Take 23 covered bridges, a picnic lunch, a full tank of gas and what do you have? Road trip! Scattered throughout Washington County, Pennsylvania are almost two dozen of these charming symbols that are a stunning reminder of days gone by.
While the fall foliage is in full bloom, now is the perfect time to experience these covered treasures within our beautiful countryside. Images of small-town America, they will help recall a time when life was simpler. It will surely be a treat to both history afficionados near and far, as well as inspire new-found enthusiasts alike.
Built predominantly in the late 1800’s, Washington County is very fortunate to have preserved so many of these pieces of our past. While there are approximately 200 covered bridges still standing in Pennsylvania -which still leads in number by any other state- this is in sharp contrast to the 1,500 it once had. Likewise with the 250-300 covered bridges Washington County had in the mid-1800s. Some became victims of flooding or vandalism, while others were replaced with metal structures to support heavier, modern-day traffic.
A little-known fact is that only one other county in Pennsylvania can claim more covered bridges. In June of 1979, each of Washington County’s covered bridges were listed on the National Register of Historic Places and all but one are painted red, originally taken from a formula derived from a natural insect-proof oxide in the local soil.
The old adage “see one, you’ve seen them all”, however, is certainly not true when it comes to our covered bridges. No two are exactly alike, as each one has its own story to tell. They may have two or more windows than another, support vehicular or only pedestrian traffic, while others have been relocated over time. Experts can easily point to three major structural support designs of each of our county’s covered bridges, including the Kingpost (used primarily for shorter spans), Queenpost (for greater bridge length), and Burr Truss (combining arches with kingpost trusses).
Legends state that covered bridges were built to protect travelers from evil spirits or ease the fears of farm animals crossing the streams, however, the original purpose of covering the spans was simply to protect the beams and trusses from the elements.
There is no better place to explore more covered bridges than in the southwestern corner of Washington County. Nestled deep within this rural area are 13 of them, which are sure to take you on roads less traveled. Here you can find both the oldest and longest covered bridges, as well as the last Burr Truss still standing in the county.
The northwestern tip of the county contains six covered bridges, two of which are tied for the shortest in the county. Another is preserved at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, the oldest site of human habitation in North America -dating back 19,000 years- that is an absolute must-see attraction. Please know they are closed November through April, and be certain to check their operating hours before making the drive.
Arguably the most picturesque and more highly visited than any other covered bridge in Washington County is the Ebenezer Bridge, located in Mingo Creek County Park. Popular as a wedding venue and photographer’s backdrop, this bridge is also the largest site for arts and craft vendors during the annual EQT Washington and Greene Counties’ Covered Bridge Festival. Be sure to mark your calendar now for the third weekend in September every year, as ten covered bridge locations transform into a festival masterpiece.
Should you not be able to find the time soon, the commonwealth proclaims "See Pennsylvania's Covered Bridges Week” each year beginning the first Saturday after the first Sunday in May, to and including the third Sunday of May. Or, if after seeing all 23 of Washington County’s covered bridges has you feeling the need for more, the American long-distance record for moving a covered bridge is held by Washington County’s original Ackley Bridge. Once located on the county-line between Washington and Greene Counties, you would now have to travel to Dearborn, Michigan as it was presented to Henry Ford in 1937 and positioned for visitors to cross into his old-time Greenfield Village. Count me as one of those who made that trip.
To assist with your excursion, we have compiled the Washington County Covered Bridges Driving Tour, a resource that is available both in our printed Official Visitors Guide and online. This tour is divided into geographical sections with specific directions from one bridge to another. Maps are provided for each section and can be viewed online or printed at home. Each print-at-home map contains a QR code, simply scan the code with your mobile device for turn-by-turn directions, fun facts and construction statistics. You may elect to complete the entire driving tour or just visit a few of the bridges.
Venture out at your own pace and take in the mystical, breathtaking splendor of these treasures of our past. No matter the season, you will be marveled by the beauty of Washington County’s abundant covered bridges.
Washington County is home to 23 historic covered bridges, the second most of any county in Pennsylvania. This driving tour will help you plan a single outing or multiple…