Sunday, July 25, 2010
The state of Oregon contains more covered bridges than most other states. Like everything else from the past couple of centuries, they are endangered. Fortunately, most if not all of them are on smaller, less used roadways and valued by both the local population and just about everybody else who finds these wonderful structures.
With all the hoopla surrounding the 100th anniversary of some of Portland's best know bridges, there has been much talk of bridges in Oregon lately. Closures, celebrations, new design competitions and the like. Fortunately, some of the musing has filtered down to covered bridges.
On a local radio program a Lane County expert shared some of the folklore about covered bridges. The key question, of course, is why are they covered. Answers and theories abound. Three ideas are most popular. One school of thought goes back t the days of horse transportation. Since most of these structures are over or close to a hundred years old, the original vehicles over them were horse-drawn. In order for the horse to feel comfortable going over the rivers and streams below, a barn-like structure was built giving the illusion of entering a barn and thus getting whatever was being pulled, (people, hay, barrels, lumber...) to the other side of the river. But covered bridges continued to be built well after the automobile. The second theory suggests that the cover was for fishermen who needed a way to take refuge from sudden storms and lightening strikes. Having fished a couple of Oregon rivers when lightening suddenly streaked the sky, this makes good sense to me.
The final and most widely held theory is all about the wood. Lane county, Oregon (near Eugene) has perhaps the most covered bridges of any county. It also is home to many lumber mills. The trusses of covered bridges are magnificent pieces of timber. If covered they weather and wear less than if not. Covered, they can last up to 70 years. Mystery solved? Maybe. Each theory has it's merits. Take your pick; here they are.