Vien R. Guenther
Wooden Covered Bridges (The Kissing Bridges) - East Coast
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
If you are fascinated by anything old and historic, wooden covered bridges should be on your bucket list. Traveling to the east coast, my husband and I thought we should visit some of them. Back in the 1800's, there were about 14,000 covered bridges in the United States. What remains today is less than a thousand (about 500 to 600 according to the Federal Highway Administration’s Covered Bridge manual). The first wooden covered bridges I saw was when my husband and I traveled to Luzern, Switzerland. They fascinated us then, just as we were in seeing the covered bridges here in the United States.
Covered bridges flourished in the United States in the 19th Century. Why they were covered was not for aesthetic reasons, but to protect the supporting structure (timber trusses) from the weather (sun, wind, snow and rain). The roof and walls extend the bridges' lifespan more than the estimated 10 to 15 year life if they remained uncovered. Covered bridges protected horses and riders as well. Not to mention the privacy it provided for "gentlemen" who were looking for an opportunity to get intimate with their "paramour" while crossing the bridge, no matter how brief it was. That is why these bridges developed a reputation as the “Kissing Bridges”. Is that what inspired the film, “The Bridges of Madison County?” There is something romantic about these structures isn’t it?
While visiting family we stopped to see "The Old Covered Bridge" in Massachusetts. Then on the day our road trip began, we discovered three in Bennington, Vermont, a state that is not only known for maple syrup and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The state has about 104 covered bridges and three are within two miles of each other spanning the Walloomsac River. These bridges were built by members of the Sears family, a prominent family of local bridge-builders. In nearby New York state, we discovered another one, the Buskirk Bridge.
THE OLD COVERED BRIDGE - MASSACHUSETTS
The Old Covered Bridge, also known as Upper Sheffield Covered Bridge, is located east of the village of Sheffield Plain in Sheffield, Massachusetts.
It spans the Housatonic River. The river's water was contaminated by PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) in 1900's and still remains so; the contaminated section of the river was designated as a Superfund site in 1997. It was caused by discharges from an industrial plant. As beautiful as the surroundings are today, fish and birds living in the area are contaminated and harmful for consumption.
The Old Covered Bridge was destroyed by fire in 1994 and was rebuilt in 1998. Today, only foot traffic is allowed. Besides the Old Covered Bridge, there are other two covered bridges crossing the Housatonic River in Connecticut which are still open for traffic.
SILK ROAD COVERED BRIDGE - VERMONT
The Silk Road Covered Bridge is located halfway between downtown Bennington and the village of North Bennington. The Town Lattice Truss bridge was built in 1840 by Benjamin Sears. It spans the Walloomsac River, and is 88 feet long and 15 feet wide.
This bridge was damaged by flood water on August 28, 2011 from Hurricane Irene but was repaired and reopened again to traffic.
PAPER MILL BRIDGE - VERMONT
The Paper Mill Bridge is the longest covered bridge in Bennington County. Located adjacent to a former paper mill building, it spans the Walloomsac River northwest of Bennington. This bridge was built in 1889 by Charles F. Sears. What we see today is a replica of the original structure, replaced in 1999/2000 due to extensive deterioration.
Make sure to take a short trail down to the river to see the waterfalls. Across the river is the old paper mill.
BURT HENRY COVERED BRIDGE - VERMONT
Also known as the Henry Covered Bridge (or Henry bridge to the locals), it is the oldest of its kind. It was originally built in the late 1830's with a single span Town Lattice Truss structure. It spans the Walloomsac River, 121 feet long and 18.5 feet wide. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, as Bennington County's oldest covered bridge.
Located south of the village of North Bennington, it was rebuilt in 1989 and is still open for traffic. Nearby is a picnic table, so you can stay a while and have some snacks, if you have time. Parking space is also available.
BUSKIRK BRIDGE - NEW YORK
The Buskirk Bridge is one of 29 historic covered bridges in New York state. Located between Rensselaer and Washington Counties near the town of Hoosick Falls. It is the only inter-county covered bridge in New York state. Buskirk Bridge spans the Hoosick River - a tributary of the Hudson River - and one of four covered bridges still standing in Washington County.
The Town and Howe Truss design of the Buskirk bridge was patented by Ithiel Town in 1820 and William Howe in 1840. It was originally built in 1857 by Peter Osterhauth, Charles Newman and James Roberts. It was rehabilitated in 2005. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of March 8, 1978.
The bridge is named after Martin Van Buskirk, an early settler and a pioneer tavern-keeper, who built the first bridge (uncovered) in 1804. The original bridge was replaced in 1850, which is the Buskirk Bridge that still stands today. No need to park at the side of the road, there is ample parking space nearby.