed, but we could still stroll the park grounds which has a one-mile walking trail.  Other attractions located in the park are a Freedom Cross, representative of the Cross of Lorraine, a two-barred cross with a vertical line crossed by two shorter horizontal bars; a Statue of Liberty replica; a Veteran’s Memorial honoring those who served our country in all branches of the armed forces; and a small chapel, which is provided for visitors to spend time in prayer and reflection.

As we entered Peace Park, naturally my eyes were on the lighthouse, but after arriving, we noticed a blue welcome sign. A dove with an olive branch, Prince of Peace and Angel of Love statues, and two angels of hope and joy are featured on the sign. Perfect thoughts for entering not only the park but this Christmas season as well.

As we departed, the other side of the sign proclaimed let there be peace on earth.

We all wish for peace on earth, don’t we? Especially when this holiday arrives. But on a night over 2000 years ago, peace DID come to earth. His name is Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

“No God, no peace; know God, know peace.” ~ Croft M. Pentz

And by knowing Him, really KNOWING Him, not just knowing of Him in your mind, but knowing Him in your heart, you can call Him your Savior, your Friend, your Peace on Earth.

That more people would come to truly know Jesus – that’s my peace on earth Christmas wish this year.

“Christ alone can bring lasting peace – peace with God – peace among men and nations – and peace within our hearts.” ~ Billy Graham

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: Sea, what sea?

Some folks say the end is the best part of any story. The Tuesday Tour of lighthouses is complete for now, at least until Papa and I can embark once again on our empty nest travels. As I’ve promised in earlier posts, I believe I have saved the best for last in this series.

When you view the photo below, you may think I’m off my rocker.  But hang on, this one is just the sidekick of a more spectacular one. I almost missed catching a glimpse of Ram Island Ledge Light, an unobtrusive and almost forlorn looking tower, located about a mile offshore from a more famous lighthouse on the coast of Maine.

This particular navigation aid was erected first as an iron spindle in 1855 to mark dangerous ledges near the entrance of the Portland harbor, and later became a 50-foot wooden tripod.

Shipwrecks abounded in the area for many years and when a large transatlantic steamer ran aground during a snowstorm in 1900, the necessity of a lighthouse there became most apparent. Construction began on Ram Island in 1903 and completed the next year, but the 90-foot tall tower was first illuminated in January 1905 with a fog bell added later that year.  Keepers lived inside the tower for two weeks at a time working 12-hour shifts daily and then were granted one week shore leave.

By 1959, keepers no longer were required since the light became automated and on 2001, it was converted to solar power. Eventually, this light tower was placed on the auction block and a private owner purchased it simply because he wanted to preserve this historic place.

Ram Island Ledge Light might be lone and forgotten possibly because it’s almost hidden in the shadows of a famous lighthouse, actually New England’s most visited, photographed, and painted landmark – Portland Head Lighthouse.

Situated in Cape Elizabeth, Maine on the dramatic coastline, Portland Head is rich in history since it is Maine’s oldest lighthouse dating back to 1791 and is noted as the first lighthouse completed by the U.S. government. When we visited in early summer 2017, it didn’t take long to realize this is a popular sightseeing destination.

Cape Elizabeth’s history can be traced back to Revolutionary War times when, in 1776, the newly established town posted soldiers at Portland Head in order to warn of British attacks and protect the harbor. By 1787, partial funding was provided to build a lighthouse there and three years later, the U.S. Congress added enough funds to complete the construction of a 72-foot tower and a small keeper’s dwelling. President George Washington requested that local rubble stone be used to build the lighthouse itself.  

Illuminated by 16 whale oil lamps, Portland Head was first lit on January 10, 1791 after its dedication by none other than Marquis de Lafayette. A Revolutionary War veteran, appointed by President Washington, became the first lighthouse keeper there. His salary? The right to live in the keeper’s dwelling, fish, and farm in the area. Finally, after two difficult years, the keeper received $160 per year. 

Winter was perilous at Portland Head especially when the trek from the keeper’s dwelling to the lighthouse was steep, rocky, and frozen when ocean waves washed over it. By 1816, a new two-story keeper’s quarters was built and part of the former structure was joined to the tower.

During the Civil War era, the tower was elevated another 20 feet after a 295-foot ship wrecked taking 40 lives into the sea with it. Later, on Christmas Eve in 1886, yet another sea vessel crashed at Portland Head. When the lighthouse keepers heard the impact, they formed a gangway with a ladder set between the rocky ledge and the shore and rescued all 14 people on board.

The peculiar aspect of that shipwreck was that visibility was good that night and the ship’s crew stated they saw the Portland Light clearly. So what caused the ship to strike a ledge and be lodged against it?  

Yet more unusual occurrences happened at this famous lighthouse. As the wife of one keeper sat knitting in a chair next to a window one evening, their dog began growling so ferociously, she got up and moved to another area. Immediately afterwards, an enormous wave crashed into the keeper’s dwelling, breaking the window and blowing glass shards over the chair where she had sat.  

Visitors to the lighthouse roamed freely about sometimes startling the keepers and their families. In the 1950’s, a woman entered the house, sat at the kitchen table, and declared that the keeper and his wife serve her since they were government employees.

And in the 1960’s, keepers’ families learned that downstairs doors and windows should be locked at all times after tourists with cameras barged into the bathroom in the keepers’ home and caught a coastguardsman’s wife in the tub.

After the lighthouse was automated, an apartment in the keeper’s dwelling was rented and several occupants over the years reported a feeling that they weren’t alone there. One couple said a motion-detector alarm often went off when no one was there at night. Other residents thought there was a spectral presence in the basement but felt it was a friendly ghost who “just needed to be told that his keeper days were over and he could rest in peace.”

One keeper named Joshua Strout is noted as Maine’s oldest keeper. At 79 years old, he retired in 1904 after being Portland Head’s light keeper for 35 years and had served 17 of those years without any time off.  Strout’s son Joseph became head keeper serving until 1928. His career at the light station was over 50 years.

Another interesting story about Portland Head Light is that a very famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, became a frequent visitor there. It’s highly suspected that he was inspired by this lighthouse to pen his poem entitled The Lighthouse.

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same,

Year after year, through all the silent night,

Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,

Shines on that inextinguishable light!

– excerpt from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Lighthouse

That inextinguishable light actually was extinguished though from June 1942 to June 1945 in order to prevent aid to German submarines.  During World War II, unauthorized visitors were also forbidden there.

During its long service, Portland Head Light was first the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Treasury from 1790-1852 when the U.S. Lighthouse Board took over management. By 1939, the U.S. Coast Guard became responsible for navigational aids including Portland Head. In 1989, the lighthouse was decommissioned and the town of Cape Elizabeth now owns and manages it with the U.S. Coast Guard still controlling the light and fog signal.

We first viewed Portland Head from adjacent Fort Williams Park, where visitors can utilize picnic areas, go hiking, engage in sports and recreational activities, and enjoy beautiful ocean viewpoints from its 90+ acres. When visiting the lighthouse itself, the public also can tour an award-winning museum in the former lighthouse keeper’s quarters as well as a gift shop.

In my estimation, Portland Head Light is one of the most beautiful lighthouses we’ve viewed thus far. I fell head over heels for this lighthouse (although not literally because that would have been a disastrous fall!) and took more photos of it than any other. I just couldn’t stop taking pictures, as you can tell from this post, and I thought every picture this amateur photographer captured looked amazing.

“Once the lighthouse is seen, the rest of the sea is ignored.” ~ Terri Guillemets

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020