Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Covered bridges still part of the landscape

Back Home by Chris Hardie

A year ago I wrote about some of the historic or memorable bridges that I have crossed or traveled to – including a few located near my home in western Wisconsin.

The topic was a hit with readers, as I heard from many sharing their own stories about their favorite bridges either here or abroad.

Bridges were back on my mind after my wife Sherry and I visited the Cedarburg area, which is home to the oldest existing covered bridge in Wisconsin.

The Cedarburg bridge – also known as the Red Bridge – is located three miles north of Cedarburg and was built in 1876 to handle traffic over Cedar Creek. The span is 120 feet long and 12-feet wide and was built with pine. The design was lattice truss with interlacing 3 by 10 inch planks held together by hardwood pins and floored with 3 inch planking, according to the Ozaukee County website.

The Wisconsin Historical Society says that there were once more than 40 covered bridges across Wisconsin, built in the days before heavy auto and vehicle traffic. A story from the Federal Highway Administration says there were once 12,000 covered bridges in the country, with 1,500 built in Pennsylvania – including a 5,960-foot bridge in Lancaster County. There are about 200 remaining today. Best estimates as to the number of covered bridges left in the country are about 1,000.

The reason for building covered bridges was to protect the wood trusses and decks from snow and rain, preventing decay and rot. An exposed wood bridge may last 20 years but a covered bridge could last 100 years.

Some say the cover also kept horses or cattle from being spooked by the waters underneath. The bridges also were gathering spots for meetings, parties, romantic rendezvous (some covered bridges were nicknamed kissing bridges) or sleeping locations for the less fortunate.

The heyday for covered bridge construction was between 1825 and 1875. The wood was eventually replaced by iron and steel, eliminating the need for a cover. And bridges also became wider as motorized traffic replaced the horse, cart and buggy.

The Cedarburg bridge was used for 85 years when it was replaced with a modern span in 1962. The bridge was left in place and now serves foot traffic as part of a park area.

There are some other covered bridges in Wisconsin, but they are not original highway bridges. Those with truss design – considered by some to be the determining factor to be called a covered bridge are:

Red Mill, Waupaca County, built in 1970

Smith Rapids, Price County, built in 1991

Springwater Volunteer, Waushara County, built in 1997

Stonefield Village, Grant County, built in 1962.

The Smith Rapids bridge can actually be driven across, as it is part of a Rustic Road.

Earlier this year we also visited another covered bridge in Amnicon Falls State Park near Superior. The Horton Covered Bridge is a bowstring bridge built in 1899 by Charles M. Horton, who established a business in La Crosse and also built bowstring bridges that crossed the Black River bottoms in the Van Loon Wildlife Area in La Crosse County. Five of those bridges remain.

The bridge in Amnicon carried traffic until it was moved to the park in 1930 to span the Amnicon River at the Lower Falls. Members of the Brule Civilian Conservation Corps added the roof in 1939. The roof was replaced in 1941 after collapsing from heavy snows and again in 1971 when it was destroyed by a fire set by vandals.

The Cedarburg bridge will be preserved thanks to a vote in 1940 by the Ozaukee County Board and it’s part of a beautiful park. The Horton bridge also is in good hands and is in a spectacular location.

Could there be more bridge stories in the future? You never know what I may cross.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

The Royal Purple encourages readers to voice their opinions via the online comments section. Comments may be monitored for appropriateness and viewer safety. If a comment is harassing, threatening or inappropriate in nature, it may be taken down with editor's discretion.
All Royal Purple Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *