Local Covered Bridges
Updated: Mar 8, 2019
Local Covered Bridges
The very first covered bridge in this country was built across the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The year was 1800. Just forty years later in, 1840, the first covered bridge between Spring City and Royersford was opened.
While the days of the covered bridge are certainly in our past, we are very lucky to live near three remaining covered bridges. Covered bridges were quite common in our area and especially in Chester County. There were also several inter-county bridges over the Schuylkill River connecting Chester and Montgomery County.
In 1850 the bridge at Linfield, crossing the Schuylkill, was built. It was a town lattice design just like the one at Royersford that was built 10 years earlier. The town lattice design was more common to New England but there were some here in Pennsylvania.
The bridges were covered for one reason only, to protect the wooden structure from the elements. They were usually made by local craftsmen and served their purpose quite well. Being made of wood required maintenance and the structures
were vulnerable to fire. The weight and size of modern trucks could not be handled by these bridges so the ones remaining are usually found on back roads. When they are in need of repair or replacement local townships often choose not to rebuild because of the cost involved. The obvious result is the number of covered bridges remaining continues to decrease.
It was the summer of 1966 and we had just purchased a new Chevy Corvair the previous year. One of our favorite things to do on weekends was to get into the car and ride all over just to enjoy the scenery. On one trip we came across Rapp's Bridge near Phoenixville. As we slowed down to go through the bridge, I could see a card tacked up on one of the beams. I stopped and looked to see what was written on it. It was from the Jackson's, Phyllis & Elmer. They were a retired couple from North Andover, Massachusetts, who traveled all over the country to photograph covered bridges. Yes, they were true covered bridge fans who left a card on every bridge they photographed. I was so interested in their hobby that I mailed a letter to them explaining how I had found their message at Rapp's Bridge.
A week later I received a letter from the Jackson’s. This letter was one of many that I would receive from them during the next four years. They introduced us to their world of covered bridges and sent us duplicates of many of their slides. We were hooked as we now had a destination for our weekend trips. I joined the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania and purchased many of the county maps they had available. There were 300 Pennsylvania covered bridges to photograph and our goal was to visit them all. We were able to do most of the counties in the eastern and middle part of the state, but we never reached the western counties. This part required overnight trips to get our pictures. As time went by the kid's activities and our conflicting work schedules put a demand on our time. We only photographed 147 of the 300 when we abandoned our plan. We had hoped to photograph them all. The adventure was something we will not forget. We saw some beautiful Pennsylvania scenery and learned a lot about covered bridges.
I sometimes think about the Jackson's and their hobby. They are long gone now but we did have one occasion where we got to meet them. They were traveling to Harrisburg PA for the big convention of covered bridge fans being held by the Theodore Burr Society. When they suggested we come and meet them, we said “Sure, it’s only a 90 minute ride and we will be there.” My wife, Joyce, said, "how will we know who they are" and I said, " I don't know." We were just standing in the aisle when a couple approached us, he was wearing a shirt with covered bridges on it and she had on a blouse and skirt that matched. We also stood out as the only couple in their 20s among a group of seniors. We had no problem making the connection.
The three bridges I mentioned all span the French Creek. They are not that far apart and I think most people in our area are probably a 15 or 20 minute drive away. In fact if one were to plan a short trip you could easily visit all three in an hour or two.
These remaining bridges are in full use and even though they are not on the main highway they all get considerable traffic. Many people have a hobby of photographing old covered bridges and in fact there is a society in Pennsylvania named the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society that is made up of covered bridge enthusiasts. These three French Creek bridges are in picturesque settings and very inviting to the photographer.
All three are Burr Arch Truss designs, the most common design found in bridges across our state.
(1) Rapp’s or Rapp’s Dam Bridge was built in 1866. People visiting this bridge should be sure to look for the original inscribed marble marker that can be found on the bridge wing. Although Rapp’s Bridge did suffer major damage in the big flood of 1972 it was
restored later that year. This bridge was closed in 2011 for a complete renovation and has now re-opened. It is ironic that in recent years this bridge was severely damaged, and again needed extensive repairs. The bridge is located on Rapp’s Dam Road and as of this story is open to traffic.
(2) Kennedy Bridge, about a mile upstream near the Kimberton Waldorf School, was built in 1856. This bridge was built at the site of Kennedy’s Ford on the
French Creek. In 1986 the Kennedy Bridge was burned down and destroyed by the hands of an arsonist. Through the efforts of many local citizens it was completely rebuilt in 1988 and is now used daily. The bridge is located on West Seven Stars Road.
(3) The third bridge on the French Creek is Sheeder or Hall Bridge. Built in 1850, today this is Chester County’s oldest covered bridge. Located about a mile northwest of
Wilson’s Corner this bridge has two names. It can correctly be called Hall’s or Sheeder’s Bridge. It is actually County Bridge No. 194 as all the bridges in the County were numbered. This bridge was completely renovated in 1996 at the cost of $246,000. This bridge was also badly damaged by a careless driver just last year and was closed for a period of time. The bridge is located on Sheeder Road and Birch Run Road. It is in regular use today.
by William C. Brunner 3-07-2019