Like Sentinels These Bridges Stand: Covered Bridges of Delaware County
Courtesy of the Delaware County Historical Association (http://www.dcha-ny.org)
As the population of Delaware County grew in the nineteenth century, improved roads and bridges became essential for linking communities and promoting commerce.
Wood and stone were deemed the materials of choice for bridge construction, as both were readily available throughout the area. Local materials and local knowledge and skills combined to make timber-bridge building possible.
“The timber framing skills of local millwrights and joiners were readily adaptable to construction of timber bridges.”
Raymond W. Smith of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
The earliest timber bridges were simple roofless structures with plank decks. Numerous theories have been proposed to explain why building traditions changed and bridges began to be covered. Architects and historians agree that bridges were covered to protect the truss work from the weather. This would reduce maintenance and replacement costs. A covered bridge would easily out last a non-covered bridge.
“The real reason for covering timber bridges was to protect the main timber trusses from the detrimental effects of rain and snow. The intermittent wetting and drying provided an ideal atmosphere for accelerated timber deterioration-rot.”
Philip Pierce, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works for Delaware County.
The main component of a bridge is the framework or truss. Over time, as the need for longer and stronger bridges increased, designers and builders rose to the challenge by creating different truss styles. Today, covered bridges are classified by their truss.
The men who developed these trusses came primarily from New England and their designs spread to New York State.
The Kingpost Truss, one of the simplest and first trusses used, was adapted from frame buildings and could only support a 40-foot span. This truss consists of a triangle design with a center support called a Kingpost.
The Queenpost was adapted from the Kingpost truss by substituting a horizontal crosspiece in place of the triangular peak of the Kingpost. This allowed for a longer span.
Designed by Theodore Burr, a saw and grist mill owner and one of the first settlers in Oxford, NY, the Burr Truss combined elements of Palladian arch design and a series of Kingposts. Burr’s truss design was patented in 1817. The combination of the arch and Kingpost created bridges that were structurally stronger than previous designs.
Designed by Colonel Stephen H. Long, a member of the U.S.Army Corps of Topographical Engineers and a resident of Hopkinton, New Hampshire, the Long Truss perfected a rigid timber truss form that incorporated panels consisting of intersecting diagonals and counters. Long’s original design included an unnecessary Kingpost truss that was removed when the design was refined in the 1830s.
Designed by builder/architect Ithiel Town of New Haven, CT, the Town Lattice Truss was patented in 1820 and 1835. It consists of planks held together in a lattice pattern by wooden pins. This design produced a strong long bridge using lighter timbers, which were inexpensive and easy to work with. In addition, it was ideal for multi-span bridges. The Town Lattice Truss very quickly became one of the most popular covered bridge styles and Ithiel Town profited by selling the rights to his design.
Designed by millwright William Howe of Spencer, Massachusetts, the Howe Truss mimicked the Long Truss. However, it incorporated iron in addition to the traditional wood, which made for a stronger bridge. As a result, after 1840, the use of Town Lattice and Long Truss designs were almost completely eclipsed by the Howe Truss.
Robert Murray is credited with building at least nine covered bridges in Delaware County. Murray was born in Eskdalemuir, Scotland in 1814 and immigrated to the United States when he was nine settling in Bovina.
“Between 1854 and 1859 he built four Long Truss bridges over the east and west branches of the Delaware River. As he worked down the west branch he was careful to build each bridge ten feet longer than the one above to allow for the widening of the stream. This precaution has helped to save bridges at Downsville and Hamden to the present day.”
Murray’s Covered Bridges include:
Bridge Street (Delhi)
Hawley’s Station (Hamden)
More’s Falls (Andes)
Eighteen other men are known to have built most of the forty-nine 19th century Covered Bridges in Delaware County, some with two or three to their credit.
New York State was once home to over 300 covered bridges. In the early 1900s there were at least 58 covered bridges in Delaware County. In 1942 Richard Sanders Allen, founder of Covered Bridge Topics the official magazine of the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, documented the existence of eighteen bridges in Delaware County. Sixty years later only six of these bridges remain, three public and three private.
Public Bridges in Use Today
The three covered bridges still in public use today are Fitch’s and Hamden on the West Branch of the Delaware River, and Downsville, on the East Branch. All were listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places on April 29, 1999. Delaware County’s private covered bridges include Tuscarora, Lower Shavertown and Erpf all located near the East Branch of the Delaware River.
Fitch’s Bridge, East Delhi
Fitch’s Bridge originally spanned the West Branch of the Delaware River at Kingston Street in Delhi. It was built in 1870 by James Frazier and James Warren at a cost of $1,970 after an October flood washed away its predecessor. In 1885 an iron bridge, built by the Groton Bridge Company, replaced the covered bridge.
The timbers were marked east, west and “upp”, dismantled and moved by wagon three miles upriver to Fitch’s Crossing in East Delhi. The bridge was shortened to 100 feet and rebuilt facing the opposite direction as evidenced by the markings, which now read east on the west side and vice versa.
Fitch’s Bridge is a single span, one lane Town Lattice structure which has seen at least two major rehabilitations since its move.
The most recent rehabilitation took place in 2001 and was carried out by the Delaware County Department of Public Works under the supervision of Deputy Commissioner Philip Pierce. Truss length was increased by eight feet (after it was discovered that the trusses had been shortened when the bridge was moved in 1885) and the lattice-work was modified to fit the added length.
“The bridge is just tired. The bracing is leaning badly.”
Philip Pierce, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works for Delaware County.
The buttresses were removed and wood shingles replaced the old sheet metal roof. Windows were added to increase visibility inside the bridge and the structure was left unpainted.
Hamden Bridge, Hamden
On April 27, 1859 a contract was signed between Robert Murray and the Town of Hamden to construct the Hamden Bridge at a cost of $1,000. The bridge was built in the 1830 Long Truss style. When originally constructed, the bridge was a single span, but in the 1940s a center pier was installed for additional support. The county repaired a lean in the bridge in 1966 by adding two large buttresses on each side and four square windows were added to improve interior visibility. That same year, the bridge received its first coat of red paint. In 1967 the portals had a diagonal appearance, but sometime during the 70s or early 80s they were squared off.
In 2000 the Hamden Covered Bridge underwent extensive rehabilitation under the supervision of W.L. Kline, Inc. Improvements include: replacement of the tin roof with a standing seam red metal roof, replacement of bottom chords with a single 130 foot glue-laminated chord manufactured by Unadilla Laminated products of Unadilla, NY, the removal of the buttresses and the return of diagonal portals.
Downsville Bridge, Downsville
The Downsville Bridge was constructed in 1854 and is believed to be the first bridge ever built by Robert Murray. Murray received $1,700 to build the bridge but was required to supply all the materials himself. He used the patented Long Truss design that he was to use five years later when constructing the Hamden Bridge. The Downsville Bridge crosses the East Branch of the Delaware River in a single 174 foot span. It has the honor of being New York State’s longest operating covered bridge, being in service 147 years.
The Downsville Bridge was the first of the three public covered bridges in Delaware County to under go extensive rehabilitation in recent years. In 1998 it was completely rehabilitated when among other things, the bottom chord of the truss was replaced by laminated beams. These beams were made by Unadilla Laminated Products and according to the American Institute of Timber Construction are the world’s longest glued laminated beam.
Private Bridge Still in Use Today
Dunraven Bridge, Margaretville
In 1935 the covered bridge was moved to its present location on property owned by the Tuscarora Club south of Margaretville off Mill Road. It was shortened to 24 feet and became a Kingpost Truss. These changes rendered it ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Today it carries a foot trail over Mill Brook but is closed to vehicular traffic.
The Dunraven Covered Bridge, originally a 38 foot long Queenpost Truss was built as a tollgate bridge in 1870 by William Mead. It originally spanned the Platte Kill in the village of Dunraven.
Campbell Bridge, Cooks Falls
The Campbell Bridge is a 32 foot long Town Lattice truss built in 1877 by Anson Jenkins and August Neidigacross the mouth of Lew Beech Hill Brook in Shavertown. In May 1954 progress on the Pepacton Reservoir necessitated the removal of the covered bridge. It was purchased by Carl Campbell for $1,000 and moved to its present location on private land along Methol Road. Today it crosses Trout Brook and provides access to the owner’s home on the opposite side of the stream. On April 29, 1999 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Traveling down the East and West Branches of the Delaware River in the late 19th Century these are some of the covered bridges you would have seen.
Austin’s Covered Bridge
Built by Daniel Tompkins about 1870 Austin’s Covered Bridge was a single span, one lane, 100-foot long, Town Lattice Truss design bridge. It was replaced by a metal bridge in 1933 and one year later the covered bridge was taken down.
Open Air Vermilyea Place Bridge
This one lane 66-foot single span Howe Truss design bridge was built by Jerome Moot in 1900. It had six flying buttresses and was built from oak and hemlock. It was located over Dry Brook just a few miles up stream from Arkville. The flood of November 25, 1950 washed out the entrance to the bridge, and it was never replaced. In 1964 the from the highway department tore the bridge down.
Built in 1908 by Jerome Moot, this one lane, multiple Kingpost Truss, had seven buttresses and was 75 feet long. The date of its demise is unknown.
Built in 1865 by Robert Murray, the Margaretville Bridge was the 5th bridge of his career. It was a single span, one lane, Town Lattice Truss design and was 100 ft. long. It was taken down around 1934.
Dunraven Old Stone School Bridge
This bridge, also called the Dunraven Station Covered Bridge, was built by William Mead in 1870. It was a 136-foot, Town Lattice Truss design, single lane, single span covered bridge. In later years a center pier was added to strengthen the span. The bridge was torn down by New York City Board of Water Supply workers in 1956 to make room for the Pepacton Reservoir.
Dunraven Halls Bridge
Dunraven Halls Bridge was ‘Laidout’ by William Mead and built by Nelson Thompson in 1869. This Town Lattice, single span, one lane, 130 ft. bridge was being dismantled in 1955, for Pepacton Reservoir, when flood waters of ‘Hurricane Hazel’ plugged the causeway at the upper end of the reservoir. The debris formed a dam, which eventually gave way taking the bridge with it.
The Tremperskill was a 60 foot, single span bridge located across the Tremperskill below Andes. Both the builder and building date are unknown. This covered bridge was replaced by an iron bridge in 1939.
The Colchester Bridge was built in 1834 at a cost of $800. It was a double span bridge of 318 feet and Warren Truss design. The bridge was destroyed when half of it fell into the East Branch of the Delaware River on New Year’s Day in 1948. The rest of the bridge was burned on December 14, 1948.
Located in the hamlet of DeLancey and built by Robert Murray in 1859, this 118 foot single span Long Truss design bridge crossed the West Branch of the Delaware River connecting DeLancey with Route 10. It stood for almost 100 years until a fire in August of 1940 destroyed it. The origin of the fire was undetermined, although it is believed that a discarded cigarette was the cause. This bridge was replaced with a metal one.
Builder and date are unknown for the Walton bridge built with a simple stinger truss design. This 137 foot 5 inch long, single span bridge was replaced by an iron bridge in 1887.
This 59-foot Town Lattice Truss bridge spanned the Trout Creek on a road leading from Cannonsville to Rock Royal. It was built by Daneil Ostro in 1878.
Located near Beerstown, south of Walton, this single span 140 foot bridge was built in 1872 by James Lovelace. While it was being replaced by a metal bridge in 1898 high waters washed the bridge into the West Branch of the Delaware River.
Robert C. Gregory, a resident of Hancock in a letter:
“In August of 1898 the Connonsville Covered Bridge was being replaced…when heavy rains brought the river to a flood stage, my grandfather had a raft of big beech logs at Onma Rock above Granton. The water came up too high to hold the raft safely so they got a crew together and let it loose. I was on the crew. We were just a mile above Cannonsville when the bridge went down carrying a man, a team, and a load of lumber. The bridge held a few minutes and then broke in the middle and we went through the gap with little damage to the raft.”
From Reflections… The Town of Tompkins
Trout Creek Bridge
The Trout Creek Covered Bridge crossed Trout Creek 2/3 of a mile north of the village of Cannonsville village. It was built in 1850 by George Washington Lovelace in the Town Lattice Truss design. This 59 foot single span bridge was replaced in 1947 by a steel bridge. After removal the bridge became a storage place for a local farmer and was later purchased by the Town of Sidney Historical Association where it became part of the Tri-Towns Historic Society’s museum. The bridge was later purchased by Old Mill Village group and moved to New Milford, PA.
The “Black” Bridge was built by James Lovelace and was completed on Christmas Day in 1875. Mr. Lovelace built the Cannonsville Bridge, three years earlier. A double span, measuring approximately 300 feet, it was of the Town Lattice and Burr Truss design. The bridge was replaced by a metal bridge in 1928 after it was deemed unsafe.