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