With just eleven structures remaining erect in Kentucky, the state’s covered bridges served a purpose beyond mere connectivity; they embodied destinations and communal focal points. These bridges doubled as hubs for community bulletins and church announcements, readily affixed or fastened to the bridge portals. Certain bridges even earned endearing monikers like “kissing bridges.”
In days gone by, Kentucky boasted hundreds of covered bridges, but by the dawn of World War II, only 65 of these treasures endured. The march of time further whittled this number down to a mere 39 by 1952. Recent years have witnessed additional losses, with fires claiming some of these historic structures. However, those that have managed to withstand the ravages of time and flames are being carefully preserved through stabilization and restoration efforts as funding allows.
Particularly striking was the fate of the Beech Fork Covered Bridge in Washington County, the state’s most extensive example of its kind. Reduced to ashes in 2021 due to suspected arson, its fiery demise marked a significant loss. Simultaneously, the privately owned Valley Pike Covered Bridge in Mason County faced a different but equally disheartening fate, as it was dismantled subsequent to succumbing to the ravages of time and neglect.
In the community of Walcott stands the historic Walcott Covered Bridge, a remarkable example of a covered Kingpost and Queenpost-style bridge. It was built in 1824 and reconstructed in 1881 before being bypassed in 1954.
After a series of devastating floods in 1997 and 1998, the bridge was carefully relocated 400 feet eastward to a safer location within a park in 2002 where it was rebuilt with predominantly new materials, breathing new life into the old bridge. Yet, alongside its rich history and enduring charm, the bridge has also fallen victim to a modern scourge – graffiti. This unfortunate defacement is a reminder of the challenges faced by many treasured landmarks.
I recently revisited the Walcott Covered Bridge for a few new photos.
Situated along Lee Creek stands the historic Dover Covered Bridge, a Queenpost structure with deep roots in the community. Built by the Kirk family, who also ran a nearby grist mill, the bridge was erected in 1835. Throughout the years, the Dover Covered Bridge has weathered numerous challenges. It underwent significant repairs in 1928, and again in 1966 and 1968. Around this period, steel beams were integrated into the structure to fortify the bridge deck.
In 2000, the bridge received further enhancements, including a new roof, siding, and flooring. However, the march of progress led to the bridge being bypassed entirely in 2004, when a modern concrete structure was introduced to the area.
Tragedy struck in July 2017 when record flooding in Lee Creek inflicted severe damage on the venerable covered bridge. The raging floodwaters not only tore away two steel support beams but also shifted the bridge from its foundation and washed away the asphalt from the approaching roads. Efforts to stabilize the structure were successful in February 2018, but the bridge remains closed to both pedestrian and automobile traffic as it awaits additional repairs.
I recently revisited the Dover Covered Bridge for updated imagery, sending in a drone to capture interior photos that would not otherwise be possible.
Nestled within the scenic byways of our Commonwealth’s rural landscapes, covered bridges stand as enchanting testaments to both artistry and engineering. With roofs that echo the sheltering embrace of a long-forgotten era, these wooden structures inspire a nostalgia that reaches back to simpler times, when craftsmanship was a cherished skill. More than mere passageways, covered bridges embody the romance of a community’s connection, bridging not only rivers and streams but generations of history. Their unique blend of functionality and charm continues to allure travelers, historians, and photographers alike, making these architectural gems a treasured part of our national heritage, still whispering tales of love, labor, and life in their timeworn beams.
With additional funding and focus, it may be possible to preserve the covered bridges that continue to play an essential role in our transportation infrastructure. Drawing inspiration from Ashtabula County, Ohio, we may even look forward to the day when we can construct new covered crossings, ensuring that this cherished architectural tradition endures into the future.