Philippi Covered Bridge

    Philippi Covered Bridge

    The Philippi Covered Bridge carries US Route 250 over the Tygart Valley River in Philippi, West Virginia. It is the oldest and longest covered bridge in the state.


    The Philippi Covered Bridge, designed and built Lemuel Chenoweth at the cost of $12,180.68 in 1852, was commissioned by the General Assembly of Virginia along the Beverly-Fairmont Turnpike. 1 The “Long” Burr arch truss measured 312 feet in length and 26 feet in width and was supported by three sandstone piers erected by Emmett J. O’Brien.

    Chenoweth had won the bid for the crossing after presenting his design in Richmond (Virginia), competing against other bridge builders who had presented iron structures, suspension spans, stone arches, and wooden trusses. 1 He presented a covered bridge model made of hickory wood, and while the model did not draw much attention, it created consternation among the other bidders when he placed his model on two chairs, one end resting on each, and then stood on the bridge. He called on the other architects to put theirs to the test by doing the same, but no one would do it in fear that their models would be crushed. The test determined the bidding contest and Chenoweth was given the contract for a bridge at Philippi over the Tygart Valley River.

    The Philippi Covered Bridge was the site of the Battle of Philippi, the first land battle of the Civil War, on June 3, 1861, and was subsequently crossed by both Union and Confederate troops in various stages of the war. 2 The bridge narrowly escaped burning in April and May 1863 at the time of Confederate raids on the railroad. Orders had been issued by General William E. Jones for the burning of it and of a bridge at Rowlesburg, but several locals of Southern sympathies saved both.

    In 1934, heavier automobiles necessitated the addition of two concrete piers and a steel-reinforced concrete deck. A pedestrian walkway was also added. The bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

    The Philippi Covered Bridge was damaged by a severe flood on November 4 and 5, 1985, and all but destroyed by a fire on February 2, 1989, when a gasoline tanker truck refilling underground tanks at a nearby station overfilled a tank that spilled gasoline that ran down onto the bridge. A car passing through the structure then sparked a fire when its exhaust system backfired.

    The Philippi Covered Bridge was rebuilt at the cost of $1.4 million under the direction of bridge historian Emory Kemp, which included replacing damaged yellow poplar supports and restoring other aspects of the bridge to their original appearance. Some of the original, burnt wooden trusses and supports were left intact as a reminder of the fire. A fire sprinkler system was also added. The covered crossing reopened to traffic on September 16, 1991.

    Today, the Philippi Covered Bridge is the oldest and longest covered bridge in the state and the only covered bridge on a federal highway.


    Information

    • State: West Virginia
    • Route: US Route 250
    • Type: Covered Burr Arch truss
    • Status: Active - Automobile
    • Total Length: 311 feet
    • Main Span Length: 78 feet
    • Deck Width: 26 feet
    • Above Vertical Clearance: 10.2 feet

    Sources

    1. Maxwell, Hu. The History of Barbour County, From Its Earliest Exploration and Settlement to the Present Time, Acme Publishing Company, Morgantown, WV, 1899, pp. 177–179.
    2. Carnes, Eva Margaret. Centennial History of the Philippi Covered Bridge, 1852–1952, Barbour County Historical Society, Charleston Printing Company, Charleston, WV, 1952.

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