The covered bridge is often considered to be an American art form which is aesthetically pleasing and architecturally practical at the same time1. But why were so many of these covered bridges built in the USA during the 19th Century?
With the rise of water-powered mills and other industries, villages appeared along swift-moving streams. To reach the farming communities which provided the raw materials for these new, streamside communities, the streams needed to be crossed. The abundance of old growth forests in America provided a cheap building material for these necessary bridges.
But exposing a wooden truss bridge to the elements would be foolhardy, so a means of protecting the bridge's wooden beams was called for. The solution; walls and a roof and voilà - the covered bridge. It's a testament to their construction that the majority of those in existence today still support vehicular traffic.
The covered bridge is not unique to Pennsylvania, but at their peak there were more than 1500 covered bridges in the Keystone State. Today, the symbol of the covered bridge is often used as part of the state's marketing machine (tourism is the state's second-leading industry behind farming) to highlight Pennsylvania's picturesque and historical past.
It is estimated that there are still over 200 operating covered bridges in Pennsylvania. The majority lie in the south-eastern and south-central part of the state.
Perry County, which is located in the south-central part of the state and covers 550 square miles just to the north and west of the state capital of Harrisburg, is home to a dozen covered bridges.
While this isn't the highest county total in the state, what makes them unique is the fact that the majority of these bridges cross Sherman's Creek to the west of State Route 74 and are all close enough together that you can see them all in a day's driving if you're so inclined.
It is possible to leave the town of Carlisle2 and head north over Blue Mountain on Route 74 via Waggoner's Gap. Once over the mountain, you can head roughly west at Bridgeport to start the tour or you can continue north to Ickesburg and then head west. Either way, you'll wind up hitting ten of the county's 12 covered bridges as you follow the path of Sherman's Creek through the valley floor. All the bridges lie on north-south roads as they cross the creek.
The Covered Bridges
Book's Bridge - This bridge was closed to traffic in 1992. It is 70 feet long and was built in 1884. It is located on State Route 3003, about a half mile south of Route 274 and about one mile southwest of Blain, where it spans Sherman's Creek.
Cisna Mill Bridge - This 150-foot-long bridge was built in 1864 and is located on Couchtown Road (State Route 3008) south of Cisna Run, spanning Sherman's Creek.
Clay's Bridge - This 80-foot-long bridge was built in 1890. It was moved and is now located in Little Buffalo State Park to the east of the lake near Shoaft's Mill off Little Buffalo State Park Road north of Juniata Furnace, spanning the Little Buffalo Creek.
Dellville Bridge - This bridge was built in 1889, and is located on Pine Hill Road, just south of Dellville where it crosses Sherman's Creek. It is the widest and longest covered bridge in Perry County at 174 feet in length.
Fleisher Bridge - This bridge spans 125 feet long and was built in 1887. It is located on Fairground Road, northwest of Newport, in Oliver Township spanning the Big Buffalo Creek.
Flickinger's Mills Bridge - This bridge is 96 feet long and was built in 1871. It is located on Route 3005 between Couchtown and Andersonburg near Moose Road where it spans Sherman's Creek.
Landisburg Bridge - This 130-foot-long bridge was built in 1869. It is located on Kennedy Valley Road, just south of Landisburg where it spans Sherman's Creek.
Mount Pleasant Bridge - This bridge was built in 1918 and is located on Mt Pleasant Road, just south of State Route 274, where is spans Sherman's Creek. The 60-foot bridge is closed to vehicle traffic and a new concrete bridge has taken its place across the creek, but you can still cross it on foot.
New Germantown Bridge - This 75-foot bridge was built in 1891. It is located on Township Route 302, just southeast of New Germantown, in Toboyne Township, and spans Sherman's Creek. It is the westernmost of the covered bridges in Perry County.
Red Bridge - Built in 1886, this 60-foot bridge is privately owned and open to foot traffic. It is located near State Route 1005, southwest of Liverpool where is crosses Barger's Run.
Saville Bridge - This bridge was built in 1903 and is 60 feet long. It is located on State Route 4001, just south of Saville where it crosses the Big Buffalo Creek.
Turkey Tail Bridge - This bridge is 110 feet long and was built in 1904. It is located on Three Springs Road a mile southeast of Blain where is spans Sherman's Creek.
These bridges are also called 'Kissing Bridges' and Pennsylvania Dutch tradition holds that you should kiss your sweetheart while passing through a covered bridge for 'good luck'.