Cover Story

Bridging Time

 

Across the Old Dominion, covered bridges provide a portal to the past.

Story and photos by Thom Kinard, Contributing Writer

Hundreds of covered wooden bridges once reached across the waterways of the Commonwealth of Virginia. To the 19th-century travelers, they proved a useful transportation resource; today we appreciate them for their rarity and scenic beauty. They give us an opportunity to step back in time, and sample what life may have been like in the days of yore. Numerous organizations around the country exist to preserve their history. No doubt the Commonwealth spends a great deal of money to assist these preservationists, and with good reason: They are a popular tourist attraction. Some people, though, are unaware that any still exist. In Western Virginia, along the Interstate 81 corridor, eight of these 19th-century souvenirs remain. Five are state-owned, and open for the enjoyment of the public (the other three are on private property).

Meems Bottom Bridge spans a little over 200 feet across the North Fork of the famed Shenandoah River. This structure has been destroyed several times, once by Stonewall Jackson’s troops during the Civil War. Most recently, vandals set the bridge afire in 1976. It was rebuilt using the original timbers. Meems Bottom is the only state-owned bridge still open to vehicle traffic. Take exit 269 from Interstate 81 (Shenandoah Caverns). Go east 0.4 miles to U.S. Route 11. Turn left (north). Go 1 mile to Wissler Road (Rt. 720). Turn left. Look for the bridge about 1⁄2 mile ahead.

The Humpback Bridge, west of Covington, in Alleghany County, is the elder statesman of Virginia’s bridges. This 100-foot crossing has also been destroyed and rebuilt many times over. The present iteration was built in 1857, as part of the James River & Kanawha Turnpike. Notice the arched shape of the bridge. This 8-foot of camber allows the multiple kingpost truss to support the bridge’s weight, and is the origin of the bridge’s name. It is the sole remaining bridge in the country with this arched design. Take exit 10 from Interstate 64 (U.S. 60). Go east about 3⁄4 mile to County Road 600 (Rumsey Road). Turn right. Go under railroad tracks and park at the roadside rest area (an excellent picnic spot). The bridge is about 1⁄4 mile from U.S. 60.

Bob White Bridge is the youngest of the remaining bridges, constructed in 1921. It was built to provide access to Smith River Church of the Brethren across the river, using a Burr Truss arch design. While closed to vehicles, pedestrians will enjoy a trip across the bridge (and back in time). Exit from Interstate 81 at State Route 8. Drive 33.8 miles through Rimer and Floyd, to Elamsville Road (County Rd. 618) in Woolwine. Go 2.0 miles. At Bob White Road (County Road 708), turn right. Go about 100 yards and park in the church parking lot. The bridge is about 100 yards ahead, up the river.

Jack’s Creek Bridge is only 2 miles from Bob White Bridge. This 48-foot bridge was erected in 1914; it has been replaced by a modern steel and concrete bridge. It also spans the Smith River in Patrick County. From Bob White Bridge, return to State Route 8. Go south (left). Go about 2 miles and take first right on County Road 615 (Jack’s Creek Road). Park on the right at the bridge, about 0.2 miles ahead.

The 1916 Sinking Creek Bridge, in Giles County, is a modified version of the Howe Truss design. It too has been bypassed by a more modern structure. From Interstate 81, take U.S. 460 west. Pass Christiansburg and Blacksburg. Go about 6 miles past north end of Business U.S. Rt. 460. Pass State Route 42 on right. Go 1.7 miles to S.R. 700 (Virginia Avenue). Look for a sign for Miles C. Horton Senior Center. Turn right. Go 0.3 miles to bottom of hill. Turn left on Covered Bridge Road and park. The bridge is just a short walk ahead. Sinking Creek Bridge is only about an hour’s drive from Bob White and Jack’s Creek Bridges.

A collection of three privately owned covered bridges remains. In Giles County are the Link’s Farm Bridge (near the Sinking Creek Bridge), and the C.K. Reynolds Bridge. The Biedler Farm Bridge stands in Rockingham County.

 

Editor's Note: After running this article, we received the following Letters To The Editor. 

The Bridge Burning

     This in reference to the “Bridging Time” article on Virginia’s covered bridges that appeared in the June issue of Cooperative Living. The contributing writer states, “This structure has been destroyed several times, once by Jackson’s troops during the Civil War.” This is incorrect. No bridge ever existed at this location until after the War Between The States. The bridge burned by Stonewall Jackson was the Valley Turnpike (today’s Rt. 11) Bridge over the river at the north end of Meems Bottoms, several miles below the present covered bridge, which is on a country road.

     This incorrect information about the bridge at the present location started several years ago, when it appeared in a book on “Covered Bridges in Virginia,” written by a lady down in the Tidewater area. I refer your readers to The Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Volume IV, (1024), page 526, and to Shenandoah County in the Civil War, by Richard Kleese, where you find clear accounts of the 1862 Turnpike bridge burning by Jackson.

     General Jackson had been camped at Rude’s Hill since April 2. On April 17, the Federals occupied Mount Jackson. On the same day, before withdrawing toward Harrisonburg from his camp on Rude’s Hill, Jackson gave Ashby the order to burn the bridge, but the wood was wet and the Federals were able to save the bridge. .

     June 2 again found Jackson at Rude’s Hill. He again gave Ashby the order to destroy the Shenandoah River bridge at the lower end of Meems Bottoms to slow the Federal advance. Heavy rains had caused area streams to rise. Straw and dry wood was stuffed in the sides of the bridge and under the roof. To insure it caught quickly, gunpowder was scattered through the straw. This time the destruction was successful.

     The Federals then attempted to erect a pontoon bridge across the raging river. Jackson dispatched men upstream to cut trees and let them float down the river, smashing the Federal’s pontoon bridge and drowning a good many men. This action delayed the Federals about two more days.

     The first bridge at the location of the present-day covered bridge was not built until 1870.

 D. Warrick Burruss II, Mount Jackson

Several Mistakes

 In regard to your cover story  "Bridging Time” by Thom Kinard, there are several mistakes that need to be corrected.

Two of the covered bridges are state owned.  Three are county owned.  The other three are on private property. 

Stonewall Jackson's troops did not destroy the Meem's Bottom Covered Bridge.  There is no evidence that any bridge existed at that site during the civil war.  The bridge that was burned in 1864 was on US 11, the Valley Turnpike, over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River just South of Mt. Jackson at the location of the present iron bridge.  (Stonewall Jackson was killed in 1863.)  I also had this wrong in my book.

The length of the Humpback Covered Bridge is 106'-6.".  The 8' camber has been verified to be only 4'. The Bob White Covered Bridge is not a Burr Truss arch design (which is used for long one span crossings).  The trusses are covered on the inside so they cannot be seen, but have been verified by the builder's so to be a Queenspost truss of laminated planks reinforced with diagonal rod.  This is a 2 span bridge, 80' long. Rimer is Riner. Also, please recheck directions. Bridge is down river.

As far as the Sinking Creek Covered Bridge, the writer had the wrong bridge entirely.  All they have described and the picture is for the Link's Farm Covered Bridge, which is on private property and was built in 1912.

The sinking Creek Covered Bridge was built in 1916, is a modified Queenspost truss, 70'-10" long, single span. It is west of Blacksburg on US 460 to Newport at VA 42.  From Newport on VA 42 half a mile North to Rt. 601, then West (left) 0.6 miles to the bridge.

I am the author of "Covered Bridges in Virginia."  You can view the book at  www.upstreampress.com

Leola B. Pierce, Portsmouth

 

 

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