Author(s): Terry E. Miller
The history of North America is in many ways encapsulated in the history of her covered bridges. The early 1800s saw a tremendous boom in the construction of these bridges, and in the years that followed as many as 15,000 covered bridges were built. Today, fewer than a thousand remain. Without covered bridges to span the rivers and provide access to vast swaths of the interior that had previously been difficult to access--America never would have developed the way she did. In "America's Covered Bridges," authors Terry E. Miller and Ronald G. Knapp tell the fascinating story of these bridges, how they were built, the technological breakthroughs required to construct them, and above all the dedication and skill of their builders. Each of the bridges, whether still standing or long gone, has a story to tell about the nature of America at the time--not only about its transportational needs, but the availability of materials and the technological prowess of the people who built it. Central to the development of these bridges was the challenge of supporting a long spans with flat roadways. Early American bridge builders and carpenters developed revolutionary new methods of joining timbers into patterns consisting of triangles or continuous arches that resulted in structures rigid enough to span long distances. Called trusses, these systems were critical and had to be protected from the elements by a roof and siding. Few people today realize that bridges were covered to protect the trusses--not the people using the bridge! Unprotected, the trusses soon degraded and the bridge would collapse. North American covered bridges were marvels of engineering long before modern civil engineering was invented. Self-taught carpenters and builders discovered how to shape and join timbers into patterns in just the right ways to achieve a desired strength. Over time, wooden bridges eventually gave way to ones made of iron, steel, and concrete. Many covered bridges became obsolete and were replaced--others simply decayed and collapsed. Many more were swept away by raging torrents or ice floes, or by tornados, tropical storms, and hurricanes. A few were reduced to ashes by accidental fires, or torched by arsonists. Illustrated with some 550 historical and contemporary photos, paintings, and technical drawings of nearly 400 different covered bridges, the book offers five readable chapters on the history, design, and fate of America's covered bridges, plus related bridges in Canada. Most of the contemporary photography is by master photographer A. Chester Ong of Hong Kong. The "Permanent Bridge" in Philadelphia, considered by most as the "first covered bridge in America," figures prominently. Among the bridges discussed and pictured are many of the most astounding bridges ever built in the United States, including those by Timothy Palmer, Theodore Burr, and Lewis Wernwag. Some, like the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge over the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, were a mile long. Completing the book are 55 photo essays on the most iconic bridges remaining, including:
Among the featured bridges are two that were destroyed before the book could be published, New York's Blenheim Bridge during a storm and Ohio's Humpback Bridge by arson. "America's Covered Bridges" is absolutely packed with fascinating stories and information--passionately told by two leading experts on this subject. The book will be of tremendous interest to anyone interested in American history, carpentry, and technological change.
"Gorgeous color photographs of covered bridges accompanied by historical perspective, construction process and details, and an essay on their contemporary role and status. A balanced account for both the nostalgic and the serious." -- Tunney Lee, Former Head, Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT
Terry E. Miller began visiting covered bridges with his father, Max T. Miller, in 1953 and has since visited more than 1,000 in the United States, Canada, Europe, and China, and researched the bridges of two Ohio counties from dusty handwritten journals. Miller spent his career teaching Ethnomusicology at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, retiring in 2005. In addition to his research and writings on the music of mainland Southeast Asia, he is the coauthor of the popular textbook "World Music: A Global Journey." Ronald G. Knapp is a historical-cultural geographer at State University of New York at New Paltz, where he taught from 1968 to 2001. For the past forty-five years his research has focused on China's frontier history and Chinese vernacular architecture, with many books that celebrate these traditions. His book, "Chinese Bridges: Living Architecture from China's Pas"t introduced China's covered bridges to Western readers and has served as the model for "America's Covered Bridges: Practical Crossings--Nostalgic Icons."