Forgotten: America's Great Wooden Covered Bridges

  • Deyo Hall 6 Broadhead Ave New Paltz, NY, 12561 United States

More than one half of the 71 covered bridges that were built in the four-county Mid-Hudson region were found in Ulster County. Today, of the nine still standing in the region, five are in Ulster County, including the remarkable Perrine's Covered Bridge, just three miles north of Village of New Paltz. Constructed in 1844, Perrine's is the second oldest covered bridge still standing in New York State and, at 154 feet is among the longest. Each of these covered bridges played important roles as utilitarian crossings that connected rural areas with nascent villages and towns, critical links in shaping the economic and social development of nineteenth century America. Today, the covered bridges that remain are seen by some as mere relics but by others as nostalgic icons of a time that must be remembered.

However, largely forgotten are the many extraordinarily long, complex, and unquestionably daring wooden covered bridges built during the early and middle years of nineteenth century that are no longer standing. Constructed during the incipient stages of North American industrialization in cities and in the countryside, these long gone wooden covered bridges were important elements in the evolution of modern engineering and transportation technology that pushed the boundaries of both physics and materials. It is startling to discover that some of wooden covered bridges were more than a mile long and many were more than 1000 feet long.

Rare photographs, paintings, and etchings used in this talk will provide glimpses of local bridges as well as some of these gigantic structures that were the precursors of the substantial iron, steel, masonry, and reinforced concrete uncovered bridges that eventually replaced them.

Ronald Knapp's lecture and an exhibit of photographs from our collection will be at Deyo Hall, 6 Broadhead Avenue. Members, seniors, and military $5. Non-members $8. Students free with ID. Become a New Friend member for $15 for complimentary entry.

Ronald G. Knapp, who taught at SUNY New Paltz from 1968-2001, has published more than 20 books on the architecture and culture of China, including Chinese Bridges: Living Architecture from China's Past that introduced China's remarkable covered bridges to the West. His latest book America's Covered Bridges: Practical Crossings, Nostalgic Icons, co-authored with Terry E. Miller and published in March 2014, is the first book since the 1970s to look comprehensively at covered bridges as marvels of early technological prowess and as components in America's spatial development.