You would be hard pressed to find any structure more metaphorical than a bridge: building bridges unites people, burning them creates division. There’s a bridge over troubled water, and water under the bridge. The same bridge that links a city to its homeland today may also cut it off tomorrow. Time is the bridge between now and then. And so it goes.
Image credit: Jane Linders
Indeed, the design and construction of a bridge is both a snapshot of a moment in architectural history and a view into the preoccupations and priorities of the society that built it. The need for a bridge and the will to erect, maintain, and repair it over time often mobilized entire communities. Utica Mills began life as a two span bridge over one river, but after the Johnstown Flood washed it away in 1889, it was resurrected as a single span bridge over Fishing Creek. Loys Station was almost completely destroyed when someone set a pickup truck on fire on its deck as part of an insurance fraud scheme.
Photo credit: Joan Carroll
Naturally, there are many types of bridges in existence, some created by geography, others constructed by people. The appeal of accessing an island or any remote area otherwise cut off by water seems to be universal. Bridges also serve to mend great tears in the landscape, spanning canyons, valleys, and existing roadways.
The Industrial Revolution inspired major advances in bridge technology in Europe and in America. In the US, engineers experimented with different models, beginning in the 1850s and leading to established standards by the 1890s. Early bridge designs, often prototypes for later projects, capture specific moments in history.
Historic bridges in the United States are defined by their eligibility for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, established in 1966. Near Frederick, Maryland, you can visit several charming covered bridges, all built around the same time (1846-1856), and all registered since 1978.
Throughout its lifetime, every bridge becomes a stage on which a cast of thousands act out their individual scenes. It is likely, for instance, that Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart and his cavalry crossed Roddy Road Covered Bridge in 1863 during the Gettysburg campaign of the Civil War. Since that time, the bridge has suffered damage and been repaired on many occasions, always as a result of citizens’ efforts. In 1992, a truck jammed into the bridge's roof and truss. With the help of many volunteers and local company Heavy Timber Construction, the bridge was restored to its original condition in 1993.
Photo credit: Joan Carroll
The author is an artist, writer, and instructional designer with an overactive imagination and too little time. Ceci en est un exemple...
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