Covered Bridges are part of America's history, artifacts of the craftsmanship of the past, and picturesque reminders of another way of life. Seventeen covered bridges are still in existence in West Virginia. Many of these bridges serve modern traffic.
The covered bridge concept originated in central Europe. It featured a roof and siding that protected the wooden truss structure and contributed to its longevity. Even after the introduction of iron into the bridge building process, covered wooden bridges were inexpensive solutions for spanning the many creeks and rivers in West Virginia.
Best known of the West Virginia covered bridges is the Philippi Covered Bridge, built in 1852, a vital link on the old Staunton-Pakersburg turnpike. Today the two-lane "double barrel" structure serves as well as US Route 250 traffic. It is the nation's only covered bridge serving a federal highway.
The Philippi Covered Bridge dates back to 1852, when the General Assembly of Virginia authorized the construction of the Beverly to Fairmont Turnpike. The turnpike required construction of two bridges, one across the Tygart River at Philippi and the other across the West Fork River at Hunsakers Ferry.
The Philippi bridge contract was awarded to Lemuel Chenoweth, who had built numerous covered bridges for the turnpike system. Constructed of yellow poplar, the bridge was 26 feet wide and 285 feet long, larger than most bridges of this time.
A tollgate was placed at the east end to collect fares from users. A horse and rider was charged 10 cents; carriages with two horses, 35 cents; head of cattle, 1.5 cents; a score of sheep, 5 cents.
The Philippi covered Bridge was the site of the first land battle of the Civil War. On June 3, 1861, Union troops led a surprise attack on Confederate troops under the command of Colonel George Porterfield. The attack caused the Confederate troops to retreat. Union troops took command of the bridge and used it as a barracks. The victory strengthened the Union position in western Virginia and discouraged secessionist movements.
The Philippi Covered Bridge has endured floods, fires, and structural modifications. Renovations to the bridge in 1938 replaced the wooden deck with concrete. On February 2, 1989, the bridge was severely damaged by fire. An extensive $1.4 million restoration project was begun by local preservationists with the goal of restoring the bridge to its original condition.
The two-year historical restoration project repaired the fire-damaged timbers and built new ones of West Virginia to its original appearance.
Today the Philippi Covered Bridge is an authentic representation of the bridge during the American Civil War, with a few additions to make it compatible with modern highway requirements. Traffic loads are supported on a reinforced concrete deck, which in turn is supported on steel girders. Modern additions (a smoke detector, sprinkler system, and lighting) have been discretely installed so as not to detract from the historic character.
Plans for the restoration of the bridge began immediately after the 1989 fire. With the support of Governor Gaston Caperton, a committee of local officials and citizens decided that the restoration project would return the bridge to its original appearance featured the rounded arch entrances, horizontal siding, and a roof of red wooden shingles.
Restoration work took place under a plastic "cocoon" which provided shelter and space for the preparation and repair of major structural elements using epoxy and other modern repair techniques. The historical restoration was directed by bridge historian and West Virginia University Professor Emory Kemp.
Members of the West Virginia Forestry Association, who had a special affection for the sturdy wooden bridge, furnished yellow poplar logs, 31/2 feet across, to replace structural members which could not be repaired. Because the logs were too large for modern sawmills, a special sawmill was set up in near by Belington to saw the logs into rough shapes and sizes. Local carpenters learned restoration techniques and 19th century carpentry methods for the project. Using hand tools, they fashioned the beams. Forestry Association members also contributed the horizontal poplar siding and poplar shingles for the roof.
The historic Philippi Covered Bridge was reopened for public
use on September 16, 1991 (click for Bridge Brochure)