In the 1800s, covered bridges were a prominent part of American infrastructure, and could be found in many towns and unincorporated areas. In fact, it is estimated approximately 10,000 covered bridges were built in the United States during the 1800s.
At the time, wooden bridges were covered primarily in order to protect from the elements, as an uncovered wooden bridge only lasts roughly ten – fifteen years.
These bridges were often located in the countryside and were traveled primarily by horse or foot. With the invention of the automobile, covered wooden bridges quickly fell out of favor, even in rural areas. Today, only about 800 remain in the United States.
With over 200 covered bridges, Pennsylvania is the state with the most of these remaining historical relics, but Indiana, with roughly 100, is high up on the list as well. It is also worth pointing out that Pennsylvania also has a sizable number of horses, buggies and Amish communities, which we suspect is the cause of their inflated covered bridge rate. Back to the covered bridges of Indiana….
100 is a respectable number in its own right, but what makes our state so unique is that a third of these covered bridges occur in just ONE of Indiana’s 92 counties: Parke County.
Parke County has under 20,000 people, covers roughly 450 square miles…and has 31 “passable” covered bridges. It should come as no surprise that Parke County is billed as the ‘Covered Bridge Capital of the World’.
Starting on the second Friday of October, Parke County hosts a 10-day Covered Bridge Festival. The festival started back in 1957, when a group of local women decided to organize an event for local tourists interested in covered bridges and has since become one of the largest festivals in the state, if not the largest. The festival began in Rockport, but now incorporates nine separate Parke County communities and has been a boon for local tourism and business over the years.
Although covered bridges, and wooden bridges in general, have been surpassed in terms of practicality, they provide unique, post card quality snap shots of rural Indiana, and remain quite popular as historical sites.
They may be disappearing throughout the country, but in Indiana, covered bridges aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Though we have lost some bridges over the past several decades, in recent years, covered bridges that have been damaged by weather have been restored rather than replaced. This holds true in Parke County, but also elsewhere in the state.