Covered Bridges of Parke County, Indiana
If you are looking to enjoy a taste of history in a picturesque, rural Midwest setting, then taking in some of the Covered Bridges of Parke County, Indiana is where you should start looking.
A Midwesterner all my life, I have always been aware that there are some of the best collections of covered bridges in the United States within just a few hours drive but had never set out to see them.
Parke County, Indiana is well known for its collection of well preserved and adored covered bridges, so much so, that they have an annual Covered Bridge Festival to celebrate that distinction.
This post is not a review of the Covered Bridge Festival at all. The festival is what prompted our visit to this area, however, we were well aware of the collection of covered bridges in this area prior to learning of the festival.
Here is a link to the festival page if you would like more information about the event, activities, etc. The festival is typically the second week of October – beginning on the weekend and running all week until the following weekend.
For this post, we just want to provide readers with a sample of some of the lovely covered bridges and maybe prompt a few readers to visit this area to take in some of the best of the Midwest.
Bridges and Mills
Most bridges are named and dated so I won’t add tags – I think that takes away from enjoying the photos.
As you can see, it is hard to photograph some of the bridges without getting some of our modern footprint in the photos. For the photo above, I opted to get the utility pole versus the sign that was just to the right of the bridge opening. Road signs are necessary, I understand, but quite a nuisance when trying to capture a nice image of such a structure.
The Bridgeton Mill and covered bridge is the hub of the Bridgeton, Indiana location for that portion of the festival. A well kept and maintained example of old-world technology, the Bridgeton Mill is a must stop if you are touring the area.
The Mansfield Roller Mill above is another fabulous example of a working mill. I found the Mansfield Mill slightly more interesting. You could actually see how the mills used to function – of course, the mill is no longer using water from the dam to power the mill but the dam still remains and you can really see how the technology was applied many years ago.
It was difficult to photograph the Mansfield Roller Mill without all the modern influences, and on this occasion, all the vendors, shops, and visitors.
The West Union bridge above is one of the largest of the bridges of the area. At just under 300 feet, this bridge is really quite massive and photos just do not do it justice. Also, one of the oldest, you can see that it is deteriorating. No longer allowing vehicle traffic, this will help preserve it for a while.
To really admire the covered bridges, I think you have to at least see the inside structure to get the full effect of how labor intensive these bridges were for the period.
Referred to as the Burr Arch style of construction, I searched for examples of how the frames of these were built. Not much information exists as to how the beams were placed in these bridges, but in some of the photos I captured, you can clearly see that some of these massive beams are single pieces of wood.
How the wood was manufactured and placed in these bridges, in my humble opinion, is part of the intrigue and romance of these fabulous structures.
The photo above is of the interior of the West Union Bridge. This bridge required two arch portions to support this structure. My wife also gets credit for capturing this photo – good for her.
As you can see from the photos, the arches all looked to be single piece beams. Since I was not able to find much information regarding construction techniques for these bridges, which I’m sure is out there but I was not successful finding it readily available, it appears that the beams would have been “bent” to form the arch needed. Obviously, there was not the technology, or material, available to cut these beams in the shape you see them here. Fascinating – at least I think so.
As we were wrapping up our partial tour of the bridges, we happened to come across this lovely round barn.
Several times over the weekend we were touring the area, we saw several paintings and photos of this barn, but since it isn’t a covered bridge, it wasn’t listed anywhere as a landmark.
You can image our surprise when we happened to drive up on this barn.
According to the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival flyers, there are 31 covered bridges on the “tour”. We saw some varying accounts that there are more near 40 total in the area.
During our visit to the area, we viewed 15 to 17 of the covered bridges and photographed of most of the bridges but not all.
The covered bridges are very similar in design and restored to look essentially the same, with the primary distinction being the length of the bridge and the date it was built. Therefore, it would be wise to select an area of particular interest and see those bridges first.
We highly recommend a visit to the area. The bridges themselves are a lovely sight, however, there are some very picturesque, charming locations where these bridges sit that make the trip as worthwhile as the bridges themselves.
If you are not a festival person, skip the crowds and visit before or after the festival week, which is typically the second week of October.
If fall foliage is part of the draw, come after the festival – more towards the end of October. During our visit, which coincided with the first weekend of the festival, foliage had only just begun to appear.
I provided a link above for more information about the Covered Bridge Festival. If you would like more information on the festival, please check out the link above.
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